Puleri, Sykes reflect on winning Allied Association Four-Ball Championship

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Editor's note: This story has been updated for clarity on James Ryan and Steve Magargal's home courses.

Playing in the morning wave in Saturday's Allied Four-Ball Championship at Wahconah Country Club was a chilling experience, but one that worked just fine, thank you, for the team of Jeff Puleri and Steve Sykes.

The defending champions arguably got the worst of the morning's cold weather, but by posting an impressive 5-under par 66 they set a target score that no one in the afternoon could match or beat, and as a result the Berkshire Hills Country Club duo walked away as the champions again.

"It was very cold but we got off to a great start," Puleri said. "It never hurts to post a number like that (in the morning). If you would have given us 5-under I would sign up for it and stay inside."

Three teams — Jonathan Costa-Brent Silano; Steve Magargal-James Ryan and Tom Czelusniak-Bill Yurko — got oh-so-close to matching the leaders' score, but they all came up a single shot behind the eventual champions.

The team to be in the best position match or beat the winners was the Torrington Country Club members Costa and Silano. Having started on the fourth hole in the afternoon shotgun start, they were 4-under after Silano birdied the par-4 16th hole, but were unable to get the birdie they needed to tie over their final five holes.

Ryan and Magargal (The Links at Worthington) trailed by two shots heading to their final hole, the par-3 17th, which Ryan birdied. But it was too little, too late. The Wahconah team of Czelusniak and Yurko actually trailed by three shots before finishing strong with birdies on the Nos. 7 and 8.

It turns out it wasn't a very stressful day for the good friends Puleri and Sykes — they were bogey-free. They have now won the Allied Four-Ball three times. Their other victories were at Waubeeka Golf Links and Stockbridge Golf Club.

"The longest putt we made to save par was four feet," said Sykes, referring to a good up-and-down on the par-4 12th hole, the duo's third hole of the day. That putt kept their early momentum going after Sykes hit a wedge to about 10 feet and drained the birdie putt.

"We knew were were starting on the back (No. 10), which we preferred, and we thought anything under par on that nine would be really good," said Puleri, the preference because the back in considered the tougher nine.

They beat par by two shots, with Puleri recording the second birdie on the par-5 18th that featured perhaps the team's best shot of the day. No. 18 is considered to be a birdie hole, especially for long hitters, but Puleri hit a poor iron second shot that left him with a difficult pitch. No problem — Puleri pulled off a beautiful flop shot that finished just a foot from the hole.

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"Jeff made an unbelievable up-and-down," Sykes said.

That was the first of a three-hole stretch that proved pivotal. Sykes hit another good wedge shot to set up a birdie on the downhill, par-4 first hole and then Puleri hit a 4-iron to 20 feet on the 206-yard, par-3 second hole and made the difficult putt.

Sykes, though he said he didn't say a word to his partner, thought it might a bit of the good omen that it was going to be their day again.

"The other two times we won, we made birdie putts on long par 3s that are like gaining a stroke on the rest of the field," Sykes said, referring to a 2 on the 14th hole at Stockbridge and another on the very difficult 10th hole at Waubeeka.

Both of the winners have been on a bit of a roll over the past few seasons. Puleri has captured the Country Club of Pittsfield Invitational with Randy Driscoll, in addition to capturing both an Allied individual championship along with winning the Berkshire Singles. In addition to his wins with Puleri, Sykes won the Pewter Cup last year with Andy Dastoli, a member at the Orchards.

So, it is obvious these guys can play, but what is it about their chemistry together that has them cooking up victories?

"We're good friends, we play together a lot and feed off each other," Puleri said. "Steve has become phenomenal off the tee and he is a great putter. He makes a lot of birdies and I take pride in making a lot of pars."

"Our games are very similar, we play the same clubs and hit it the same distances," added Sykes.

While Puleri claims that Sykes is the birdie machine of the duo, Sykes doesn't quite see it that way.

"In the last two Allied that may have been somewhat true," Sykes said. "But Jeff is very steady, but he makes plenty of birdies, too.

On Saturday, Sykes made three birdies and Puleri made two. Sykes third came on the par-4 fifth hole and that proved to be the clincher in the end.


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