Only the toughest survive the next test.
It’s hard enough to grab one of four spots at the local level of U.S. Open qualifying when the field includes 70 or 80 top amateurs and club professionals from around the Northeast.
Just think how much tougher it gets both physically and mentally when instead of playing 18 holes you are now grinding for 36 holes — walking the whole way — in the same day, and you are now fighting for just three spots for a chance to play in the prestigious U.S. Open, our country’s national championship.
That’s the scenario facing two top local players when Schalmont High School and Siena College graduate Bryan Bigley and Maryland-bound Victor Fox (Bethlehem senior) head to sectional qualifying Monday at Old Oaks Country Club and Century Country Club in Purchase.
Fox was the qualifying medalist early last month when he carded a three-under-par 69 at Albany Country Club. Bigley was next with a 70, while also qualifying from the Albany region local qualifier were Joshua Cupp, who owns the Thirsty Owl wine bar in Saratoga Springs, and Canadian pro Yanik Laforest. They each posted a 71.
This year’s U.S. Open will be held June 13-16 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.
Local players who have competed in the U.S. Open in recent years are few and far between. Only Scotia native Ron Philo Jr., who is now the head pro at Stowe Mountain Club, and former Town of Colonie club pro Jay Gunning represented our area in the last several decades. Former Mohawk Golf Club head pro John Maurycy and several other top local amateurs and pros competed in the U.S. Open 30-40 years ago before several rounds of qualifiers were added.
“It’s a lot of golf,” said the 28-year-old Bigley, a former MAAC Player of the Year and a two-time Gazette County Amateur champion who is now playing on the eGolf Professional Tour.
“I played both of those courses on Wednesday. They are big courses, and they are long,” he said.
“They are both pretty demanding, tee to green. They also have very long rough. I think it will be a ball-strikers kind of day. If you hit it well and give yourself birdie chances, you could get through. The greens are not that tricky. The key is to get yourself through the back part of each course and then start firing at the pins. You must give yourself a chance for some birdies.”
Bigley doesn’t think the scoring will be very low in the sectional qualifier, despite the fact that many PGA touring pros will be in the field.
“Yes, there are some big names, but realistically, there are only 20-25 guys with a chance to get through,” he said. “It’s all about who plays well on Monday.”
Although pro golfers feast on par-5s, Bigley says there aren’t enough par-5s to take full advantage of your length off the tee.
“There are only five par-5s between the two courses,” he said. “Any time you get to a par-5 and you are a professional, you must take full advantage. If you don’t birdie every par-5, you might be losing shots to the field. That’s what takes away some of the scoring opportunities and will probably bring the scores a little higher than they might be normally.”
Bigley thinks his maturity and experience will help him.
“I’m trying not to get caught up in the moment. It’s just golf. I’m trying to relax and not think about what it means to qualify,” he said. “I’ve been through this already four times, and this is my fifth time. I’ve also played eight or nine tournaments this year already. My confidence is there, and my game has steadily gotten better. I didn’t play great back in Albany, but I played well enough to get through. I feel very good about Monday.”
Bigley’s father, five-time Gazette County Amateur champion and Pinehaven Country Club course superintendent Rob Bigley, will be on his bag.
“It’s always good to have someone you know on your bag,” Bryan Bigley said. “We are playing in twosomes, and if you catch a guy you don’t get along with, it’s nice to have somebody you like to talk to.”
Besides our local contingent, there are several other players to keep an eye on Monday in Purchase.
Brad Faxon, 51, currently playing on the Champions Tour, has played in 20 U.S. Opens and won eight times on the PGA Tour.
Peter Richards, a 16-year-old from Westport, Conn., is a sophomore at Staples High School and survived a five-hole, six-man playoff to advance from local qualifying.
Jesse Smith, of Barrington, R.I., was the medalist at his local qualifier, but six weeks earlier he shot a 59 at Dubsdread G.C. in Orlando, Fla. His late father, Guy, a full-blooded Mohawk from Six Nations in Ontario, played for the World Hockey Association’s New England Whalers in the 1970s.
Jim Liu, of Smithtown, became the youngest U.S. Junior Amateur champion when he won in 2010 at age 14. He’s now 17 and has signed to play at Stanford in the fall. He’s a four-time AJGA Rolex All-American.
COUNTY AM NEARS
Entries are pouring in for the annual Gazette County Amateur Championship, to be played June 14-16 at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Ben Bates is the defending champion.
Only the low 40 and ties advance to Saturday’s second round. Just the low 20 and ties earn a spot in the final round on Sunday.
This is a scratch event. Only Schenectady County residents are eligible, unless you are a past champion.
Entry deadline is June 10.
u Jackie Barenborg, daughter of former Niskayuna golf standout Ed Barenborg, has qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open, to be played June 24-30 at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton.
u The Wolferts Roost Country Club team of pro Trevor Fiedler with amateurs John Shahada, John Mineaux and Robert Reilly, shot a 124 to win the Northeastern New York PGA Pro-Senior Amateur this week at the Country Club of Troy. Fiedler was low pro with a 69 and also had a hole-in-one.
u Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course will host the inaugural Tommy John-Norbert Sherbunt Memorial Golf Tournament June 28. Entry fee is $90 and includes lunch, dinner, raffles and prizes. On holes 8 and 10, Tommy John will tee off with the team’s foursome with the opportunity to use his drive as the best ball in this four-person scramble. In addition, free 8x10 color pictures will be taken with Tommy John, who will personalize the pictures. Proceeds will benefit the Shuttleworth Park Foundation, Montgomery County SPCA and Tommy John’s Let’s Do It Foundation. Contact Dan Nelli at 320-4868 for more information.
u Airway Meadows Golf Club will hold its Airway Cup on July 4. Registration will be at 12:15 p.m. The tournament will use a Ryder Cup-style format with a two-player best ball and match play. Cost for non-members is $79 and includes golf, cart, snack at the turn, barbecue picnic and prizes. Call the pro shop at 792-4144 for more information.
u The Eastern New York Golf Association will play its weekly event Monday at Town of Colonie Golf Course.
u Members of the Northeastern Women’s Golf Association head to Saratoga Golf & Polo Club for their weekly event on Tuesday.
u Local club professionals will compete Tuesday in the Pro Classic No. 4 at McGregor Links Country Club.
Frank Amatangelo aced the 150-yard fifth hole with an 8-iron at The Edison Club.
Retired Schenectady School District teacher Ernie Incitti hit a 4-hybrid on the 196-yard third hole for his first-ever hole-in-one at McCullough’s Emerald Links in Atlantic City. He’s been playing golf for 25 years.
Steve Filak eagled the fifth hole at Eagle Crest Golf Club while playing in the Bells Boys league.
Barney LaGreca (third hole), Jeff Lazarou (third), Matt Nasadowski (10th) and Dave Kolodziej (12th) posted eagles at Amsterdam
Municipal Golf Course.