Many of the top contenders in the Northeastern New York PGA Stroke Play Championship were threatening to trade in their putters after a challenging first round on the greens Monday.
With very few birdie putts dropping for anyone in the field, no local club professional broke par at historic Mohawk Golf Club.
But that also meant that the nine players who were within four shots of the lead, and the 13 who were within five strokes, still had a chance to etch their name on the same
trophy that the legendary Gene Sarazen won if they can put together a big round this morning.
Defending champion and reigning NENYPGA Player of the Year Scott Berliner of Normanside Country Club matched par with a 71, while Colonie Golf & Country Club assistant pro Ian Breen, Greenock Country Club head pro Bob Mucha and Wyantenuck Country Club head pro Tom Sullivan were just a shot back.
Former Stroke Play winner and four-time NENYPGA Player of the Year Peter Gerard led a group of four players with a 73. Nathan Kain of The Edison Club and David Strawn of Cranwell Resort joined Gerard at two-over-par, while former NENYPGA Player of the Year Frank Mellet of Colonie G&CC and John Souza of Stadium Golf Club fired 75s.
The short stick frustrated almost all of the local club pros, especially if they left their approach shots above the hole on some challenging pin positions.
“I only missed one green on the front side today,” said Berliner, who leads the NENYPGA player of the year point list. “Although some of my shots were sketchy on the back, I still made 16 pars and had just one bogey, a three-putt on No. 16.”
The problem for Berliner was that he couldn’t be aggressive with his putter, and had to settle for two-putt pars on nearly every hole.
“I just didn’t get it close enough. I was about an average of 25 feet away on every green, and there were some tough pins,” he said. “I drove it OK, but my approach shots weren’t nearly close enough. I put myself on the wrong side of quite a few pins, and I couldn’t be aggressive. I was trying to die my putts at the hole so I could have some easy par putts. Sometimes, the putts fall, and sometimes, they don’t.”
Berliner, whose only birdie was on the par-5 third hole, wasn’t surprised that the scores were relatively high in the opening round.
“The wind was swirling, and the greens were tricky with some of those pins,” he said. “You had to be very careful if you were on the wrong side of the cup. I just handcuffed myself today with where I put the ball on the green.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun [today] with so many players in contention,” Berliner added. “Hopefully, we won’t get any bad weather.”
Mucha was even more frustrated with his putting than Berliner.
“My putter didn’t make the cut. I’m ready to trade it in, right now,” Mucha said.
“I missed only two greens, but I putted horribly. I must have had about 36 putts. Two of my bogeys were three-putts. I was hitting the ball very well, but I couldn’t seem to make anything on the greens.”
Mucha started slowly with bogeys on the first two holes, but he was able to stay near par, thanks to birdies on the 13th, 15th and 16th holes.
Breen actually made a few more putts than he’s made recently with birdies on the third, 10th and 12th holes, but his driver gave him trouble.
“My tee shots were all over the place today,” he said. “I lost a ball on the fourth hole, and that led to a bogey. Then I blocked another drive on the sixth hole, and I had to take an unplayable lie that led to a double-bogey. I didn’t drive it well at all, but I did finally make a few putts today. The wind made playing a little tricky today, and the speed of the greens was a little inconsistent. At least I like where I am heading into the final round.”
Sullivan, who won the NENYPGA Senior Stroke Play Championship recently, birdied the 10th, 13th and 17th holes. He was one of the few players who didn’t have any putting woes.
“I’ve been putting well lately,” he said. “My score could have been higher if it wasn’t for my putter. A lot of guys have a chance to win this thing.”
Scott Berliner (Normanside CC) 71, Ian Breen (Colonie G&CC) 72, Bob Mucha (Greenock CC) 72, Tom Sullivan (Wyantenuck CC) 72, Peter Gerard (Mill Road Acres) 73, Nathan Kain (The Edison Club) 73, David Strawn (Cranwell Resort) 73, Frank Mellet (Colonie G&CC) 75, John Souza (Stadium GC) 75, Kevin Bennison (Taconic GC) 76, Josh Hillman (Berkshire Hills CC) 76, Tom Oppedisano (McGregor Links CC) 76, Tom Siddon (Massena CC) 76, Kevin Hughes (Saratoga Golf & Polo) 77, Anders Mattson (Saratoga National) 77, John Neet (Golf Galaxy) 77, Steve Vatter (Capital Hills at Albany) 77, Ron Philo Sr. (PGA Life Member) 78, Matt Smith (Canajoharie CC) 78, Rick Pohle (Taconic GC) 79, Paul Jaycox (Cobleskill G&CC) 80, Noel Gebauer (Town of Colonie) 82, Craig McLean (The Edison Club) 82, Steve Plata (Saratoga National) 82, Glenn Davis (Albany CC) 85.