FIVE-WAY PLAYOFF AT CC OF TROY
Story and photos by Bob Weiner
BRUNSWICK – Chalk up one more memorable achievement on the links for Dan Russo.
The 59-year-old Hagaman-native and Schuyler Meadows Club member shot even-par 71 in regulation and then bested five players in a playoff by sinking a five-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole to claim one of two qualifying berths in Tuesday’s U.S. Mid-Amateur local qualifier at the Country Club of Troy.
Toronto’s David Lang, who rolled in five birdies, secured the other spot with a 68 (-3), while former CC of Troy member Matt Clarke matched Russo’s 71 in regulation and birdied the fourth extra hole to capture the first alternate position. The U.S. Mid-Amateur will be played Oct. 7-12 at the Capital City Crabapple in Atlanta, GA.
Russo, who competed in the U.S. Senior Open earlier this summer, now has appeared in 11 USGA events during his long and illustrious playing career. He recently finished third in the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Stroke Play Championship to snap a streak of four consecutive victories in that event. He’s won eight CRAGA titles overall and countless other trophies, including two Troy Invitational crowns at the site of Tuesday’s qualifier.
Jim Gifford of Mohawk Golf Club, Taylor Bellemare of the host club, and Robert Lutomski of Simpsonville, SC, also shot 71 in regulation play. Gifford, a Siena College graduate who played in this year’s USGA Fourball Championship at Pinehurst, bogeyed the first extra hole with a three-putt from just off the green.
Bellemare, a former Hoosick Falls High School and Iona College standout who just recently joined the CC of Troy, was eliminated on the second extra hole, a par-3, when he failed to get up-and-down from a bunker.
Russo out drove Lutomski and Clarke on the par-4 third hole, leaving him just 81 yards to the cup. His approach shot finished five feet behind the hole. Clarke’s approach shot ended up in a greenside bunker, while Lutomski barely reached the green, some 50 feet away from the cup.
Clarke made an outstanding up-and-down par from the bunker, and Lutomski, whose first putt rolled 15 feet past the hole, also got up and down for par. That put a little extra pressure on Russo, who calmly sank the birdie.
“On the third playoff hole, I was wondering what was going on. I thought one of them might get up and down for par, but I didn’t think both of them would make it,” Russo said.
During regulation play, Russo was careful. He made two birdies, on the 13th and 17th holes, to offset bogeys on the eighth and 12th holes. “I played so conservatively today, except on the (par-5) fourth hole,” Russo said. “I hit my irons very well today.”
Russo said this is the second time in his career that he has qualified for two USGA events in the same season. “For amateurs, this is it,” he said. “It takes so much to qualify for a USGA event. It’s my favorite type of event because it takes a lot to get there, and when you do get there, it’s like a tour event, without the cameras.”
Russo said his experience carried him through some clutch situations:
“At 59, it’s different than when you’re 29. I make up for age with wisdom. My game is starting to come around. I’ve been playing better lately, and I’ve been working on some things.”
Russo admitted that he was a little surprised about his performance Tuesday, and that he’s still tweaking his game. Next up on his schedule is this weekend’s Wolferts Roost Invitational.
Meanwhile, Clarke’s usually hot putter let him down. The former NYS Mid-Amateur titlist and Troy Invitational champion said he took three strokes from the collar of the green on four occasions. “I tried my putter, and I tried to hit the shot with a hybrid. Nothing worked today,” he said. “I hit my irons solid all day, but I didn’t putt well.”
Clarke missed out on two different opportunities to gain the second qualifying berth. His short birdie putt on the 18th hole came up just short, and he also came up short on a five-foot birdie putt from below the hole on the second playoff hole.
68 (-3): David Lang
71 (E): Dan Russo
Failed to Qualify
71 (E): Matt Clarke (First Alternate); Robert Lutomski (Second Alternate); Taylor Bellemare; Jim Gifford
72 (+1): James O’Connell
75 (+3): E.J. Cardish, Michael Altobello, Lee Knox
76 (+4): Lance Hope, Jamie Miller, Josh Biren
77 (+5): Dylan Evans, Andy Drohen, Greg Bennett
78 (+6): Tyler Kupper, Doug Eccles, Jess Esposito, Mike Sporton, Ed Miller
79 (+8): Seth Anderson, David Mooradian, Mark Baines, Aaron Katz, Eamon O’Brien
80 (+9): Dustin Pusatere
81 (+10): Cyrus Whitney
82 (+11): Chris Chiarappa, Jerry Brescia, David Hayes
86 (+15): Mauro Piri, James Bologna
WD: Chris Corrao