The 20th annual Eagle Crest Shoot-out featured some new wrinkles, but several familiar veterans rose to the top Friday at Eagle Crest Golf Club.
Paul Pratico, a 52-year-old, six-time Gazette County Amateur champion playing with 58-year-old Glen Brown, needed to hit a spectacular wedge shot after 19-year-old Spencer Sautin’s brilliant pitch landed just five feet, two inches from the cup during the chip-off on the final hole.
It appeared that Sautin, who recently transferred from Methodist College to Siena, locked up the title for he and his partner, 56-year-old Bill Paulsen Jr., the host course’s owner/general manager.
Pratico knew he had little room for error, because the pin was located on the back tier of the 18th green, precariously close to the rough. But Pratico’s wedge shot from 90 yards out landed beyond the pin and sucked back to within four feet, six inches, to narrowly win the title.
Using a best-ball format for the second straight season after 18 years of individual play, the Eagle Crest Shoot-out altered its format this season. The top 10 teams and ties from the morning’s 18-hole qualifier still advanced to the shoot-out portion of the event, but this year, the remaining teams were split into two separate divisions, based on their alternate finishes. For example, the qualifying medalist tandem headed one division, and was joined by the third, fifth, seventh, and ninth-place finishers, while the team that finished second headed the other division, with teams that finished fourth, sixth, eighth and 10th.
Each division played four holes, with at least one team being eliminated on each hole. Since there were ties, a couple of teams were eliminated on the first hole. The qualifying cut ended up being one-under-par 71.
Pratico and Brown survived their division after Brown’s chip-off on the 15th hole landed closer than former Shoot-out champion Jim Welch and his partner, Dave Pallas.
Paulsen and Sautin won their division with a chip-off over Sal Romano and Packy McGraw.
The division winners squared off on the par-5 18th hole. Paulsen and Sautin had a big advantage on the final hole, because of Sautin’s youth and length off the tee. After a booming tee shot of well over 300 yards, he hit a 4-iron from 235 yards that landed on the middle tier of the green, about 35 feet away. But he failed to two-putt for birdie.
Brown’s third shot landed over the green, but Pratico’s third-shot pitch nearly went in the hole and settled about five feet below the cup.
That put the pressure on Paulsen, who has had an outstanding season so far. He won his sixth straight Saratoga County Amateur senior division crown and also earned qualifying medalist honors at Ballston Spa Country Club for the upcoming New York State Amateur.
Paulsen’s pitch shot landed six feet from the hole, and when he rolled in the birdie putt, all the pressure was back on Pratico.
“I was very happy to get my putt in first,” said Paulsen. “It’s not easy making your birdie putt when the other guy is already in the hole.”
But Pratico calmly sank his five-footer, setting up the chip-off that eventually determined the winner.
Sautin was the first player up in the chip-off, and he quickly redeemed himself for not taking advantage of reaching the 18th hole in two.
“I told him, ‘Let’s get something up on top,’ ” said Paulsen, referring to the top tier of the green. “When he hit it to five feet, I thought it was all over. Actually, I thought it was over on the final hole, because we had a big advantage with Spencer reaching the green in two with a 4-iron.”
“I was fortunate that the chip-off was from a perfect distance for me,” said Pratico. “I just used my 100-yard club and anticipated spinning the ball back. After Spencer hit that great shot, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I had no choice but to go past the pin and bring the ball back.”
Pratico and Brown shot a 69 in the qualifier with four birdies and one bogey. They registered four birdies in the shoot-out.
“We didn’t play all that great individually, but we ham-and-egged it pretty well when we needed to, especially in the shoot-out,” said Brown. “Paul is one of the best players around. He really came on strong in the shoot-out.”
“This was a lot of fun,” said Pratico. “There were a lot of great players here.”
Paulsen and Sautin shot a 71 to barely squeeze into the shoot-out. They had three birdies and two bogeys.
Three teams — Chris Gilbert with Andy Bennett, Matt Clarke with Tim Flanigan and Robby Bigley with Todd Czepiel — tied with five-under-par 67s, but Gilbert and Bennett were named medalists based on their back-nine score.
Qualifier — Chris Gilbert-Andy Bennett 67; Matt Clarke-Tim Flanigan 67; Robby Bigley-Todd Czepiel 67; Mike Wheeler-Tom Salmon 68; Paul Pratico-Glen Brown 69; Sal Romano-Packy McGraw 71; Mike McCarroll-Paul James 71; Bill Paulsen Jr.-Spencer Sautin 71; Josh Kirby-Joe Marro 71; Ken Hall-Fred Case 71; Justin McCarthy-Bill McCarthy 71; Dave Pallas-Jim Welch 71.
Other scores — Mark Chylinski-Bill Hogan 72; Craig Hayner-Dan Seiter 72; Joe Quinano-Steve Hoffman 7 2; Bryan Gorman-Justin Vonk 73; Paul Hart-Kevin Broderick 73; Dave DeMarco-Mark Keegan 73; Lee Reeves-Tim Robillard 73; Brandon Alois-Mike Drake 74; San Moore-Mike Saccocio 75; Joey Bolt-Rocky Couser 75; Mark Squaderer-John Spagnola 76; Greg Bennett-Nick Marini 77.
Shoot-out finishers — Paul Pratico-Glen Brown, 1st; Bill Paulsen Jr.-Spencer Sautin, 2nd; Jim Welch-Dave Pallas, 3rd; Sal Romano-Rocky McGraw, 4th; Josh Kirby-Joe Marro, 5th; Mike McCarroll-Paul James, 6th; Todd Czepiel-Robby Bigley 7th; Matt Clarke-Tim Flanigan, 8th; Andy Bennett-Chris Gilbert, 9th; Tom Salmon-Mike Wheeler, 10th.