Josh Hillman of Berkshire Hills Country Club was once the king of the hill on the Northeastern New York PGA club pro circuit.
But for the last couple of seasons, Hillman has been desperately trying to recover his lost game. Instead of shooting 60s and low 70s, he was shooting in the 80s.
While celebrating his 35th birthday on Monday, Hillman hoped he was on the comeback trail with a one-under-par 71 to tie Bob Mucha of Greenock Country Club for the lead after the opening round of the NENYPGA Professional Championship at The Edison Club.
The top two pros following today’s final round advance to the 2013 Professional National Championship at Sunriver Resort in Sunriver Ore., June 23-26, 2013.
“It’s been a tough two years,” said Hillman, a two-time NENYPGA Player of the Year who has won both the NENYPGA Stroke Play and NENYPGA Match Play championship before.
“I’ve been in a real funk, and I’ve been trying to work my way through it. The good thing is that I didn’t give up.”
Hillman pointed out that his life priorities changed just about the time he was at the top of his game.
“I had a son, who is now 2 years old, and I had some family obligations,” he said. “I also switched jobs by moving to a different club. All of a sudden, I had different priorities, and it was hard to keep my game at the level it once was. But I still love the competition.”
Hillman said he has been working with fellow club pro Tom Sullivan of Wyantenuck Country Club, and he’s seeing signs of getting his game back.
“Now, I’m in position to do well,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m going to play well [today], but at least I’m in position.”
Hillman birdied the second hole, holed out from the par-3 16th hole for another birdie and then sank a 30-footer for birdie on No. 17.
“It was a very good round,” he said.
Mucha, the recent winner of the Coblesklll Pro-Am Classic, was his usual consistent self with two birdies and just one bogey to tie for the lead.
“It was a typical round for me. Nothing extravagant,” said Mucha. “I made my only bogey on the par-3 seventh hole because I couldn’t decide whether to chip or putt. I got a little greedy with a chip, and I didn’t make the par. But I came right back with a birdie on the next hole, and I was very glad about that. I missed just a handful of greens the whole day.”
Mucha, who also birdied the 11th hole, said his biggest break of the day was on the par-5 17th hole.
“My ball stayed up in the hazard, and I was still able to hit it. I still had a chance to make a birdie, but I missed it,” he said.
Tied for third at even-par 72 are Steve Mazzariello of Stockridge Golf Club, former Player of the Year Rick Pohle of Taconic Golf Club and David Strawn of Cranwell Resort Golf Club.
Final-round tee times begin at 8 a.m.
Josh Hillman (Berkshire Hills CC) 71, Bob Mucha (Greenock CC) 71, Steve Mazzariello (Stockbridge GC) 72, Rick Pohle (Taconic GC) 72, David Strawn (Cranwell Resort) 72, Scott Berliner (Normanside CC) 73, Paul Jaycox (Cobleskill G&CC) 73, Nathan Kain (The Edison Club) 73, Frank Mellet (Colonie G&CC) 74, Kevin Bennison (Taconic GC) 75, ian Breen (Colonie G&CC) 75, Rocky Catalano (AuSable Club) 75, Peter Gerard (Mill Road Acres) 75, Mark Jorgensen (The Edison Club) 75, Marc Levesque (Columbia G&CC) 75, Tom Siddon (Massena CC) 75, Matt Bogdanowicz (Town of Colonie) 76, Glenn Davis (Albany CC) 76, John Souza (Stadium GC) 76, Tom Sullivan (Wyantenuck CC) 76, Steve Vatter (Capital Hills at Albany) 76, Kevin Hughes (Saratoga Golf & Polo) 78, Jeremy Kerr (Mohawk GC) 79, Peter Maassmann (Blackhead Mountain) 79, Tom Oppedisano (McGregor Links CC) 79, Phil Davis (Dick’s Sporting Goods) 81, Noel Gebauer (Town of Colonie) 81, Anders Mattson (Saratoga National GC) 81, Craig Mclean (The Edison Club) 82, Jim Wasson (Craig Wood) 83, Kent Tarkleson (Tark’s Indoor GC) 84, Mike Hillman (Berkshire Hills CC) 88.