If you are currently an amateur scratch golfer, the chances of ever competing in the Masters, the British Open or the PGA Championship are like me making a 50-foot putt: Slim and none. You get the idea.
That’s not the case for the other “major” on the PGA tour. The U.S. Open, our national championship, allows any player — professional or amateur — to put their game to the supreme test, as long as their Handicap Index is 1.4 or less.
Of course, the road to the 156th U.S. Open, to be played June 16-19 at Oakmont Country Club, is both extremely challenging and demanding, but 78 hopefuls begin their quest Monday with the local qualifier at Mohawk Golf Club.
The top four players advance to sectional qualifying, and from there, the best players move on to what is perennially the most difficult golf competition in the world.
This year, 9,877 entries were accepted into the various local qualifiers. Many are seasoned professionals with vast experience on numerous tours, but there are plenty of amateurs with the dream of teeing it up with the big boys.
Among the aspiring professionals in the local qualifier is Hiland Golf Club assistant pro Scott Berliner, also the assistant coach at Skidmore College and the five-time defending Northeastern New York PGA Player of the Year. Berliner was one of the qualifiers last year.
Schalmont High School and Siena College graduate Bryan Bigley, now living in Charlotte, N.C. and competing in the Web.com Tour, also returns to the Capital Region for another chance to advance to the U.S. Open. He also qualified last year but failed to advance past the sectionals. He’s one of the few players with local ties to have experience playing on the PGA Tour, as he’s competed in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow twice.
Scotia native Ron Philo, now living in Fernandina Beach, Fla., is another local player with plenty of pro experience. He’s competed in numerous PGA Tour events and is a former Club Professional titlist.
Other local pros in the field include Normanside Country Club assistant Justin Hearley, Colonie Golf & Country Club assistant Ian Breen, Paul Pratico Jr., Mark Fretto, Colonie Golf & Country Club head pro Frank Mellet, John Korniak, Eagle Crest Golf Club assistant Scott Battiste and Albany Country Club head pro Glenn Davis.
Jim Gifford, who has plenty of experience at the host club, tops the amateur field. Others include 2015 Gazette County Amateur titlist Aaron Simone of Pinehaven Country Club, multiple Capital Region Amateur Golf Association champion Dan Russo of Schuyler Meadows, Tanner Donovan of Loudonville, Stephen Quillinan of Albany, Josh Marr of Albany, Dave Hayes of Schuyler Meadows, Travis Deuel of Queensbury, former Mohawk members Bryan Barach and Chris Barach, Austin Fox of Normanside Country Club, Spencer Sautin of Ballston Lake, Pete Lindner of Voorheesville, Sean Puleo of Loudonville, Terence Manziano of Cohoes, College of Saint Rose player Corey Purcell and Shaker Ridge Country Club assistant course superintendent Todd Czepiel.
CHALLENGE IS BACK
The 14th Annual Pro-Am Challenge, a Ryder Cup-type competition between the club pros of the Northeastern New York PGA and the amateurs from the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association, returns Wednesday at Wolferts Roost Country Club.
The pros lead the series 8-5, but the amateurs won last year at The Edison Club.
Formerly called the Gazette Cup, the competition is open to the public and begins at 10:30 a.m. Twelve players from each team square off in both individual and team match play. The players are chosen off of each organization’s player of the year point list.
Yours truly has been named the honorary captain of the amateur team, which includes many of the competitors in the local U.S. Open qualifier: Russo, Hayes, Quillinan, Puleo, Sautin and Donovan.
Other amateurs on the squad are former Tri-County Golf Association Match Play champion Chad Stoffer of Town of Colonie, multiple Troy Invitational titlist Jim Welch of Winding Brook Country Club, former New York State Mid-Amateur champion Matt Clarke, Kevin Cassidy of Albany National Golf Club, Brandon Haase of Mohawk Golf Club and Lance Hope of Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
The NENYPGA will announce its team early this week. Players like Berliner, Mellet and Davis have been regulars.
The finals of the Tri-County Golf Association Match Play Championship will be played today at Colonie Golf & Country Club.
Siena College, which won its fourth Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Golf Championship by rallying from six shots back in the final round, will be the 14th seed in the Marana, Arizona NCAA regional May 16-18 at the Gallery Golf Club.
Stadium Golf Club will host a summer junior golf league on Mondays at 12:45 p.m., Tuesdays at 12:15 p.m. and Wednesdays at 1 p.m. beginning the week of June 27 and running for eight weeks. The cost is $175 per player and includes green fees, prizes, driving range punch card and golf towel. Call 374-9104 for more information.
Queensbury Country Club hosts the next Eastern New York Golf Association event Wednesday.
Bill Nichols registered a hole-in-one with an 8-iron on the 173-yard ninth hole at Airway Meadows Golf Club.
Ricky Gallego collected his first ace on the 148-yard eighth hole at Fairways of Halfmoon. He used a 7-iron.
Pat Quinn of the 2nd Milers Golf league aced the 160-yard fifth hole with an 8-iron at Stadium Golf Club.
John Lawrence got a hole-in-one with his 5-wood on the 142-yard 16th hole at Briar Creek Golf Course.
Bill Janis eagled the par-5 second hole with a 25-foot putt, and Jack Schanz chipped in for eagle on the par-5 12th hole at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Reach Bob Weiner at firstname.lastname@example.org or BobWeiner58 on Twitter.