Voorheesville, N.Y. – The talk around Albany Country Club all week was that even-par would probably win it. On a day where the wind became a factor and difficult pin locations loomed, those rumors came to fruition as scores climbed higher and higher throughout the day and Doug Kleeschulte’s 72-hole total of even-par (288) pitted him as the 88th annual New York State Men’s Amateur winner.
In 2009, it came down to the 71st hole when Dominic Bozzelli made a quadruple bogey on the par-3 17th, allowing Yarik Merkulov to become the youngest winner in Men’s Amateur history at 17 years old. On Thursday, it came down to the final stroke and all eyes were watching as a crowd of nearly 75 spectators gathered to watch around the 18th green. Except Doug Kleeschulte, the current leader in the clubhouse with a 72-hole total of even-par, was leaning against a tree near the 18th green, hoping the unthinkable would not happen.
Jake Katz birdied the par-4 17th and needed an eagle at the18th to force a playoff with Kleeschulte. Perhaps the longest ball striker in the entire field, Katz reached the 588-yard par-5 in two shots. His upcoming 20-footer from the left fringe demanded the attention of everyone near the scoring area. Katz, a Binghamton University senior, studied the putt and waited for a gust of wind to subside, before he took aim at the eagle try. However, he missed the tough putt on the low side and this year’s Men’s Amateur champ, Kleeschulte, was finally able to exhale.
“I was just preparing myself for a playoff,” says Kleeschulte, on the thoughts running through his head while watching Katz’s putt. “I was like he’s going to make this putt and we’re going to go to No. 1 and hopefully I hit a good tee shot. I thought for sure he was going to make it. But that putt is tricky. I had that putt earlier and it just doesn’t break as much as you think.”
Although he was forced to sit through Katz’s incredible eagle opportunity, Kleeschulte did control his fate at that same hole two groups earlier. The Western Kentucky junior played the 18th perfectly in four shots for a birdie that sealed the deal.
“I kind of knew it was going to be close so I figured I had to make birdie,” says Kleeschulte. “You want to do all you can do. You don’t want to leave anything out there.” Therefore, Kleeschulte pulled driver on the 18th instead of the 3-wood he was thinking about hitting because of his wayward drive on No. 18 in the morning round. “I hit my best drive of the day to be honest with you, right at the right side. From there, he knocked his second shot close with a 3-wood from 270 yards. “I hit a great 3-wood and had about a 35-yard pitch that I hit to about a foot and made a little tap-in to end it. My goal was to make birdie on the hole and it happened.” Kleeschulte’s birdie at No. 18, which played as the second hardest hole in the afternoon because of the headwind, was an impressive feat considering it was one of only four in the final round. Katz had one as well.
“The course was in beautiful shape the whole week,” says Kleeschulte. “It was exactly how a State Am should be. The greens were rolling pretty fast, the pins were tucked, and the rough was thick.”
Kleeschulte, who plays out of Wiltwyck Golf Club in Kingston, rose to the top amidst difficult playing conditions on the strength of a final round 3-under (69). “I played it safe for most of the day,” says Kleeschulte. And then I just scrambled. I only hit five fairways on the entire back nine.” Kleeschulte scrambled efficiently because he posted a 3-under (33) on the back side. He did his scoring on Nos. 10 and 11 with consecutive birdies. Then, he registered six straight pars before reaching No. 18.
On a day when the top spots of the leaderboard were constantly shuffling, Kleeschulte acquired sole possession of first place at 1-over after Katz three-putted on the 15th green to fall to 2-over for the event. Then, Katz three-putted again on the par-3 16th from above the hole.
Wednesday’s leader Tim Spitz finally lost his stranglehold of a lead through 53 holes on the par-5 eighth. His third shot hit the bank in front of the eighth green and caromed into the water. Impressively, Spitz was able to notch bogey after sticking his fifth shot to two feet.
Tim Hume made a charge in the final round to put himself into contention. He posted 2-over (290) in the clubhouse, which seemed like it stood as the lead in the clubhouse for an eternity because he was in one of the early groups. He started on the back nine and made five birdies and a bogey en route to a 32 on that side. He birdied Nos. 10-12 right off the bat and tallied birdies at the 15th and 17th. His only mishap on the back side came at the par-4 14th where he made bogey.
Kleeschulte’s 36-hole round Thursday will serve as a good tune-up for Monday’s US Amateur qualifier at Seven Oaks Golf Club, in Hamilton. “That’s the good thing about college; it prepares you for these 36-hole rounds,” says Kleeschulte. Following next week’s US Amateur qualifier, Kleeschulte will compete at the Met Open qualifier before he heads back to Western Kentucky for his junior year.
“This one is definitely up there,” says Kleeschulte, on where this win ranks in his list of accomplishments. He was also proud of qualifying for the 2007 US Amateur, which was held at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, with rounds of 74-68 in a qualifier at Seven Oaks Golf Club. “When I qualified for the US Am, that was probably my biggest accomplishment at the time, but this is probably it now.”
Submitted by Kevin Solan
NYSGA Communications Intern