Although he won’t be at full strength, veteran Dan Russo didn’t want to miss the premier event of the local golfing season.
A left knee injury has limited him to just two 18-hole rounds since June 8, but the Rolling Hills at Antlers Country Club standout will take advantage of a special exemption and will be among the area favorites when the 91st annual New York State Amateur Golf Championship is played today through Thursday at Schuyler Meadows Club.
The 55-year-old Russo has won virtually every individual and team event this area has to offer, including the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Stroke Play Championship, several CRAGA Player of the Year honors and a couple of Troy Invitational titles. He’s been the backbone of the area contingent in its annual battle against the pros for the Gazette Cup, and he’s competed in the U.S. Senior Open, as well as numerous best-ball partner events at some of the nation’s finest courses.
Russo knows that, at his age, he might not have many chances left to compete against the state’s best players. That’s why he decided to give the State Amateur a try, even though he’s not sure how competitive he will be with his aching knee affecting his pivot leg.
“If it was my right leg, it would have been easier. I’ll try my best. I just hope I can walk all 18 holes each day,” he said. “I don’t know how many more of these kinds of events I can play, so I want to take advantage of every chance I get. I just love to compete.”
Russo said patience will be key for all the local contenders.
“You’ve got to be patient. You can’t try to force things early on,” he said. “I try to stay away from the big numbers early on. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do when I play in these things. You try to be consistent early on, and if you are in contention in the last couple of rounds, you can go after it. But I don’t try anything new. It’s best to play the way you’ve been playing right along and don’t get too fancy.”
Russo has played on all of the Capital Region’s premier layouts, and he believes Schuyler Meadows is one of the best.
“I’m assuming the course will be set up hard and fast, and that the greens will be quick. I don’t think anybody will tear it up,” he said. “One of the great things about Schuyler Meadows is that everything is in front of you. There are no tricked-up holes. A couple of the changes they made with their renovations made the course tougher, but most of the changes they made simply restored the course to the way it was originally designed.
“Most of their greens are flat, but they do have some subtle breaks. I think they did a great job with the course. It’s a really nice golf course and fun to play.”
A strong local contingent will try to capture the first State Am trophy for an area competitor since Jay Gunning, then out of Town of Colonie Golf Course, did the trick in 1986.
One of the leading contenders will be former New York State Mid-Amateur winner Jim Welch, a Skidmore College graduate who, like Russo, has numerous CRAGA Player of the Year and Troy Invitational crowns to his credit. Welch, who plays out of Olde Kinderhook, is also a former Eagle Crest Shoot-out winner. He teamed up with Dave Pallas to win both the Stadium Classic and the Haggerty Two-Man tournament this summer.
Dave Hayes of the host course should be among the favorites. The 46-year-old long hitter won the Troy Invitational in 2000 and is a six-time club champion at Schuyler Meadows. He also qualified for the 2002 U.S. Amateur and has been Russo’s partner in numerous team events, including the Williams Invitational at Oak Hill, the Olympia Fields Invitational and the Walter J. Travis Memorial.
Tee times today run from 7:39 a.m. to 2:03 p.m. on both the first and 10th tees. The 72-hole event concludes with 36 holes on Thursday.
Ryan Miller (Hiland Golf Club), Bryan Gorman (Shaker Ridge Country Club), Jerry Brescia (Albany National Golf Club), David Hayes (Schuyler Meadows), Davis Jensen (Schuyler Meadows), Greg Bennett (Shaker Ridge Country Club), Peter Broderick (Normanside Country Club), Chris Comi (The Edison Club), Alex Kinkaid (eClub Capital District), Sean Miles (Ballston Spa Country Club), Ben Bates (Mohawk Golf Club), Jim Welch (Olde Kinderhook), Jim Gifford (Mohawk Golf Club), Steve Quillinan Jr. (Country Club of Troy), Mike Wheeler (Shaker Ridge Country Club), Mark Thornhill Jr. (Ballston Spa Country Club), Austin Teal (Schuyler Meadows), Dan Russo (Rolling Hills at Antlers), Robby Bigley (Pinehaven Country Club), Victor Fox (Normanside Country Club), Louis Walsh (Ballston Spa Country Club), Bill Paulsen Jr. (Eagle Crest Golf Club), Joe Quijano (Shaker Ridge Country Club), Thomas Kenneally (The Edison Club), Kevin Cassidy (Albany National Golf Club), Bob Cooper (Orchard Creek), Joshua Kirby (Shaker Ridge Country Club), David Pallas (Saratoga Spa), Taylor Bellemare (Hoosick Falls Country Club), Chad Stoffer (Town of Colonie Golf Course), CJ O’Rourke (Wolferts Roost Country Club), Matt Canavan (eClub Capital District), Ryan Caponera (Schuyler Meadows), DJ Tozier (The Edison Club), Dave Mooradian (Country Club of Troy), Alex Olbrych (Schenectady Municipal), Justin McCarthy (Wolferts Roost Country Club).