Improved ball-striking should give a pair of top contenders an edge over the rest of the field when the Gazette Newspaper in Education Capital District Junior Golf Championship is played Friday morning at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
A field of 56 players will tee off at 8 a.m. None of the defending champions have returned.
Aaron Simone, who finished tied for second in the boys’ 15-18 division a year ago with a 71, and Jonathan Farah, who was right behind him with a 72, have worked diligently on their iron play this summer. That extra practice has paid off.
“I’ve been working on my driving, my putting and my mental game, but Scott [Pinehaven CC head pro Scott Warren] said my iron play has improved a lot this year,” said Simone, who will be a senior at Niskayuna High School this fall.
“My ball-striking overall has improved quite a bit. I have a lot more confidence with both my driver and my iron play. My putting and my short game have always been consistent, but when I’m driving the ball well and hitting the greens, I can really put up better scores.”
Heading into Wednesday’s Northeastern New York PGA Junior Tour tournament at Albany Country Club, Simone was fourth in the player of the year standings. He finished in the top three and said he has probably moved up a few notches. He won a NENYPGA Junior Tour event at Mohawk Golf Club earlier this month.
“I just got back from playing a PGA Junior Series event at Penn State’s Blue Course, and I came in 26th after shooting 79, 78 and 74,” he said. “I played very well. I’ve also been playing a lot of NENYPGA Junior Tour stuff, and I’m going to play in the State Junior Amateur next week at the Mark Twain course in Elmira.
“During the summer, I play in two or three tournaments a week, and I also put a lot of practice in. I go over to Pinehaven late in the day around 6 p.m. and put a couple of hours of practice in. I love to practice, and I love to play.”
Simone, who has won two Gazette N.I.E. boys’ 12-14 division crowns, said he enjoys competing at Schenectady Municipal.
“I’ve always played well at Muny. It’s a good scoring course. If you have a bad hole or you are a couple over par, you can get a couple of shots back pretty quickly.”
Meanwhile, Farah, another Niskayuna High School standout who plays out of The Edison Club, is also crediting his improved ball-striking with his stronger play this summer.
“My ball-striking has improved the most of any part of my game,” he said. “I’m hitting a lot more greens, and I’m having to hit a lot fewer chip shots. I’ve been working a lot with Jeremy Kerr at Mohawk Golf Club. We’ve worked on and off for a few years, but we’ve been putting a lot more time in this year. He has me working on keeping my head still and shifting my weight better. I’m hitting the ball first with my irons and controlling my distances much better. And I’m hitting the ball a lot straighter.”
Farah also loves his new Callaway Razr driver, which allows him to make his own clubhead adjustments.
“You can shift the weights on your own, and you don’t have to let the manufacturers do it for you,” he said.
Farah also said he’s been three-putting a lot less, although he still struggles in the eight-foot and under range.
“My lag putting has been so much better this year,” he said. “I won a NENYPGA event at Cobleskill G&CC this week, and I’ve been playing well. As long as I keep my head on straight, I should be able to shoot around par, or maybe a little under, at Schenectady Municipal.”
Other top players in the boys’ 15-18 division include James Greg (0 handicap), Ryan Lynch (3), Corey Purcell (4), Bryan Leggett (4) and Alex Coyne (4).
Alex Bond (12 handicap), Kyle Adams (14), Max Pawlick (14), Connor Adams (15) and Quinton Kapper (15) are the leading contenders in the boys’ 12-14 division.
Grace Ziamandanis, who carries a 7 handicap and was second in the girls’ 12-18 division a year ago, is a big favorite this time around.
There will be gross and net prizes in all divisions, as well as many door prizes, which include golf equipment and rounds of golf at numerous area courses.
1A — Jonathan Farah, James Greg, Ryan Lynch, Aaron Simone.
1B — Matthew Bernard, Alex Coyne, Alex Leggett, Corey Purcell.
11 — Sarah Luna, Emma Vandecar, Emma Leigh Ward, Grace Ziamandanis.
12A — Daniel Farley, Zachary Peretti, Frank Parisi, Alex Wellington.
12B — Peter Galica, Michael Schebel, Devan Singh.
13A — Dylan Finnegan, Quinton Kapper, Drew Neillen, Robert Schrain.
13B — Eddie Harasiemowicz, James Phelps, Teddy Trosset.
14A — Connor Adams, Kyle Adams, Alex Bond, Ryan Poltorak.
14B — Max Pawlick, Jonathan Albrecht, Chris Dunn, Marc LaBahn.
15A — Darryn Bradt, Ryan Gallagher, Freddy Luna, John Verhayden.
15B — Michael Corcoran, Jelani King, Patrick McGarry, Charles Stevens.
16 — Carter Fitch, Daniel Omicinski, Kevin Ottati, Patrick Shakar.
17A — Derrick Brown, Cody Husek, Kevin Johnston, Thomas Kenneally.
17B — Tyler Lesniewski, Sean McGarry, Jake McKenna, Dennis Ziamandanis.
18 — Brian Daley, Josh Fonda, Luke Goldstock, David Wellington.