Paired in a strong foursome that included Andy Congdon, the county's winningest golfer over the past few decades, Wahconah Country Club member Bill Yurko wasn't exactly brimming with confidence when he teed it up earlier this month in the Allied Senior Championship at his home club.
"I was a little nervous being paired with him," Yurko admitted during a recent telephone interview. "I had been playing really poorly and didn't want to embarrass myself."
Over the course of the next four-plus hours, he certainly didn't embarass himself, instead turning his low expectations into exaltation. The 57-year-old outdueled Wyantenuck Country Club's Congdon and his other playing partners, Wahconah's Rich Rowe and Taconic Golf Club's Bill Palko, to earn the victory.
Yurko overcame an early two-shot deficit to fire an impressive 1-under-par 70 and defeat three-time Allied Senior champion Congdon by three shots. Rowe was next with a 74 and Palko shot a 75 as the foursome captured the top four spots in the field.
"It's huge for me, it's my biggest victory," Yurko said. "I'm a pretty good player, but I'm not on the level of Andy or Bob Linn."
Linn, the 2015 Allied Senior champion, was playing in the Massachusetts Amateur and therefore wasn't in the field at Wahconah. Both Linn and Congdon are former Mass. Golf Association Senior Players of the Year.
Although Yurko didn't feel confident heading to the tee as a result of his recent sub-standard play, he did know that playing on his home course was a potential plus.
"I told [Wahconah member] Timmy Taylor a few weeks before the tournament that I thought I could shoot a 71 playing at our course and he told me to 'go for it,'" Yurko recalled. "I figured if I was ever going to win, it might be on my home course."
After hitting practice balls and heading to the putting green, Yurko got a tip from an unlikely source, his wife, that turned out to be helpful.
"She had dropped me off and watched me hit balls," he said. "She came down and showed me something she noticed me doing with my hands. Since we were teeing off on No. 10, I went back to the practice tee and concentrated on keeping my hands quiet and found a rhythm that I kept most of the day."
The practice tee at Wahconah is right next to the 10th tee.
With an early two-shot swing — a birdie for Congdon and a bogey for Yurko — on the par-4 11th hole, the eventual champion found himself in an early hole.
A good approach shot on the par-4 12th left him a 7-foot birdie putt that he drained to get a shot back. But, he then gave right back with a three-putt bogey on the par-3 13th.
Yurko fell further behind after what he called a "terrible" second shot on the tricky, dogleg left 15th hole.
"I was happy just to make a bogey," Yurko said. "At that point, I was three down to Andy and last in the group."
One of several turning points came on the long par-4 16th with his second shot in a greenside bunker and Congdon on the green in two. Instead of falling another shot back, Yurko hit a great bunker shot and saved his par while Congdon three-putted for a bogey.
He picked up shots on the following two holes as well, with a par on 17 and a birdie on the par-5 18th.
Suddenly, he was tied with Congdon and Palko at 1-over at the turn.
"I figured I had a real chance," Yurko said.
Perhaps the key shot came at the difficult par-3 second hole. With the pin on the right side of the green and Yurko normally a player who likes to draw his shots, it wasn't a likely place for him to thrive.
"I got a really good kick off the hill and got it to about 6 feet," he said of his 5-iron shot. "I made the putt and was very happy. I don't birdie that hole often, especially with the pin on the right. I capitalized on the good kick."
With Congdon having made a bogey, he suddenly found himself in the driver's seat. Yurko was able to steer it home from there with the help of a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 fourth hole and another birdie on the par-5 seventh.
Heading to the uphill par-4 ninth hole with a two-shot lead, Yurko said he "just wanted to avoid doing anything crazy." He left his second shot just short of the green and settled for his bogey while Congdon struggled home with a double bogey.
"The funny thing was that I wasn't as nervous as I have been in other competitive rounds," Yurko said. "I felt good about how I was swinging."
His victory has proved popular around the club and elsewhere.
"Almost everyone I see is congratulating me, and even guys from other clubs are sending me texts and emails," Yurko said.
With golf being a day-to-day test, one of his foes in the Allied has already gotten at least a little "revenge" on his fellow club member.
"I finished second to Rich Rowe in the senior club championship," said Yurko, who was the defending champion. "I played OK with a pair of 76s, but I only made one birdie and Rich played better."
Speaking of Congdon, he will be looking to defend his title this upcoming weekend in the Berkshire Hills Singles Championship at Berkshire Hills Country Club in Pittsfield.
Congdon, a five-time Singles champion, won a five-player playoff after rallying in the final round of last year's 54-hole event.
Four of the five golfers in the playoff — Congdon, Jeff Puleri, Donnie Troy and Mark Chylinski — will headline a strong Championship Flight field in the annual 54-hole shootout at the A.W. Tillinghast-designed course. Boston College golfer Patrick Oleksak was the other man in the playoff but he is not in this year's field.
Congdon birdied the final hole to reach the playoff during a final round that saw numerous momentum swings and concluded on the second playoff hole — the par-5 second hole — after a 30-minute rain delay when the Wyantenuck Country Club member sank a 10-foot birdie putt.
Two other recent champions, New York's Jim Mueller (2013) and Berkshire Hills' Bob Linn (2014), are also in a strong field that will include Wykoff Country Club's Michael Mertes, who won the Stockbridge Classic this spring and Salem State golfer Chad Alibozek, who competed earlier this month in the Mass. Amateur.
The tournament tees off on Friday with the final round on Sunday.
Lee High School golfer Thomas Fraser and Stockbridge Golf Club member Matthew Shields are off to winning starts in this year's Berkshire County Junior Series.
Fraser, a member at Greenock Country Club, shot a pair of 77s in the first two events in the 16-and-older age division. The first, at Waubeeka Golf Links, earned him a tie for first with Pittsfield High golfer and Berkshire Hills CC member Kevin Quinto while the second, at Egremont Country Club, gave him the outright victory.
Shields, with at 93 at Waubeeka and an 86 at Egremont, won both events in the 13-and-under division.
Waubeeka member Owen Jones fired an 87 at Waubeeka and Forest Park Country Club's Derek Alibozek had an 83 at Egremont to take top honors in the 14-15 division.
Congratulations to Worthington Golf Club member Doug Link, who equaled or bettered his age on the scorecard for the first time recently at his home club.
The 78-year-old, who has been a member at Worthington since 1981, shot a 5-over 75 with a consistent round that included 13 pars and five bogeys.
Link, who had nines of 36-39, was playing in a foursome with Alison Lucey, Steve Smith and Chuck O'Haggerty.
BERKSHIRE COUNTY JUNIOR GOLF SERIES
At Waubeeka Golf Links
1. Matthew Shields, Stockbridge GC, 93; 2. Max Shepardson, Greenock CC, 94; 3. Luc Trombley, Forest Park CC, 98; 4. Dylan Boomsba, Greenock CC, 111.
1. Owen Jones, Waubeeka GL, 87; 2. Hunter Sarkis, Waubeeka GL, 93; 3. Connor Champeaux, Berkshire Hills CC, 97; 4. Finn Welch, Taconic GC, 98; 4. Henry Sniezek, Forest Park CC, 98.
1. (tie) Thomas Fraser, Greenock CC, 77; 2. Kevin Quinto, Berkshire Hills CC, 77; 3. Chad Lawrence, Taconic GC, 85; 4. Jack Sniezek, Forest Park CC, 96.
At Egremont CC
1. Matthew Shields, Stockbridge GC, 86; 2. Dylan Boomsba, Greenock CC, 102; 3. Max Digrigoli, CC of Pittsfield - 119
1. Derek Alibozek, Forest Park CC, 83; 2. Henry Sniezek, Forest Park CC, 93; 2. Connor Champeaux, Berkshire Hills CC, 96; 4. Luc Trombley, Forest Park CC, 108; 5. Ryan Baran, Waubeeka GL, 109.
Division: 16-and-older division
1. Kevin Quinto, Berkshire Hills CC, 77; 2. Jack Sniezek, Forest Park CC, 98; 3. Cole Kratz, Forest Park CC, 115.