Schuyler Meadows Club member Dave Hayes, one of the main forces behind bringing the 91st annual New York State Amateur Golf Championship to his home course, smiled when asked about Wednesday’s gusting winds.
“This is how this course should play. I love the wind,” he said.
Hayes birdied his first three holes, but the wind — and the course — eventually won the battle, as unusually strong breezes kept scores in the black during the rain-delayed second round.
Despite the challenging conditions, 18-year-old Victor Fox continued his steady play, shooting a one-under-par 71 for a two-day total of five-under 139. He leads the tournament by four shots over Matt Stasiak.
“The greens were a little harder and firmer than they were [Tuesday],” said Fox, who will attempt to become the first local player to win the State Amateur since Jay Gunning in 1986. “But the wind was the real game changer. My short game was very helpful for me today. I made about four or five up-and-downs that really saved the day for me. I made a lot of pars today.”
Fox, who graduated from Bethlehem High School last month and will attend Maryland in the fall, collected two of his three birdies on his opening two holes. He gave back two shots on bogeys, including what he called a good bogey on the fifth hole.
“On No. 5, which is a par-5, I hit the side of the green with my approach shot, and the ball hit something. I think it was a sprinkler head,” said Fox. “The ball shot dead left and went out of bounds. I dropped another ball and got up and down for a bogey. It was a good six. I think it was my only bad shot today.”
Fox said he noticed a large gallery building on the 13th hole to watch him play, but he didn’t get nervous.
“The U.S. Open Qualifier prepared me for this,” he said.
“I have a pretty good lead, but we’re playing 36 holes [today], and anything can happen. I’ve played a lot of tournaments in the past, and I know what to do.”
Stasiak, a 24-year-old from Fox Valley Club, was one of the out-of-towners who excelled despite the strong winds. He matched par for the day and finished with a two-day total of one-under-par 143.
“I’m absolutely glad to be off the course. The wind was wicked,” he said.
“The back nine played very tough for me, and the wind was very strong all day. I would say it was a two-club wind. It just feels good to be done with my round. To be one-under-par after two rounds here is very good.”
Stasiak plans on turning professional in September, and he would love to win one of his final amateur events. He’s competed in the prestigious Porter Cup the last three years, but decided to play in the State Amateur.
Playing partner Yaroslav Merkulov of Webster Golf Club in Rochester, the 2009 State Am champion, was also thrilled to complete his second round under par with a 71. He has a two-day total of even-par 144.
“I’m proud of myself today,” said Merkulov, who will be a junior at Duke. “When I teed off, there wasn’t much wind. But then it started to pick up, and I had to adjust. Those last 12 holes were brutal. It was a survival test. This course is difficult enough of a course without adding this wind.”
Merkulov, a four-time All-Greater Rochester Player of the Year, was three-under-par through 15 holes, but bogeyed the 16th and 17th. He was still upbeat about his performance, especially considering his recent history.
“I had wrist surgery last August, and I haven’t played much golf at all since then,” he said. “Craig Harmon [of Oak Hill] is my swing coach, and when he saw me swing recently, he asked me if that was really what my swing has turned into.
“The biggest thing for me now is trying to get back into tournament mode. The last two years of having no golf has made me too impatient.”
One of the local contingent who made the cut to the low 40 and ties for today’s finale is 2012 Gazette County Amateur champion Ben Bates of Mohawk Golf Club. He was a late finisher in Tuesday’s rain-delayed opening round with a 74 and came back with a 76 in the windy second round.
“I was four-under through seven holes [Tuesday], and I birdied the eighth, ninth, 12th and 13th holes,” he said. “I was really up and down. Today, I played more consistently. It was pretty hard out there. The wind was whipping pretty good.”
Dan Russo of Rolling Hills at Antlers Country Club shot a 76 to match Matt Canavan of Saratoga National with a 149.
“My short game is really bad right now,” said Russo, who had only played two 18-hole rounds since June before this week because of an injury to his left knee. “I was sloppy, but I’m hoping for a good finish.”
“It would be great if Victor Fox won, because he’s a good player and a good kid.”
Davis Jensen, son of Schuyler Meadows head pro Steve Jensen, made the cut after shooting a 74 for a 152 total that matched Ballston Spa Country Club’s Louis Walsh.
“A chip-in birdie on the 16th hole was very helpful,” said Jensen. “At least I made the cut. I try not to worry about the wind normally, but this wind was a little different than it usually is around here. It was a totally different course than it was [Tuesday].”
Mohawk GC member Jim Gifford, a multiple Saratoga County Amateur champion, finished with a 152 to also make the cut. His second-round 75 included an eagle on the fifth hole.
Also making the cut among the locals were Hayes (76-153), Dave Pallas of Saratoga Spa (81-154), Bryan Gorman of Shaker Ridge CC (80-154), Alex Kinkaid of eClub Capital District (84-155) and three-time Gazette County Amateur champion Robby Bigley (78-155).
Victor Fox (Normanside CC) 71-139, Matt Canavan (Saratoga National) 75-149, Dan Russo (Rolling Hills at Antlers CC) 76-149, Ben Bates (Mohawk GC), 76-150, Louis Walsh (Ballston Spa CC) 79-152, Davis Jensen (Schuyler Meadows) 74-152, Jim Gifford (Mohawk GC) 75-152, Dave Hayes (Schuyler Meadows) 76-153, Dave Pallas (Saratoga Spa) 81-154, Bryan Gorman (Shaker Ridge CC) 80-154, Alex Kinkaid (eClub Capital District) 84-155, Robby Bigley (Pinehaven CC) 78-155.