The stars aligned perfectly for Normanside Country Club standout Victor Fox in the opening round of the 91st annual New York State Amateur Golf Championship Tuesday at Schuyler Meadows Club.
Steady rain during the night and early morning not only pushed the starting times back three hours — giving youngsters who like to sleep in an edge — but the downpours also softened up the course, allowing more aggressive approach shots.
Fox, who graduated from Bethlehem in June and will play for Maryland in the fall, took advantage of his good fortune by shooting a four-under-par 68 to grab the first-round lead.
Former Shenendehowa High School standout Alex Kinkaid, playing out of the eClub Capital District, fired a 71 that included three birdies. Kinkaid made the Section II team for the state championship as a senior. Matt Canavan of Saratoga Springs was two-under-par when play was suspended because of darkness with several holes left.
“The greens softened up,” said Fox, who won this year’s Albany County Amateur. “I like to play in the afternoon, so things worked out just fine for me.”
Despite an outstanding junior career that includes an American Junior Golf Association championship and a pair of Section II titles, Fox never played in the State Amateur before because of scheduling conflicts.
“This is a big tournament,” he said. “I’ve qualified before, but I never played in it before.
“I’m glad about the rain delay, because it gave me some extra sleep. This course sets up well for me. I can carry the bunkers with my driver, and I like the greens.”
Fox rolled in six birdies and made just two bogeys.
“I played well. I only had two hiccups,” he said. “I hit a bad wedge on the [ninth, his 18th hole] and I three-putted on No. 8.”
Fox has no problems sitting on the lead and trying to become the first local player to win the State Am since Jay Gunning in 1986.
“My approach won’t change,” he said. “I won’t think about being either in the lead or near it. I play to win, though. This tournament is really important to me.”
Fox’s playing partner was Rochester’s Trevor Sluman, son of Champions Tour member Jeff Sluman, who won the State Amateur in 1978 and the PGA Championship in 1988.
Trevor Sluman, an Oak Hill Country Club member who will be a junior at Louisville, shot a 70 after a double bogey on his final hole.
Former champion Jim Scorse of Stafford Country Club shot a 71, as did Max Christiana of Westchester Country Club and Matt Stasiak of Fox Valley Club.
“I had a tough last hole, because my approach shot landed in the lip of the bunker,” Sluman said. “But it was the story of my day. I so like the course, though. I was able to fire at the pins. My approach off the tee changed because I could be more aggressive. I was going to play safe, especially on the back, but the wet conditions made it easier.”
Sluman said his father, who has caddied for him before, might come and watch him play on Thursday if he’s in contention.
Several local players — 55-year-old Dan Russo of Rolling Hills at Antlers Country Club, Louis Walsh of Ballston Spa CC and Dave Pallas of Saratoga Spa State Golf Course — shot one-over-par 73s.
Russo, who was battling an
injured left knee and was wearing a brace, rallied from a slow start to go as low as one-under-par, but he bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes.
“It was scoreable,” he said. “The pins were in some good spots, but not unfair. My knee is tender, but it’s OK. I think the course is better when it plays firm and fast. If we don’t get any more rain, it will play a lot more like the officials want it to play.”
Walsh, a Shenendehowa High School graduate and member of Ballston Spa Country Club, now plays for Siena College, just a stone’s throw away from Schuyler Meadows.
“I found the course scoreable. I knew where to hit it,” he said. “I’ve played this course four or five times before, and I’ve got a good memory. I was one-under-par on the back, and it feels like home for me, because Siena is just over the 17th hole.
“The greens roll true here, and the course is in good shape,” he said. “I think one-over-par is a good place to be right now.”
Pallas, who teamed with Jim Welch to win both the Stadium Classic and the Haggerty Two-Man this year, made two birdies to help offset three bogeys.
“It was tough out there,” he said. “I made a lot of pars today.”
Players who couldn’t complete their rounds Tuesday will finish up this morning before starting their second round. There will be a cut to the low 40 and ties for Thursday’s 36-hole finale.
Top local players — Victor Fox (Normanside) 68, Alex Kinkaid (eClub Capital District) 71, Dan Russo (Rolling Hills at Antlers) 73, Louis Walsh (Ballston Spa CC) 73, David Pallas (Saratoga Spa State Park) 73, Brandan McKee (eClub Capital District) 74, Ben Bates (Mohawk GC) 74, Bryan Gorman (Shaker Ridge CC) 74, Bob Cooper (Orchard Creek) 75, Austin Teal (Schuyler Meadows) 76, David Hayes (Schuyler Meadows) 77, Robby Bigley Jr. (Pinehaven CC) 77, Kevin Cassidy (Albany National) 77, Aaron Simone (Pinehaven CC) 78, Joseph Quijano (Shaker Ridge CC) 78, Jerry Brescia (Albany National) 78, Ryan Miller (Hiland GC) 78, Davis Jensen (Schuyler Meadows) 78, Taylor Bellemare (Hoosick Falls CC) 79, Joshua Kirby (Shaker Ridge CC) 80, Bill Paulsen Jr. (Eagle Crest GC) 80, Chad Stoffer (Town of Colonie) 81, Peter Broderick (Normanside CC) 81.