Time almost stands still for Gazette County Amateur friendly rivals Jim Mueller and Paul Pratico.
Almost, but not quite.
Both over 50, and each battling an assortment of injuries and/or illnesses over the last few seasons, Mueller and Pratico continue to remain competitive against much younger players, especially when the County Amateur — and now also the Gazette Senior County Amateur — roll around every summer at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
The three-day County Amateur, the highlight of the summer for many Schenectady County golfing enthusiasts, will be played Friday through Sunday, with the traditional finale on Father’s Day.
Monday is the entry deadline. There will be a cut to the low 40 and ties for Saturday’s second round, and only the low 20 and ties will play for the title on Sunday.
Remarkably, Mueller and Pratico seem to own a spot on the leaderboard every year. If they don’t win, they sure do come close.
Mueller has an all-time best seven County Amateur crowns. Pratico, a former pro who won his first County Amateur at age 16, owns five County Amateur trophies, as well as the last two Senior County Amateur crowns. The tandem also own a flock of runner-up finishes.
“I don’t know that it’s a rivalry. I just go out and play against whoever is in contention,” said Mueller, who works the late-night shift in the post office.
“When I was a kid living in Schenectady, the County Amateur was always a big deal. I was excited to have a chance to play in it. When my cousin Eddie [Chylinski] won it, I wanted to win it, too. It’s definitely one of my favorite tournaments, and I’m proud of winning it as often as I have. It’s an accomplishment I never thought I would achieve.”
Mueller said he hopes to add a few more trophies to his mantle, but he’s realistic.
“I’m getting older, and there are some young guns ready to take over,” he said. “But physically, I feel great. I had my right knee replaced, and it’s been fantastic. I can walk the course with no pain now. Sooner or later, though, I’ll have to get the left one done.”
Pratico, who works at Golf Galaxy, hasn’t had a chance to get much practice in lately, but he enjoys being pushed by Mueller.
“Jimmy keeps you motivated,” Pratico said. “I look forward to playing against him. He’s a good competitor.”
Pratico had his gallbladder removed in March, and that surgery, coupled with the rainy spring, has slowed him down.
“The weather has been miserable,” he said. “I’m just now starting to cram for the County Am. I usually hit some buckets of balls, and practice my chipping and putting after work. The weather has stopped some of my practice sessions, and I haven’t played any competitive rounds yet. But I’ll be ready.”
As usual, there are many other former winners in the field, including three-time winners Rob Bigley Jr., Bill Moll, Chylinski and Mike Bayus, as well as former champs Tom Salmon and defending titlist Ben Bates. As of this writing, Bill Frutchy and Bob Cooper, who have combined for five more titles, have yet to enter.
Former Gazette Senior County Am winners in the field include five-time winner Neil Golub, five-time champ Moll and Jim Gardy.
Veteran left-hander Jack Stopera, who has competed in the County Amateur for 35 years, heads a list of Muny regulars who seem to make the final cut every year.
Other top contenders include Brandon Haase, Jerry Brescia, Kenny Hall, Andy Bennett, Todd Czepiel and Bill Sweet.
ROSS CLASSIC SET
Local club pros will participate in their first two-day major event of the season with the annual Donald Ross Classic today and Monday at The Sagamore Resort and Glens Falls Country Club, respectively.
The tournament is named after the famed course architecht who designed several courses in the Capital Region.
Last year, Northeastern New York Player of the Year Scott Berliner, now an assistant at
Cobleskill Golf & Country Club, won the title, and he should be one of the favorites again, especially since he’s played both courses so many times in the past. The Luz-erne native grew up playing Glens Falls Country Club, and he won the NENYPGA Match Play Championship at The Sagamore.
Among the other top contenders are Bob Mucha of Greenock Country Club, Anders Mattson of Saratoga National Golf Club, Kevin Hughes of Saratoga Golf & Polo Club, Glenn Davis of Albany Country Club, former Glens Falls CC assistant Ian Breen of Colonie Golf & Country Club, former Siena College standout Don DeNyse III, now an assistant pro at Eagle Crest, and former NENYPGA Players of the Year Peter Gerard of Mill Road Acres and Frank Mellet of Colonie Golf & Country Club.
There will also be a Legends Division.
Top prize will be $1,400.
Schalmont High School and
Siena College graduate Bryan Bigley, 28, missed the cut for the U.S. Open by three shots during this week’s 36-hole sectional qualifier at Century Country Club and Old Oaks in Purchase. But the difference really may have boiled down to just one swing.
“I had an 8 on my second hole of the day,” lamented Bigley, who competes on the eGolf Professional Tour. “I hit my tee shot a little off line, and we think it stayed up in the trees, because we never found it, even though it was a pretty wide-open area where the ball went. I had to go back to the tee again, and I ended up in the rough with a tough shot. I finally got on the green, and then I had a three-putt. It was just a very bad hole.
“I was fighting my swing all day. I would say my swing was only a C or a D all day, but I putted pretty well. I got to five-over-par, but then I kept grinding away to get myself back in it at the end of my round at Century.”
Bigley, a two-time Gazette County Amateur champion, eventually made a run at Old Oaks, and he was tied for fourth midway through the round.
“I saw the scoreboard at one point, and I saw that I was one-under-par. I thought that if I could get it to two- or three-under, I would have a chance,” he said.
Unfortunately, a late bogey thwarted his chances, and he ended up even par for the day. Only the top four players in a 79-player field advanced to this week’s U.S. Open, to be played Thursday through Sunday at Merion Golf Club.
“If I look back on it, I had a pretty good chance to qualify for the U.S. Open after 27 holes,” he said. “You don’t have to make that many birdies on tough courses. All you need to do is stay out of trouble and make a lot of pars. Unfortunately, that 8 really ended up costing me.”
Bethlehem senior Victor Fox, who will play at Maryland in the fall, shot a 75-75-150.
u The Albany County Amateur Golf Championship, originally a two-day event, will instead be a one-day tournament today at Normanside Country Club.
u Sycamore Country Club will be the host for the Eastern New York Golf Association’s Lou Torre Two-Man Championship Monday. The tournament is named after the late Gazette golf writer and columnist.
u One of the Northeastern Women’s Golf Association’s top events will be held Monday with the annual Gail Sykes Better Ball Championship at Leatherstocking Golf Club.
u The next Capital Region Am-ateur Golf Association classic event will be held Wednesday at McGregor Links Country Club.
u Schuyler Meadows Club will host the USGA Junior Amateur local qualifier June 26. Only one player will advance from the 22-player field. Local hopefuls include Bobby Canniff of Schuyler Meadows, Tanner and Hunter Donovan of Wolferts Roost Country Club, Joshua Fonda of Fox Run, Austin Felt of Van Patten Golf Club and Zach Scala of Van Schaick Island Country Club.
u Airway Meadows Golf Club will be the site for the eighth annual Wilton Rotary Golf Classic Saturday. Entry fee for the four-person scramble will be $90 and includes golf, light lunch and buffet dinner. Proceeds will benefit the Operation Adopt-A-Soldier program, which serves soldiers overseas and their families at home, as well as VET HELP, which helps veterans find employment and housing. Call Don Wildermuth at 587-4051.
u Also at Airway Meadows will be Monday’s fifth annual Stars of Hope Charity Golf Tournament, to benefit the Regal Foundation. Entry fee for the four-person scramble will be $80 and includes golf, lunch at the turn and a steak dinner. Goodie bags, including a free Regal Cinemas movie ticket, will be provided. Call 489-8505 for more information.
Kenneth Hammond hit a pitching wedge for his hole-in-one on the 13th hole at Schenectady Mun-icipal Golf Course.
At Eagle Crest Golf Club, James Hastings used a 5-wood to hole out on the 156-yard sixth hole.
Pete Zabo found the cup with a 9-iron on the 148-yard 16th hole at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
Also at Amsterdam Municipal, Bob Albee, using a 4-wood and playing in the Thursday Traveling Hackers, aced the 213-yard eighth hole.
Bill Fennell used an 8-iron to hole out on the 130-yard 15th hole at Mechanicville Golf Club.
Jim Sullivan holed out with a
7-iron for eagle on the par-4 10th hole at Mechanicville Golf Club.
Also at Mechanicvcille Golf Club, Ryan McBride eagled the par-4 third hole.
Former Amsterdam High School head football coach Frank Derrico eagled the 12th hole at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
Tom Kirkpatrick eagled the
292-yard par-4 fourth hole at Airway Meadows Golf Club.