SCHENECTADY — Paul Pratico is known as an exceptional ball-striker who consistently hits shots from the sweet spot on all of his clubs. He also has a sweet spot for Schenectady Municipal Golf Course — a place where he literally grew up, in a house located just a few steps from the 15th hole.
Failing to win his favorite tournaments at his favorite course since he swept both Daily Gazette-sponsored major events in 2013, Pratico earned some sweet revenge by capturing the Schenectady Senior Classic by four shots Friday over archrival and defending champion Jim Mueller.
Pratico, 55, carded a two-under-par 70 in the final round and finished the two-day event for players age 50 and over with an eight-under-par 136. The former pro now owns four Schenectady Senior Classic crowns — formerly called the Gazette Schenectady Senior County Amateur — and six regular Schenectady Classic titles, which before 2016 were known as the Gazette County Amateur Championships.
Pratico, also the 2016 New York State Senior Amateur champion, snapped Mueller’s string of three Schenectady Senior Classic championships, and moved within one of Mueller’s all-time record of 11 Gazette-sponsored major events held at Schenectady Muni.
“It was definitely a little extra motivation for me to get my title back, especially against Jimmy,” Pratico said. “He’s a good competitor and is so strong. I knew I would have to play very well to beat him here. Jimmy and I have a really good rivalry going in these tournaments. He pushes me all the time.”
Fresh off a disappointing performance at the New York State Amateur at Bethpage Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale earlier in the week, Pratico admitted that playing that extremely tough layout three days in a row fine-tuned his game.
“At Bethpage, I had to hit the ball as hard as I could. Coming back here, with the same type of swing, I was left with a lot shorter shots to the green,” he said. “But I did leave a lot of birdie putts just short today. I think that was because the greens were so lightning-quick at Bethpage. I didn’t want to get too aggressive with my putts.”
For most of his final round, Pratico was a ball-striking machine. He birdied the second and ninth holes on the front side to make the turn at two-under-par, and then tacked on two more birdies on the par-5 12th and 14th holes. His only bogeys were on the par-3 13th and 17th holes, respectively, but the 17th green had an extremely difficult pin position that not only led to a bottleneck for every threesome in the field, but also yielded numerous double and triple bogeys. A few players suffered even higher scores there.
“That might have been the best three-putt I ever had on that hole,” Pratico said with a laugh.
As well as Pratico performed, he couldn’t pull away from Mueller until the back nine. The rivals were tied through the 10th hole, but Mueller’s tee shot on the tight par-4 11th hole sailed into the woods. He had to chip out and ended up with a double bogey. Pratico picked up another shot on Mueller with the birdie on the 12th hole, and he extended his lead by two more shots when he birdied the 14th and Mueller bogeyed it after another errant tee shot.
“My club slipped in my hands on the 11th hole, and I had no confidence in my driver after that,” Mueller said. “I kept thinking it was going to slip on me again.
“I played pretty good golf until the club slipped. After that, it was kind of a mental thing with me on my tee shots.”
Connecticut native Lucas Sirois (73-143) finished third, followed by Glenn Stopera (75-147) and former champion Tony Cristello (77-147). Cristello also won the 50-59 net championship.
Dave Sutphen was the 60-69 net champion, and Jim Reid was the 70-plus net winner.
RESULTS (Par 72-144)
Paul Pratico 70-136, Jim Mueller 73-140, Lucas Sirois 73-143, Glenn Stopera 75-147, Tony Cristello 77-147, Jay Taub 78-150, Mario Marino 76-150, Mike Carroll 74-150, Dave Sutphen 81-151, Bob Cooper 77-152, Todd Trepess 75-152, Mike Drake 77-153, Paul Hart 76-154, Jeff Barringer 79-155, Mike Mina 80-156, John Reagan 80-157, Jim Reid 81-157, Neil Chambers 83-158, Pete Davis 83-161, Glenn Coons 83-161, Ronny Cohen 84-162, Mark Compton 84-162, Peter Andrikopoulos 87-164.
Net champions: 50-59, Tony Cristello; 50-69, Dave Sutphen; 70-plus, Jim Reid.