SCHENECTADY – Paul Pratico rarely mis-hits shots with his irons or woods. That’s why he’s one of the best ball-strikers in Schenectady County.
The 55-year-old former mini-tour pro put on a ball-striking clinic Friday to win his fourth Schenectady Senior Classic championship by four strokes over three-time defending champion Jim Mueller at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Pratico, the 2016 New York State Senior Amateur champion, is also a six-time regular Schenectady Classic winner, but he hadn’t won a major event at his favorite Schenectady Muni layout since he won both Schenectady County senior and open division championships in 2013. He shot a 70 (-2) in the final round for a two-day total of 136 (-8).
Mueller, winner of eight regular Schenectady Classic trophies, struggled with his driver on the back nine and finished with a 73 (+1) and a two-day total of 140 (-4).
Lucas Sirois, originally from Connecticut, finished third with a 73-143. Glenn Stopera (75-147) won a matching of cards for fourth with former champion Tony Cristello (77-140). Cristello (50-59), Dave Sutphen (60-69) and Jim Reid (70-plus) won net division titles based on their opening round scores.
Pratico, who picked up valuable experience at the New York State Amateur played at Bethpage Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale earlier in the week, said playing that demanding layout sharpened his game for Schenectady Muni. He hit most of the greens in regulation and played smart, conservative golf. Pratico birdied four holes and made two bogeys. His 12 pars were relatively stress-free.
‘REALLY GOOD RIVALRY’
Neither Pratico nor Mueller could pull away from each other on the front nine, and they were tied at -8 until the 11th hole, when Mueller hit his tee shot into the woods. He had to chip out and then lay up in front of the pond protecting the green. His approach shot came up just short, and his chip almost went in to save bogey.
Mueller also had driver troubles on the par-5 12th and 14th holes. He managed to save par on the 12th, but he suffered a bogey on the long 14th hole. Pratico picked up three shots over Mueller on those holes.
“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.”
Pratico admitted that playing that extremely tough layout at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course 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.”
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. I kept thinking it was going to slip on me again,” Mueller said. “I played pretty good golf until the club slipped. After that, it was kind of a mental thing with me on my tee shots.”
RESULTS (Par 72-144)
(-8) Paul Pratico 70-136
(-4) Jim Mueller 73-140
(-1) Lucas Sirois 73-143
(+3) Glenn Stopera 75-147, Tony Cristello 77-147
(+6) Jay Taub 78-150, Mario Marino 76-150, Mike Carroll 74-150
(+7) Dave Sutphen 81-151
(+8) Bob Cooper 77-152, Todd Trepess 75-152
(+9) Mike Drake 77-153
(+10) Paul Hart 76-154
(+11) Jeff Barringer 79-155
(+12) Mike Mina 80-156
(+13) John Reagan 80-157, Jim Reid 81-157
(+14) Neil Chambers 83-158
(+17) Pete Davis 83-161, Glenn Coons 83-161
(+18) Ronny Cohen 84-162, Mark Compton 84-162
(+20) Peter Andrikopoulos 87-164
50-59: Tony Cristello
60-69: Dave Sutphen
70+: Jim Reid