Paul Pratico is running out of room in his trophy case.
The steady former pro not only won his third consecutive Gazette Senior County Amateur Golf Championship Friday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, but he also became the first player to own both the open division and senior division County Amateur crowns in the same season.
Pratico shot a two-under-par 70 for a two-day total of 140 to win by three shots over seven-time County Amateur champ Jim Mueller (70-143), former champion Mike Carroll (72-143) of Mohawk Golf Club and Jay Taub (71-143).
Pratico now has an all-time record of nine County Amateur championships, including six in the open division. Bill Moll owned the previous record with three open division titles and five senior division championships.
“My big goal was to sweep,” said Pratico. “I don’t think anybody has ever won both County Amateur titles in the same year before, and I really wanted to do it. I don’t know how many more times I’m going to be in a position to win one of these, and I really wanted to do it this year. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do it this year, and I really felt that pressure on the back nine.”
Despite’s Pratico’s poise and talent, this victory didn’t come easy, even though he pulled out to a four-shot advantage heading to the par-5 14th hole.
After recording four straight birdies from the 10th through the 13th holes, it appeared Pratico was on cruise control. But he pushed his tee shot right on No. 14. The ball settled just to the right of the cart path, and he had a clear path to the green. But after pondering whether to play it safe or go for the green in two, he pulled out his 3-wood and poked it into the trees in the left rough. He found his ball, but it was in a precarious position. After trying to punch out with a 7-iron, he came up short, and he had to chip out to the fairway once again before pitching onto the green and two-putting for a double-bogey 7.
“It’s never over in golf,” said Pratico. “I was still very nervous out there. Nos. 14 and 17 can really bite you if you’re not careful, and No. 14 bit me today. Plus, I knew that I had several good players who were still in contention. Believe me, I was very nervous out there today.”
Pratico, who works for Golf Galaxy, settled down with a solid par on the long par-3 15th hole, but missed a five-foot birdie attempt on the 16th hole. Fortunately for him, Mueller failed to make his hard-breaking three-foot birdie try.
On the 160-yard 17th hole, Mueller hit an outstanding tee shot to within four feet, forcing Pratico to also go for the pin rather than play it safe to the middle of the green. He also made a fine shot, to within 10 feet.
Although Pratico was a bit too careful with his 10-footer, Mueller let him off the hook by missing his short birdie putt, and Pratico had a two-shot lead heading to the final hole.
Pratico split the fairway with his tee shot and found the middle of the green with his approach shot. Mueller’s tee shot ended up in the right rough, and he missed the green to the right. His pitch shot to the green went a bit long, and he two-putted for bogey, allowing Pratico to make an easy two-putt to wrap up the title.
Pratico began the day with a one-shot lead over Carroll and a two-shot advantage over Taub, but he couldn’t pull away on the front nine, despite numerous birdie opportunities. He birdied the second hole, but made one of the worst shots he’s ever hit in County Amateur competition when he skulled a wedge completely across the green on the fifth hole, resulting in a bogey.
“It was a hardpan lie, and I didn’t come down with enough angle on it. I tried to sweep it,” said Pratico with a grin.
He also missed some short birdie putts, including an easy one on the ninth hole, but he didn’t make any other major mistakes with the exception of the 14th hole. When he ran off four straight birdies, he looked like the Pratico of old.
“I figured out something with my putter on the back nine,” he said. “On the front side, I was playing too much break for the speed of the greens. I took some of the break off my putts, and I began to make some birdies.
“This feels great to accomplish this goal. There is always a lot of great competition in this tournament,” he said.
Mueller opened the final round with a pair of birdies but despite making only one bogey all day capitalized on just one more birdie try (on 12).
“I missed some short ones,” Mueller said. “I haven’t missed that many short ones all year. I felt comfortable on the greens all day, and I was making a good stroke. I just couldn’t make anything,” he said.
Carroll recorded four birdies, but had an uncharacteristic three three-putts.
“I missed by three shots, and I had three three-putts. That’s the story,” he said. “I almost jarred my pitch shot for eagle on the 16th hole. That would have been nice. But I’m happy with the way I played. I stayed in contention right to the end.”
Taub was also solid with three birdies and just two bogeys.
“I felt very comfortable playing with these guys today,” said the Ellis Hospital heart surgery medical technician. “Now, I feel that I can play with these guys.”
Paul Pratico 70-140, Jim Mueller 70-143, Jay Taub 71-143, Mike Carroll 72-143, Keith Gillespie 72-145, Mike Mina 75-148, Frank Manell 75-150, Andy Bennett 77-152, Woody Winslow 75-152, Glenn Stopera 77-153, Dave Sutphen 80-153, Andy Long 78-153, Jim Fazio 79-154, David Bowder 78-154, Jim Ryan 80-155, Don Bibby 82-156, Kevin Dwyer 79-156, Pete DiSimone 83-160, James Follain 84-161, Jim Gardy NC, Dave Nicholson WD.