Paul Pratico’s ball-striking, mental game and lag putting were almost perfect in Friday’s final round of the Gazette Senior County Amateur Golf Championship.
But on the one occasion in which he really needed a break, good fortune stepped in.
Pratico’s ball bounced off Schenectady Municipal head pro Brian Damon’s cart, preventing it from entering the woods on the 14th hole, and Pratico ended up saving par en route to a bogey-free two-under-par 70 that lifted him to a comfortable 10-shot victory and his second straight title.
The 51-year-old former pro finished the two-day event with a six-under-par 138, well ahead of former champion Tony Cristello of Pinehaven Country Club (77-148).
Tied for third were Kenny Hall (149), who was the only other player to break par (71) in the final round, and left-hander Glenn Stopera
Pratico, winner of five regular Gazette County Senior Amateur titles, didn’t need much help on a day when the rest of the field struggled, but he did receive a break on the par-5 14th hole, the longest hole on the course.
He hit a good tee shot, but his ball ended up well below his feet.
“I knew with that lie that it tends to produce a shot that goes to the right, and everything feeds to the right anyway on that hole,” Pratico explained. “I was trying to be careful.”
Damon was sitting in his cart watching the action and returning a call on his cell phone when Pratico’s second shot came flying at him. It just missed Damon and caromed off his cart, stopping it from sailing into the woods. Damon said that bounce might have saved Pratico a shot or two.
But as it turned out, Pratico could have easily shrugged off losing several shots, if necessary, as his lead kept stretching on the back nine.
“I only made one bogey over the two days, and that’s what it takes to win a title like this,” Pratico said. “I made plenty of birdies during the regular County Amateur, but I made too many bogeys, and it cost me. If you eliminate the bogeys, you have a chance.”
Pratico’s mental game was extremely sharp, and he didn’t take any chances.
When his tee shot on the par-5 second hole landed behind some trees in the left rough, he decided to chip back into the fairway rather than try to curve his ball around the trees. The same thing happened on the par-5 16th hole, when his tee shot landed behind another tree in the right rough for the second day in a row. He simply chipped back into the fairway and reached the green with a 7-iron.
“I could have maybe hooded an iron around the trees, but it wasn’t worth the risk,” Pratico said.
“My first five holes, I just trusted my putter. It took the nerves out of it when all I had to do was tap in for par. Of course, you are trying to make birdies, but I’ll take the pars in the final round.”
After eight consecutive pars, Pratico finally rolled in a four-foot birdie putt on the par-5 ninth hole.
His only other birdie was an unlikely one, a 50-footer on the 11th hole. “That putt made up for all of the other putts I missed over the entire two days. You don’t expect to make that one. I had good speed on the putt, and I was just trying to get it close,” he said.
“I thought that putt on 11 was key, because after that, I knew I had just one more tough tee shot on the 12th hole. If I got through that, I felt I would be in pretty good shape.”
After Pratico avoided trouble on the 14th hole with the lucky bounce, he got up and down for par on the 15th hole and then parred in the rest of the way.
“I was kind of on cruise control during the final few holes,” he said. “Tony put some pressure on me early, but I was able to just play my game on the back nine. I’m glad I’ve been working so hard on my chipping over the last few weeks, because it really came in handy on a few up-and-down pars.
“This feels great to win twice in a row. I’ve won coming from behind, and I’ve won from the lead.”
Cristello was just one-over at the turn, but after taking an unplayable lie on the 14th hole, he ended up with a triple bogey and fell back. A two-putt birdie on the 16th hole helped him hold on for second place.
“I was going for it most of the day. I definitely tried to be aggressive and put some pressure on Paul,” said Cristello, who started the day three shots behind the leader. “But I had to make some birdies early, and I didn’t. When I reached the second hole in two and settled for just a par, I wasted a good chance. Then, I made a couple of bad swings on the back nine.
“Still, it was very enjoyable watching Paul hit the ball so well over the last two days, and I had a lot of fun. We had a great group.”
Paul Pratico 70-138, Tony Cristello 77-148, Kenny Hall 71-149, Glenn Stopera 75-149, Mario Marino 76-150, John Reagan 76-151, Jim Reid 75-152, Mike Carroll 79-153, Andy Bennett 76-153, Dave Billman 77-153, Mike Mina 77-153, Harry Morgan 79-155, Frank DeGraw 78-156, Jeff Barringer 78-156, Dave Sutphen 82-157, Peter Andrikopoulos 79-157, Bill Frutchy 80-158, Jim Follain 81-159, Bill Stuart 83-161, Larry Edwards 85-163, Joe Romeo 88-165, Al Nebolini NC, Pete Davis WD.