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Hardy hackers have hard time, but they swing away

This column is dedicated to all those intrepid hackers who truly believe in the adage that a day spent on a golf course is better than any day spent at the office.

With the season in full swing, any hacker within eyeshot might consider Angelo Spagnolo, who lives in a Pittsburgh suburb and is generally recognized as “The World’s Worst Avid Golfer.”

In 1986, Spagnolo carded an incredible but well-earned 66 on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, a Players championship course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., outside Jacksonville.

Quite often called the most exciting hole in golf, the par-3 17th hole frequently is referred to as having an island green, but it’s really a peninsula, with a thin strip of land allowing players access to the putting surface from the left side and water surrounding it from all other directions. To a realistic Spagnolo, it was intimidation personified.

“That could have been the English Channel I was trying to hit across,” he has been quoted as saying. “It was that daunting of a shot. It just looked like a near impossible idea to contemplate.”

Undaunted, Spagnolo, then a mere lad of 31, outdid himself with a crisp 27 on the 18th to finish at 257.

Such astronomical numbers are not the norm, but golf courses have a way of conquering the opposition.

Still and all, many golfers without an official “handicap,” other than their game, continue to pursue par — whatever the odds against them.

(Editorial admission: I recently had the pleasure of scoring a par 72 at Blue Hill Golf Course in Pearl River, saving an otherwise tough day with a magnificent par “4” on the final hole. Trouble is, that was for the back nine! Taking the front nine into account, my card displayed an even 145, which is nothing to sneeze at. As usual, I got my money’s worth!)

My playing partner and neighbor, Al Larsen of Tappan, who is also an infrequent but joyful player, carded 111. Between us we lost a few balls and scuffed a few others, but nothing diminished our spirited efforts.

“I’m not worried about the score,” said Larsen, who nevertheless is finally going after an official MGA handicap after 15 years in a cart.

Larsen, who is close to retirement with the New York City Department of Sanitation, plays about one or two fund-raisers each year. His warm-up consists of breakfast, a few twists and turns of his upper body at the first tee, and a beer at the second hole.

Here a hacker, there a hacker

He is, if nothing else, a hacker to be celebrated. Then again, hackers are not that hard to unearth.

“Don’t let anyone tell you differently; you can find hackers on any course,” notes big Mike Gorhman of Pearl River, a PGA apprentice who can be found manning the front office at Blue Hill, alongside PGA pro Brett Watzka.

“Take Bethpage Black,” Gorhman continued, referring to one of the finest public courses in the nation, site of the 2002 U.S. Open. “There’s a sign that says for experienced golfers only, but you’ll find hackers there, too.”

Watzka, a member of the Rockland County Track & Field Hall of Fame for his cross country exploits at Nanuet High School – he was a state champion in 1975 – served as club professional at Knollwood Country Club in Elmsford before coming to Blue Hill.

Asked for his primary slice of advice to any hacker who refuses to take a lesson, for whatever reason, Watzka said: “Stay within yourself, don’t fall back, use about 75 percent of what you have to give.”

To this unqualified hacker, I take that as not over-swinging. As with every bit of advice, solicited or not, it is often easier said than done.

Tappan Zee HS alum Joe D’Auria of Sparkill, a self-described sports junkie who would be inducted into four Halls of Fame including the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame, can also be found at Blue Hill, ready and willing to offer words of wisdom and encouragement to any dedicated hacker or would-be hacker.

Pro forma advice: get a pro

“The most important thing for a beginning golfer is to get a pro, get the right grip, get the right swing and then go to the range and pounds balls – there’s no other way,” said D’Auria, who followed in the footsteps of his brother-in-law George Kopek of Tappan in winning the Rockland County PSAL Golf Championship.

Kopek, a Navy veteran who spent many years as owner of the now-defunct 9W Golf Driving Range in Palisades before he began toiling at Blue Hill, won the original county title in 1947. D’Auria won the title three times, but said the two never went head-to-head.

While Kopek worked, D’Auria coached lower-level football at North Rockland High School, where he was the varsity golf coach, of course, and helped indoctrinate the current athletic director and former football coach Joe Casarella.

“I broke him in!” proclaims D’Auria. “Joe Cass and I, we’re good friends. Actually, Ralph Cordisco was responsible for hiring me.”

Other golfing greats from the old Tappan Zee HS then located in Piermont include Howie Pierson of Nyack, a charter member (1974) of the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame and longtime assistant golf coach at Rockland Community College. In a latter-day poll, Pierson was named the school’s No. 1 all-time athlete, followed by D’Auria and big Charlie Bullock of Piermont, whose golfing exploits of late have been hampered by a bum shoulder.

Those guys are golfers, though. It’s the hackers we salute today.

GOAL GETTER: West Nyack native Tommy McNamara, who overcame a torn ACL last year and is now playing for NYCFC, a first-year team in MLS, has put himself on the map for a different reason this year. McNamara, who scored on a long-range blast in a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia – the second goal in his pro career — has won the Week 14 Goal of the Week (GOTW) prize with 32.68 percent of the vote, beating out Orlando’s  Cyle Larin and Toronto FC standout Sebastian Giovinco in a close race. NYCFC visits Toronto FC at 7 p.m. on June 20, and then returns to Yankee Stadium on June 28 for a 5 p.m. showdown with local rival NY Red Bulls.

IN THE SWIM: You might know Lily Parmanan, but if not, you should. The 16-year-old swimmer from Chestnut Ridge, who attends and competes for Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township, N.J., as well as the Rockland-based Phoenix Swim Club, is taking part in the annual Greenwich-Stamford Swim Across America on June 27. Parmanan will swim one and a half miles to honor her late mom, Maria, who last a battle with cancer only last October at age 42.

“I wish I could tell her how grateful I am for everything she did, but cancer has closed that door to me,” Lily has written. “I feel that the best way I can express my gratitude for everything she did for everyone is to honor her life by helping others.  I cannot cure cancer, but I can swim. Participating in the SSA swim is a way to use my swimming ability to help others overcome this disease. … I hope that the money I raise will save the lives of others so that they’ll never have to endure the pain of losing a loved one.”

The swim is at 96 Cummings Point Road in Stamford, just off the end of Shore Road on the Old Greenwich/Stamford border.  The swim runs from 7:30 a.m. until about 10 a.m. You can sign up to swim, volunteer or donate at:

BOULDERS RETURN HOME: Back from a trip across the border into Canada, the Rockland Boulders will be at Provident Bank Park in Pomona through June 24. As part of the Can-Am League’s International Showcase, the Boulders host the Shikoku Island League Japanese All-Stars in a four-game series from June 18-21. For the fifth straight year the Boulders will host a special Father’s Day matchup, featuring a post-game catch on the field. Fans can give dad the gift of baseball with the “Father’s Day Pack” of four (4) infield box seats, four (4) hot dogs, bags of chips, and Cokes for only $49! To purchase a “Father’s Day Pack”, or to buy tickets to any of the contests with the Shikoku Island League All-Stars, access

THIS & THAT: The North Rockland Sports Hall of Fame is having its annual Thomas M. Maloney Memorial Golf Outing on June 29 at Rotella Golf Course in Thiells. The cost is $130 per golfer which includes green fees, cart, breakfast, dinner at  the Haverstraw Elks Lodge No. 877 and a gift for each golfer.  Hole sponsors are $50.  If you would like to form a foursome, sponsor a hole, or make a donation, contact North Rockland AD  Joe Casarella at   845-942-3390.




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