Big hitters often feast at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course during the annual Gazette County Amateur Golf Championship.
With four of the five par-5s easily reachable in two for the longer strikers who are on their game, birdies should be plentiful.
That was the case for Ben Bates a year ago as he used a 3-wood to shoot a three-day total of 11-under-par 205 and win his first County Am title by seven shots over five-time winner Paul Pratico.
Plenty of long hitters will be in the field of 87 players who tee off Friday morning, beginning at 6:30. The low 40 and ties advance to Saturday’s second round. Only the low 20 and ties make it to the final round on Sunday.
According to Muny head pro Matt Daley, more wet weather expected today could force a change in the schedule, wiping out Friday’s round and reducing the event to a two-day tournament for Saturday and Sunday. Carts might not be available.
Although extra length is useful at Muny, brawn without brain can get the power guys in trouble, especially on the back side.
Three-time winner Robby Bigley, a powerful driver who came in third a year ago, reminds everyone that Muny isn’t always conducive to the big stick.
“It’s a fun course if you’re playing well,” said Bigley, who has been playing the course for more than 20 years and used to caddy for his father, five-time champion Rob Bigley Sr., when he and his brother were just youngsters.
“But it can be a tough driving course for the bigger hitters. There is trouble out there,” said Bigley. “True, there are some wide-open holes, especially on the front, but on the back, it narrows up.”
Bigley pointed out that the 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th holes have plenty of difficulty for the stronger players who like to take advantage of their length off the tee.
“No. 10 is tough. It narrows for the long-ball hitter, because you have the willows on the right and the pond on the left,” said Bigley.
“The same is true for the 11th hole. You have the trees on the right, and the water hazard in front of the green, You have to figure out if you want an uphill second shot, and you have to decide which club to use off the tee.”
Bigley also worries about the 12th hole.
“From the back chute, No. 12 is a tough hole for the longer hitter,” he said. “It really narrows at the tree line, and you have that water hazard on the left. If you are a shorter hitter, you can miss your tee shot right and still pop it through the trees.”
Only the longest hitters have a chance to reach the par-5 14th in two, but you need a huge drive in the fairway, which slants from left to right. Many tee shots not hit to the left-center of the fairway can end up in the right trees.
“And the par-5 16th hole can also be trouble if you don’t get a good tee shot,” Bigley said. “Very few people are long enough to drive over the water hazard on the left, and if you’re not careful, you can get blocked out with a tee shot that is hit too far to the right.”
Bigley said that most successful players make most of their birdies on the front nine.
“I remember Mr. [Jim] Mueller telling me that if you can go under par all three days on the back nine, you’ll be in the tournament,” he said. “Everybody goes a couple under par on the front, but whoever can go under par on the back nine has a big advantage.
“You have to be careful and not get too silly,” Bigley added. “My father told me that even par used to win this tournament years ago. That’s not the case now, but you have to be careful.”
Last year, Bates dominated the County Amateur by shooting well under par all three days with a 69 and back-to-back 68s. The Skidmore College graduate and former New York State Junior Amateur champion had one of his best putting days ever at Muny.
“I think the biggest difference between last year and the previous years I played was on the greens,” he said. “I’ve had years where I’ve hit the ball just as well or even better than I did last year, but I struggled to get the ball to the hole. Last year was a lot better in that regard.
“It was nice to shoot the kind of scores I felt I wanted to shoot. In the past, I would hit 16 greens and end up with a 72. Some years, I didn’t feel my scores represented how well I played.”
Bates said he isn’t sure why he putted so well in last year’s event.
“All I know is that my comfort level with the speed of the greens carried through all three days,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing where I was 20 feet and 25 feet away and was thinking about making the putt instead of making par. When you are putting well, you think you can make everything. When you are putting poorly, you are worried about where to miss the putt. You don’t want to have negative thoughts.”
Bates, who will be 32 next month, said he has different priorities now that his daughter is 2 years old. He doesn’t play as often, especially in tournaments. Owner of numerous club championships and member-guest titles at Mohawk Golf Club, Bates usually plays about once a week now.
“Some rounds are good, and some not as good,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be ready [Friday]. I spend more time practicing than playing in a lot of tournaments now. But I’ll know if I have my game after the first few holes.”
This year’s field is once again loaded with talent. Seven-time titlist Mueller and Pratico, who has two Senior County Am victories to go along with his five open-division wins, should be near the top of the leaderboard. Other former champions include Tom Salmon, two-time winner Bob Cooper and three-time titlists Mike Bayus, Bill Moll and Ed Chylinski.
There are also a handful of former Senior County Amateur champions in the field, like five-time winners Neil Golub and Moll, as well as single champions Tony Cristello and Jim Gardy.
Other top contenders include Todd Czepiel, Chad Stoffer, Seth Adams, Jerry Brescia, Aaron Simone, Brandon Haase and Lance Hope.
6:30 — Brian Daley, Josh Powers, Matt Panneton, Jack Stopera.
6:40 — Jay Singh, Aaron Simone, Lance Hope, Mike Mina.
6:50 — Mike Drake, Jim Fazio, Dave Sutphen, Frank DeGraw.
7:00 — Neil Golub, Mike Bayus, Tony Cristello, Harry Morgan.
7:10 — Bill Moll, Jim Gardy, Glenn Stopera, Bill Sweet.
7:20 — Kenny Hall, Andy Bennett, Mario Marino, Ross Lackey.
7:30 — Tim Lewandowski, Woody Winslow, Paul Carnivale, Mike Daley.
7:40 — Nicholas Longo, Greg Stopera, Jim Follain, Dave Nicholson.
7:50 — Rit Cimmino, Jor Cimmino, Toby Harding, Craig Schoonmaker.
8:00 — Paul Pratico, Ben Bates, Jim Mueller, Tom Salmon.
8:10 — Bob Cooper, Ed Chylinski, Brandon Haase, Jerry Brescia.
8:20 — Carl Gilbert, Chris Gilbert, Larry Edwards, Mike Lucey.
8:30 — Todd Trepess, Chris Pierpont, Randy Bird, Frank Manell.
8:40 — Mike DiGirolamo, Richard Florkiewicz, Gary Slater, Tom Kenneally.
8:50 — Allen Cromer, Robert Alheim, Ryan Gallagher, Nicholas Kearns.
9:00 — Jay Taub, Dave DeMarco, Brandon Alois, George Hillenbrandt.
9:10 — Derrick Brown, Mike Pollock, Steve Mango, Mark Compton.
9:20 — Kevin Schlansker, Alex Olbrych, Patrick Woodfield, Seth Adams.
9:30 — Jeremy Youngs, Kevin Betzwieser, Freddy Luna, Don Dobbs.
11:50 — Connor Adams, Kyle Adams, Chris Stopera, Mike Stopera.
12:00 — Rob Bigley Jr., Todd Czepiel, Chad Stoffer, Rob Bigley Sr..
12:10 — Kevin Dwyer, Mike Dwyer, Don Blaha.