For more than three decades, Dan Russo has built a reputation as perhaps the best pure ball-striker in the area.
Saturday, he relied on his often overlooked short game to add another trophy to his overflowing collection.
Battling gusting winds and tricky pins, the 55-year-old veteran from Rolling Hills at Antlers Country Club fired an even-par 70 for a two-day total of 141 to win the Capital Region Stroke Play Championship at Wolferts Roost Country Club.
Defending champion Jim Welch (75-147) of Olde Kinderhook was six shots behind in second place.
Although Wolferts Roost Country Club measures only 6,255 yards from the tips, its tricky, undulating greens make up for its lack of length. Coupled with extremely windy conditions in the final round, the area’s premier players failed to shoot under par.
Russo, a multiple Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Player of the Year, has now won seven stroke play titles, dating back to CRAGA’s predecessor, the Tri-County Golf Association. He has won every noteworthy medal-play tournament in the area, including several Troy Invitationals, considered the premier three-day event in the region, and numerous Edison Invitationals, the top single-day tournament for the elite scratch players.
He’s played in and won numerous best-ball tournaments at some of the premier clubs in the country, and he’s also participated in the U.S. Senior Open.
But most of his titles have been won because of his outstanding ball-striking skills. He’s never been known for his touch around the greens. Saturday, he needed to be sharp with his short pitches and chips, and he also needed to be precise with his putter.
“It was hard out there,” said Russo. “The wind made it extremely difficult. You had to be very careful with all of your approach shots. If you were above the pins, you were in trouble.
“I think I played exceptionally well today, and my short game helped me out quite a bit. I hit the ball solidly, but on a lot of those shots, there was no room for error.”
Russo started the day three shots behind first-round leader Brandon Haase of Mohawk Golf Club. But while Haase struggled, Russo rolled in two birdies to help offset three bogeys as he made the turn at one-over-par.
He was exceptional on the back nine, as his steady play kept him out of trouble.
He had easy tap-in pars on the 10th and 11th holes before rolling in a 22-footer for birdie on the 12th.
One of his best shots of the day came on the 13th hole. Although he used a hybrid off the tee to play it safe, he hit a tree, and the ball bounced straight down, only about 100 yards from the tee area. He hit a mid-iron from the rough just in front of the green and then lofted a lob wedge to four feet, setting up his par-saving putt.
Russo reached the 563-yard, par-5 14th hole in two with a 4-iron and then two-putted for birdie.
He made another extraordinary up-and-down par on the 193-yard, par-3 15th hole when he missed the green to the short side and had to flip a wedge to four feet.
His only miscue on the back came on the 17th hole, when he hit his approach shot into a bunker and failed to get up and down.
“I had no idea of where I stood until the final two holes,” Russo admitted. “I did know that the course was playing extremely difficult because of the wind.
“This feels very good to win this once again. It’s a very strong field.”
Joe Quillinan of Old Kinderhook (70-150), David Hayes of Schuyler Meadows (77-150), David Jensen of Schuyler Meadows (72-150) and Steve Quillinan Jr. of Colonie Golf & Country Club (78-150) tied for third.
Dan Russo 70-141, $250; Jim Welch 75-147, $200; Joe Quillinan 70-150, $175; Dave Hayes 77-150, $106; Davis Jensen 72-150, $106; Steve Quillinan Jr. 78-150, $106; Michael Altobello 75-152, $11; Jim Gifford 75-152, $11; Brandon Haase 84-152, $11; Chad Stoffer 76-152, $11; Mike Wheeler 76-152, $11; Tanner Donovan 77-153; Justin McCarthy 78-153; David Mooradian 75-154; Tom Salmon 76-154; James Bologna 83-155; Hunter Donovan 80-156; Louis Walsh 79-156; David Huestis 79-157; Kevin Broderick 84-158; Mike McCarroll 78-159; Bryan Barach 82-161; Justin Farrell 84-161; Greg Bennett 77-162; Adam Bunkoff 80-163; Chris Lyons 80-163; Andrew Petroff 82-164; Joey Kilmartin 79-165; Matt Panneton 87-169; Jack Sneeringer 81-170; Peter Jorgensen 87-175; Matt Arnold 89-177; Steve Quillinan 86-177; Tom Cassidy 94-181; Jonathan Squires 93-181; Liam Baynes 95-184; Chris Jenkins 100-191; Mike Java WD.