Local club pros Jeremy Kerr, Matt Daley and John Souza have replaced the likes of marquee PGA Tour players Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and John Daly, but the Ellis Medicine Pro-Am, formerly the Capital District Skins Game, is still bringing in loads of charity dollars by hitting the little white ball.
Although the old Skins Game format faded away several years ago, charity dollars still flow to Ellis Hospital and its various departments. This year’s tournament, hosted by Neil and Jane Golub Monday at Mohawk Golf Club, is projected to raise more than $100,000. Since the popular event began in 1993, more than $3.3 million has been raised to support Ellis Medicine. Current funds will help fund Ellis’ new Neil and Jane Golub Center for Emergency Care.
Honorary chairwoman Nora Jaski has been involved with the event since its inception, and although she misses the skins game format that brought so many legends to the area, she appreciates what the local professionals from the Northeastern New York PGA do for her favorite charity.
“We get great value from our local pros,” said Jaski. “They give each group a little teaching, guidance and direction. Our local pros have great chemistry with our amateurs. They make everybody relaxed.”
Jaski said she and the tournament committee are thrilled that local support continues even after the PGA Tour headliners stopped coming to the event.
“Ellis Medicine is such a great part of our community. So many people have come out to participate in this tournament over the years, and we really appreciate it,” she said. “It’s very important that we continue to make money for the hospital and all of its worthwhile projects. This tournament helps.”
NENYPGA tournament director Doug Evans said the local pros enjoy giving back to the game and grow the sport. Their involvement in charity tournaments is a win-win situation, because both sides benefit.
“We have four major charity events that we are involved in,” said Evans. “There is the Double-H Hole in the Woods, the Ellis Pro-Am, the Center for Disabilities and the ALS. They are all pro-am formats. We think it adds value to the events. Our PGA professionals keep everyone relaxed, and they often help to keep play moving. Their interaction helps the amateurs have more fun.”
Kerr, the host pro of the event, played with a foursome of doctors — Howard Schlossber, Mark Sanchez, Peter Cospito and Steve Weitz. All four are oncologists, and three of the four helped Kerr’s father battle cancer before he passed away this March.
“This event is very special for me, especially after my father died,” said Kerr. “All the doctors at Ellis are great. They do a fantastic job, and helping to raise money for them and the hospital is pretty important.”
Kerr agreed that the local club pros add a lot to the festive nature of the tournament.
“We can be a big help to each foursome,” he said. “With this scramble format, we are obviously the better players, for the most part, and we can help them score better. But this is also a chance for us to help out the people who make donations to a great cause.”
Souza, head pro at Stadium Golf Club, likes to emphasize fun over competiveness.
“I play in all of the pro-ams,” he said. “I like to have a lot of fun. I feel I’m a fun guy to be around, and that’s what I try to bring to the group.
“If someone has a little problem that I can help them with, I will give them a small lesson. But I make it a point not to interfere with someone’s game unless they ask me to. Sometimes, the kind of help they need would take several lessons, and this is not the time to try to make major changes.
“If someone is hitting the ball well but maybe pushing the ball to the right, I might suggest strengthening their grip a little. Usually, I just try to give everybody support. But again, the main thing is to have a lot of fun.”
Daley, the first-year head pro at Schenectady Municipal and the former assistant pro at Mohawk, has a special relationship with the Ellis Pro-Am. His father, Joe, helped start the original Skins Game and was responsible for bringing in most of the PGA Tour stars, including Fuzzy Zoeller, Craig Stadler, Gary Player, Mark Lye and Hubie Green.
The CD Skins Game, which began at Shaker Ridge Country Club, and then moved to Albany Country Club and eventually on to Mohawk, annually drew between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators. Champions Tour player Blaine McCallister was the emcee, and he
always brought along some of his old friends with him, including former PGA Tour veteran Ed Fiori.
Local club pros began to get involved with a pro-am the day before the Skins Game itself. The winner of that pro-am played with the PGA Tour standouts in the Skins Game. The tournament eventually tried several different formats before settling on the current one.
“This is always fun,” Daley said. “It’s nice to reconnect with the amateurs. It’s a fun day out. I’m humbled just to get a chance to play with the amateurs. Plus, our PGA section has a lot of great guys, and they all like to bust each other’s chops trying to get the competitive edge with each other.
“We all like to give back to the game, and this is just one way we can. It’s also for a great cause.”
Twenty-eight five-person teams played in a scramble format of the rain-shortened event. Most teams had between two and four holes left when a storm hit. Each team received a birdie on each hole it failed to finish.
Apparently, Souza’s team had more fun than everyone else, because his team, consisting of amateurs Dr. Chris Fatone, Dr. Herbert Reich, Jay Taub and Ron Cohen, birdied every hole en route to an 18-under-par 53 to win the gross title.
Gross Division — John Souza (Stadium), pro; Dr. Chris Fatone, Dr. Hebert Reich, Jay Taub, Ron Cohen, 53; Jesse Muller (Windham), pro; Brian Mason, John Copeland, Peter Marx, Tony Gorman, 54.
Net Division — Justin Hearley (Normanside), pro; Eric Thaler, Jeff Wengrovius, Mike Foley, Steve Bahr, 48.1; Kevin Pokorski (Ausable Club), pro; Chris Roberts, Paul Tilley, Rick Barlow, Wally Graham, 49.
Longest drive — Chat Robinson; Laura Couch.
Closest to hole — No. 2, Tom Schmitz, 19-3.
Closest to line — No. 9, Chris Fatone, Debbie Bulesky.
Putting contest qualifiers — Wally Graham, Steve Bahr, Lynny Walters, Dr. Roger Barowman.
Skins — Windham CC team of Muller, Mason, Copeland, Marx and Gorman, $276 each.