Defending champion Dan Russo, the undisputed king of local amateur golf, played like a man with a plan during the final round of the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Stroke Play Championship.
The 56-year-old Hagaman resident, who moved his club affiliation from Rolling Greens at Antlers to Schuyler Meadows Club this spring, was brilliant with his irons, but played conservatively on the greens and posted a one-over-par 73 for a two-day total of 147 to win the region’s top amateur event Saturday at Schuyler Meadows.
For Russo, it was his unprecedented sixth CRAGA Stroke Play crown. He also has two Tri-County Golf Association Stroke Play titles and one Capital Region Times Union Amateur crown for a total of nine area stroke play titles. Both the TCGA Stroke Play and CR TU Amateur tournaments are no longer in existence.
With the win, Russo earned an exemption into this year’s New York State Mid-Amateur tournament, as well as next year’s New York State Senior Amateur.
“I was playing good, for a change,” said Russo, who added that the two exemptions he earned were a bonus. “I didn’t take any chances. If the pins were in tough spots, I was very careful today. I just played smart. I knew where I stood the entire time, and there was no reason to take too many chances. This feels great for me, because I’ve been struggling for a long time.”
Seven-time Gazette Schenectady County Amateur champion Jim Mueller was the runner-up with a 74-151, followed by James Bolonga (78-152) and Austin Teal (78-152).
Russo’s only bad hole on the front was a double-bogey on the par-5 second hole.
“I not only hit a bad shot, but then I hit a dumb shot, and I ended up losing a ball,” Russo admitted. He birdied the eighth hole.
But he knew nobody in his group was really putting any pressure on him, so he put on an iron clinic on the back nine, tapping in for easy pars on the 10th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th holes. He chipped in for birdie on the par-3 12th hole. Six times, he had birdie putts inside eight feet.
Russo’s only blemish on the back nine was on the challenging par-4 17th hole. His tee shot found a fairway bunker. He blasted out, but was short of the elevated, two-tiered green. Instead of trying to pitch the ball up the hill with a wedge, he used a hybrid instead, and kept the ball low to set up a two-putt bogey that prevented him from making a bigger mistake.
Leaders — Dan Russo (Hagaman) 73-147, Jim Mueller (Altamont) 74-151, Austin Teal (Loudonville) 78-152, James Bologna (Albany) 75-152, Chad Stoffer (Niskayuna) 78-155, Ian Teal (Loudonville) 7 8-155, Spencer Sautin (Ballston Lake) 76-155, Chris Thompson (Saratoga Springs) 79-156, Mike Wheeler (Schenectady) 80-156, Sean Puleo (Loudonville) 76-156, Bill Paulsen Jr. (Clifton Park) 81-157, Lance Hope (Schenectady) 76-157, Steve Quillinan Jr. (Troy) 76-157, Todd Czepiel (Duanesburg) 75-157, David Hayes (Loudonville) 77-158, Davis Jensen (Loudonville) 80-158, Kevin O’Leary (Albany) 78-158, Matt Clarke (Loudonville) 77-158, Greg Bennett (Wynantskill) 78-161, Justin Deitz (Clifton Park) 80-161, Dan Ireland (Wynantskill) 80-163, Joe Delaney (Menands) 79-164, Andrew Petroff (Ballston Lake) 82-165, Daniel Shepherd (Wilton) 82-165, Brandon Haase (Glenville) 80-166, Carter Fritch (Gansevoort) 84-166, Greg Teal (Loudonville) 87-166, John Mendrysa (Niskayuna) 83-167, Vincent Fioravanti (Altamont) 77-167, Kevin Cassidy (Loudonville) 83-168.