LOUDONVILLE – Web.com Tour pro Bryan Bigley makes it an annual homecoming tradition to return to the Capital Area every spring. Sure, he loves to catch up with family and friends, but he also enjoys trying to qualify for the U.S. Open at courses he feels comfortable on and knows extremely well.
The 32-year-old Siena College and Schalmont High School graduate admitted that he didn’t play his best golf, but his even-par 71 Wednesday during the U.S. Open Local Qualifier at Shaker Ridge Country Club was good enough to secure one of four spots into sectional play next month. The best players at sectionals advance to the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Erin, WI June 15-18.
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Craig Thomas, 53, a head pro at Metropolitan Country Club in White Plains, and Lake Placid’s Art Griffin, 21, the 2015 Troy Invitational champ who will be a senior in the fall at Charleston Southern, shared medalist honors with 70s, while Clifton Park’s Matthew Campbell posted a 72 and won a playoff over three other players (including Jim Gifford of Clifton Park) with the same score to secure the final qualifying spot.
While the tournament itself didn’t provide much drama, the four-man playoff did. On the first hole (#1), Scott Berliner of Hiland Golf Club in Queensbury was over the green and failed to get up and down for par. Bogey eliminated the six-time Northeastern New York PGA Player of the Year. He had qualified through this event five times before and had been an assistant for four years at Shaker Ridge.
Gifford would the go on to make two “all-world” up-and-downs to stay alive. At #2, Gifford survived after his drive was 50-feet off track to save par. Both Campbell and Joshua Truman of Burlington Flats did, too. At #3, Gifford had a three-foot window to hit through and wound up in a greenside bunker. He was able to get a strong sand save for par but Truman’s bogey eliminated him.
Finally, on #4, a tough par-3, Campbell made a tricky 30-foot downhill birdie putt to win. Campbell went par-bogey-par-birdie for the fourth slot. Gifford of Mohawk Golf Club, who has qualified for sectionals three times, earned the first alternate position. The first tee time was at 7:30AM and the final putt fell well after 6:30PM.
Bigley teed off at 8:10AM with Gifford. Both men had their fathers on their bag as caddies.
Bigley’s main problem Wednesday was on the greens: “I was either six inches short or six inches past the cup all day. I couldn’t match up the correct line and speed today. I didn’t play badly. I hit 17 greens, but Shaker wasn’t playing easy today. They had some good, challenging pins today, but I’m used to playing tough pins. I didn’t play poorly, but I had an even-par kind of day.”
This will be the eighth time that Bigley, who posted two birdies and two bogeys, has advanced to the U.S. Open sectionals. Griffin, who played in the U.S. Amateur last summer, advanced to the sectionals for the first time.
“I’m very happy,” Griffin said. “I’ve always struggled in the local qualifier. Today, I played really solid golf for the most part. I’ve only played Shaker Ridge once before in a U.S. Junior Qualifier. It’s a fun course to play. The greens are so beautiful here. They are so smooth.”
Griffin didn’t have his best ball-striking day, but he said he scrambled well. He birdied the fifth, eighth, 13th and 18th holes.
Thomas, who birdied the third and 13th holes, never played SRCC before, but he was glad he drove to the Capital Area to compete.
“I’ve played in the sectionals 10-11 times before,” he said. “This is a very nice course. About the closest course I’ve played to this one was at Turning Stone, but I’m glad I came.”
Gifford, a former Saratoga County Amateur and Tri-County Golf Association Match Play champion who played at Shenendehowa High School and Siena College, was happy with the way he competed Wednesday: “The course was playing super, and the greens were great.”
Gifford is coming off a great 2016 season in which he made a run at the New York State Amateur crown at his home club (Mohawk) and also qualified in Massachusetts for the USGA Fourball Championship. He and Chad Stoffer head for Pinehurst next week for that national event.
“Special thanks to the membership and staff of Shaker Ridge CC for hosting the qualifier this year,” said Andrew Hickey of the New York State Golf Association. “The club did a wonderful job getting the course ready for play, especially considering how wet it has been this spring.”
70 (-1): Craig Thomas, Art Griffin
71 (E): Bryan Bigley
72 (+1): Matthew Campbell
72 (+1): Jim Gifford
Failed to Qualify
72 (+1): Scott Berliner, Joshua Truman
73 (+2): Dylan Dethier, Marc-Oliver Plasse, Yaroslav Merkulov
74 (+3): Benoit Boudreau, Chris Ferraro, Michael Shine, Phillippe Gariepy
75 (+4): Ron Philo Jr., Yanik Laforest, Dan Russo, Andrew Barone, Robert Feldman, Jared Nelson, Joshua Montgomery
76 (+5): Andrew Deforest, Chris Malec
77 (+6): James Jackson, Corey Purcell, Steve Quillinan Jr., Spencer Sautin, Conor Rodrigues, Garren Poirier, John Andrews, Jesse Branken, Jeffrey Schaller, Teddy Trosset
78 (+7): Eric Mabee, Cullen Chung Tanner Donovan, Alexander Frankel, Trevor Jaycox
79 (+8): Justin Lane, Matthew Carlson
80 (+9): Terence Manziano, Alex Olbrych, John Korniak, Daniel McGurk. Justin Hearley, Scott Battiste, Connor Henderson, Drake Hull, Mark Fretto, Michael Wheeler