Country Club of Pittsfield head professional Eric Mabee made it two wins in one at the Ballston Spa Country Club in New York's Saratoga County on Wednesday.
The 32-year-old not only won his first Northeast New York PGA Section Championship — the section that includes Berkshire County pros — as a result he also qualified for next June's PGA Professional National Championship at Sunriver Resort in Bend, Ore.
Mabee defeated defending champion and section kingpin Scott Berliner by four shots with a 36-hole total of 8-under 134 over the 6,310-yard layout. The second-year head pro on South Street started with a sizzling 7-under 64 and overcame a rocky start in the second round to earn his third ticket to the nation's premier tournament for club professionals.
"It's always good to qualify for the national event," said Mabee, who made the cut in this year's national tournament at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, N.Y., and also played in the 2014 tournament.
Mabee couldn't have asked for a better start in the first round on Tuesday, making seven birdies and no bogeys on the relatively short Balston Spa course.
"My game had been good leading up to it, I've been shooting those kinds of scores at Pittsfield," said Mabee. "It's a short course a lot like ours. I hit a 6-iron off one tee, a 5-iron off another and probably only hit about three drivers."
While the seven birdies stand out, a few of the pars were also critical to his early success.
"I had some good par saves," he said. "I made a few 10- and 12-foot putts and that can be the difference between shooting a 64 or a 67."
Mabee credited a putting lesson from longtime friend and fellow PGA professional Dan Caverly, who is headquartered on Cape Cod, for improved putting in recent weeks.
"At the national championship, I hit it great, and shot a 68 on the second day, but I didn't putt well all week." Mabee said. "Then I finished 15th at the New York State Open at Bethpage but didn't make anything. I got some tips from Dan a few weeks ago and now the hole looks as big as a five-gallon bucket. All you need to do is see a few go in."
However, his seemingly five-shot cushion over Berliner was cut to one by the time he putted out for a triple-bogey 7 on the 408-yard first hole on Wednesday.
"I was nervous all day," Mabee said "I didn't warm up well. I wasn't hitting quality shots on the range."
Sure enough, that carried over to the first tee when he snap hooked his drive, was forced to take a penalty shot and eventually two-putted for his triple that combined with a birdie by Berliner made the margin a single shot.
"I didn't show it outwardly, but I was fuming," Mabee said. "But I kept telling myself that I still had the lead."
The two were actually tied when Mabee made his elusive first birdie on the day on the 475-yard, par 5 eighth hole.
"I finally made that birdie on No. 8 and that opened the floodgates," Mabee said.
He regained the lead when Berliner bogeyed the par-5 10th hole and then pulled away with birdies on Nos. 11, 13, 16 and 18 — he had a single bogey on the par-3 17th — to come home in 3-under 32 for a final-round 70.
"I had a lot of lob wedges coming in and hit a lot of quality shots," said Mabee, who also earned $2,500 with the victory. "My putter was real good both days. I only missed three putts inside 10 or 12 feet."
Mabee came to the CC of Pittsfield after being an assistant to Craig Harmon at famed Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., which has hosted U.S. Opens and PGA Championships and is a much longer and sterner test than his current home course.
"At Oak Hill, I learned how to make a lot of pars, here I've learned how to make birdies and I have been getting better at it," Mabee said.
After a year settling in as the successor to longtime head pro Brad Benson, Mabee has also had more opportunities to play.
"I've been playing a decent amount with my members, by myself and with my assistants," he said. "We play, that is the kind of culture we are trying to instill here."
Mabee married longtime girlfriend Rachel Melendez in October and the couple has bought a house.
"Everything is good," said Mabee, a native of Wisconsin. "We are getting settled and it has been a great year at the club compared to last year, when we didn't even have 18 holes open until Memorial Day because of the weather. (Superintendent) Jim Conant is doing a great job. The course is in great shape."
As his game.
"I played with my members this morning and shot a 64," he said on Saturday. "My game is as good as it has ever been."
To contact Richard Lord: email@example.com or 413-281-2226.