By Mike Dougherty
WEST NYACK — After putting impressive numbers on the board and flirting with history at the Westchester Golf Association Open Championship a year ago, Max Buckley went home with little more than a lesson learned.
The 23-year-old was looking to become the first amateur since 1971 to win the event, but lost momentum down the stretch and fell in a playoff.
Buckley put resilience into play on Monday, carding a 7-under 65 at Manhattan Woods to grab the lead after one round of the 91st WGA Open Championship. The recent Southern Methodist University graduate is two shots in front of Curtis Loop, a Connecticut resident who graduated from Georgetown and recently turned pro.
Burning Tree assistant Danny Balin, Wykagyl assistant Paul Selvaggio and Innis Arden assistant Ryan Kalista are tied for third at 4-under.
“I didn’t have a single bogey,” Buckley said of his round. “I made one bad swing all day. Every part of my game was sharp. I only had two putts for par from outside four feet, so there wasn’t a lot of stress.”
The golf course was only rewarding precision.
Bonnie Briar amateur Dylan Newman and Siwanoy head pro Grant Turner were in a sixth-place tie at 3-under. Those who survived the cut at 1-over will play 36 holes today.
“I liked the course,” said Buckley, a Westchester Country Club member who’s already won the New York City Amateur, the Anderson Memorial and the Mittelmark Invitational. “I didn’t have to hit a single driver. The course was challenging. I was putting my ball in the right quadrant of the greens and that was important because there were some tough pins.”
Buckley started on the back nine and was 5-under seven holes into the round. A big up-and-down from 50 yards short of the green on his ninth hole inspired a surge of adrenaline.
“It was a real momentum-saver for me,” Buckley said.
A total of 19 golfers are within six shots of the lead.
The players who are starting a little further back have some hope in that they know it’s possible to make up some ground.
“Unless Max has a really tough day, seven shots back is a little too far for me,” said Winged Foot assistant Grant Sturgeon, who shot an even-par 72. “That score is out there. … If you have it in a groove, it’s there for the taking.”
Cameron Young, a rising junior at Fordham Prep, was 1-under in just his third competitive round since shutting down on June 11 due to a shoulder injury.
“It’s OK,” he said. “I get tired really, really quickly so I can’t hit a lot of balls. I played well. I couldn’t have asked for much more. I made a bunch of putts for par and I hit the ball solidly, but not normally.”
David Ragaini, who played out of Wykagyl, is the last amateur to win the championship.
“I want it pretty badly,” Buckley said. “I’m not going to be thinking about last year. There are so many players (on the leaderboard) capable of shooting low numbers. I’m going to be thinking about what I did today and how I went about my work. Hopefully, it will carry over.”