Armed with his trusty 3-wood and a confident putter, Ben Bates didn’t just win his first Gazette County Amateur golf championship. He dominated it.
With his father, Bill, on the bag to celebrate Father’s Day, the 30-year-old Mohawk Golf Club member fired a four-under-par 68 in the final round to win by seven strokes over five-time champion Paul Pratico Sunday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Bates used his length and solid short game to finish the three-day scratch event at 11-under-par 205. He went low every round, beginning with a 69 on Friday and adding a 68 in the second round on Saturday.
Pratico, who has an estimated 10 runner-up finishes to go along with his five titles, shot an even-par 72 on Sunday, but it was nowhere near enough to catch the long-hitting Bates, who used his driver off the tee just a couple of times, opting instead to bomb away with his 15-degree 3-wood.
“I didn’t really feel nervous at all,” said Bates, a Skidmore College graduate and former New York State Junior Amateur champion. “I was comfortable, even with that shaky start. I knew I still had a lot of holes left.
“This feels great to win this on Father’s Day,” he added. “My dad was great on the bag today. He gave me reassurance over my shots and my putting lines. He always tries to remain positive, even when I got off to another slow start.”
Like he did on Saturday, Bates started slowly with a three-putt bogey on the opening hole. He also struggled on the par-5 second hole, when he pushed his second shot into the bushes in the right rough, near the hill that guards the green. Fortunately, he found his ball and ended up making a par.
After the early problems, he once again settled down with back-to-back birdies on the third and fourth holes.
“Making birdies on the third and fourth holes was definitely huge for me,” said Bates. “I hit 9-irons for my approaches on both shots.”
His tee shot on the par-3 third hole nearly spun back into the hole and ended up only two feet away. His approach shot on the fourth hole settled just six feet from the cup.
Bates had excellent chances to stretch his birdie streak, but just missed a 10-footer on the fifth hole and a four-footer on No. 6.
He sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the tricky eighth hole when he skipped his approach shot to the upper level of the two-tiered green, but he failed to capitalize on his length and settled for just a par on the par-5 ninth.
“I might have been able to go as low as a 63 or a 64 today. I missed some putts I could have made,” he admitted. “But I still played very well.”
Bates made a key up-and-down par saver on the 10th hole and brushed in a 10-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole.
His only errant shot on the back nine was a poor chip shot on the par-3 15th hole, resulting in his second bogey of the day.
Bates closed his round with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th hole and a six-foot bird on the par-3 17th.
“I think the big difference between this year and my past County Amateur performances was that I got the ball to the hole better this year,” Bates said. “I’ve struggled here in the past, because I couldn’t get the ball to the hole. It was nothing against the greens. It was just that I couldn’t seem to get the speed right. This year, right from the start, my putts in the 15- to 20-foot range got to the cup, and that left me with short tap-ins for par if I didn’t make birdie.”
Bates, who also has numerous Mohawk Member-Guest and club championships to his credit, was reminded that Mohawk has dominated most of the area tournaments this year, with members winning the Stadium Classic, Shaker Ridge Invitational, Haggerty Two-Man and now the Gazette County Amateur.
“That says something about all the new players we have at Mohawk, and we’re all very proud,” he said. “But there are some of us from the old guard who can play a little bit, too.”
Pratico was never able to mount a charge. Starting three shots behind Bates, he picked up a shot on the first hole following Bates’ bogey, but after Bates birdied the third and fourth holes to stretch his lead back to four shots, Pratico never got any closer.
He made just one birdie all day, on the eighth hole, to offset his only bogey on the fifth hole.
“I had some chances, but I didn’t make any putts today,” said Pratico. “The wind was challenging, and so was the cool temperatures this morning. It took a while for me to get my legs under me.
“I thought that birdie on the eighth hole would get me going, but I never could make any other birdies. I think the wind was the difference for me. Ben is so much
longer than I am. He just kills the ball off the tee. All of the par-5s for me were three-shot holes, and against the wind, it was even tougher.
“But Ben played great all three days. It was going to be very difficult to catch him the way he was playing.”
Defending champion Jim Mueller (73-217), who has a tournament-record seven victories overall, and three-time winner Rob Bigley Jr. (71-217) tied for third. Seth Adams (73-220) was fifth.
Ben Bates 68-205, Paul Pratico 72-212, Jim Mueller 73-217, Rob Bigley Jr. (71-217), Seth Adams (73-220), Tom Salmon (73-221), Chad Stoffer (72-221), Alex Olbrych 71-222, Lance Hope 76-223, Jerry Brescia 77-224, Greg Stopera 82-225, Mike Drake 74-226, Mike Carroll 79-228, Chris Bararch 77-229, Ed Chylinski 80-230, Jack Stopera 79-232, Chris Gilbert 81-234, Peter Andrikopoulos 80-234, Mike Mina 84-237, Nick Longo 85-238.