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Palmer Van Tuyl

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Suffolk County high school golf champions Palmer Van Tuyl, Gavin Girard, Alex Korkuc, Andrew Petraco, Nick Stoecker, Mike Petraco and coach Bob Spira. Photo from Bob Spira

The Ward Melville High School golf team closed the season with a feeling that could probably be compared to a hole in one.

The team walked off the Rock Hill Golf Course in first place after the Suffolk County high school golf championships Oct. 31. In addition to the team win, senior Alexander Korkuc finished third in the individual tournament with a score of 154. The team will go on to the Long Island championship, and Korkuc qualified for the state tournament. Both will take place in the spring.

“I told them right from the beginning, ‘You guys have the talent.'”

— Bob Spira

Bob Spira, who has coached the team for some 12 years, said the golfers are looking forward to the Long Island championship. The last time the Patriots took the title was in 2016.

“This year we’re back on the map again, so it’s really nice to be back on top,” Spira said.

The coach said the six team members work well together, and he considers all top players. He said they worked hard this season and didn’t hesitate to keep practicing shots that they missed in a match, even if it meant hitting 200 balls.

“I told them right from the beginning, ‘You guys have the talent,’” the coach said. “‘It’s just putting in the time and just everything working out. Even the best golfers can have a bad round. So, don’t let it get in your head, keep moving forward.’”

Korkuc said he wouldn’t want any other coach than Spira.

“He’s a great coach,” he said. “He’s been there for me four years, and he’s always told me to keep working and it will eventually work out.”

Ward Melville junior, Palmer Van Tuyl, said he’s been playing with the team since eighth grade, and he has witnessed how the team and he have grown as players. A highlight for him this year was successfully shooting two rounds under par in matches.

“That was really big in my development to know I have the ability to have really good scores in addition to solid play all season long,” Van Tuyl said.

He said his teammates who, in addition to Korkuc and himself, include eighth-graders Gavin Girard and Nick Stoecker with eleventh-grader Andrew Petraco and ninth-grader Mike Petraco, are strong players. Van Tuyl said having skilled younger players is important for the future of team.

“To have that much depth that early is, I think, a big key to our strength.”

— Palmer Van Tuyl

“To have that much depth that early is, I think, a big key to our strength,” he said.

When it came to the team win after the Suffolk County championship and Korkuc’s qualification, Van Tuyl said it made him forget his disappointment coming in 11th place on the second day.

“The self-pity or the self-sadness was completely overshadowed by the great feeling I had for the team, and the happiness I had for my friend,” he said.

Korkuc and Van Tuyl said their teammates are like a second family. Korkuc, who hopes to take a year off from college to attend a golf academy next academic year, has advice for his fellow teammates.

“Keep working hard and everything will fall in place like it did for me,” he said.

Port Jefferson's Shane DeVincenzo. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Two years ago, Port Jefferson’s boys golf team handed Ward Melville a loss that broke a 88-match win streak. The Patriots returned that favor at Port Jefferson Country Club Oct. 3, winning the round by a single stroke to snap the Royals’ undefeated streak this season.

Port Jefferson junior Shane DeVincenzo, a two-time All-County and All-State golfer, came in at one over par in the first wave. Although it wasn’t his best round, shooting a 37, he was pleased with his result.

“My personal best on this course for nine holes is a 32,” DeVincenzo said. “I think it takes confidence more than anything — you go into these matches saying you’re going to win and [that] helps you believe it. If you go into it thinking you might not win, it’s going to be a lot closer.”

Ward Melville’s Palmer Van Tuyl. Photo by Bill Landon

The match was a lot closer than it was the first time the two teams met, and that didn’t surprise Port Jefferson head coach Chuck Ruoff. Either way, he was wowed by what DeVincenzo continues to do out on the course. Last time the two teams met, the junior shot a 34.

“He’s unbelievable,” Ruoff said of his Suffolk County runner-up from last season.  “For the remaining matches, if we go out and play the way we’re capable of, I think we’ll end up with the result we want.”

The Patriots may be a young team, with just one senior on the roster, but Ward Melville’s underclassmen were right behind the rest of the pack, like sophomore Palmer Van Tuyl, who shot a 41.

“I hit a bunch of good shots, but Shane DeVincenzo is a tremendous golfer,” Van Tuyl said. “He started off with a few medium-length par putts, so I was down early. And toward the middle of the round I had a couple of ups and downs for par.”

Port Jeff junior Josh Gelfond, a two-time All-League player, struggled with his ball contact. He shot 40,  edging his opponent by  two strokes, but has done better than his plus four performance on his home course.

“My best is a 34, so today I was pretty good around the greens and scrambling, but my ball striking wasn’t the best,” he said. “Normally around the greens is one of the strongest parts of my game, but I need to work on consistency with my iron play.”

Ward Melville Gavin Gerard. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville head coach Bob Spira said the narrow win was especially gratifying for him after losing to the Royals earlier in the season.

“We practice chipping and putting — the short game is really important,” Spira said of his team’s many workouts at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, the Patriots’ home course. “The kids golf a lot themselves [outside of the team], and that creates a lot of depth, [despite how] very young we are.”

Ward Melville junior Alexander Korkuc had his short game working for him, but after shooting a 44 left a few strokes out on the green. He looks to improve with four games left in the regular season.

“I thought my chipping and pitching was very good today, but I left a couple of putts short,” he said. “I just misread a couple of putts. As a team we just have to practice harder, work on our drills better and stay positive.”

Ruoff attributes a large part of his team’s success — the Royals went on a 6-0 run to start the season —  to the association with Port Jefferson Country Club.

“They love being around the course; the facility provides a lot for them,” Ruoff said. “They’re able to practice and play, get instruction basically whenever they want, so it’s a very strong relationship.”

With the win, Ward Melville improves to 5-1, but Ruoff said despite the blemish, he sees big things happening for his Royals this season.

“They just want to compete,” he said. “I set them in the right direction, and they’re taking care of the rest.”