By Josh Thomson
SCARSDALE – After an ominous bogey-double bogey start, James McHugh finally settled in Wednesday. He both tamed a swing that had fought him and braved winds that sent scores around him into the 80s and beyond.
As the Rye sophomore kept parring his way through the front 9 and the start of the back, he realized what that meant: Who else would play better in a two or three-club wind?
“I knew I had a lead,” he said.
McHugh was not only right, the gap between him and the field only widened as players trudged home. He was the ultimate survivor on a blustery day at Fenway Golf Club and won the Section 1 golf tournament by four shots over a group of five players.
“It was hard to hit it close,” he said. “I wasn’t hitting it great, but I think today with the wind that almost kind of played to my advantage. Even people who were swinging better couldn’t take advantage of it with the wind. I just came out here trying to grind out a decent score.”
McHugh, who trailed by a shot after a 71 at Waccabuc Country Club Monday, closed with a 7-over 77. That typically modest number actually left him just one shy of the best round of the day, a 76 from Bronxville junior Matt Bettino.
“This was so much harder,” said Bettino, who also carded a 76 Monday. “Even though Monday we had a little rain, a little stickiness, today it was faster. It was hard to hold greens and the course was playing a lot longer. That was a big thing. I think it was playing maybe 6,700 from the yardage, but it played more like 7,000.”
Bettino ended as one of three Bronxville players, all juniors, to place in the Top 9 and qualify for the state tournament, which will be hosted by the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course in Ithaca from May 31-June 1. Bettino and Connor Daly were repeat qualifiers, while Chris Gay qualified after finishing as the first alternate last year.
“To have three kids who are good enough to make states and compete with all these kids from bigger schools who have a big pool to choose from, it’s really impressive,” Bettino said.
Bettino and Daly were two of six repeat qualifiers overall, joining last year’s Section 1 champ Brent Ito of Ardsley; Somers’ Christian Cavaliere; Scarsdale’s James Nicholas; and Harrison’s Justin Stagg. They helped Section 1 earn the team state title.
“We’ve played the course before,” Stagg said. “It’s a tough course when you haven’t played it before, but when you have experience on it, it’ll probably be a lot easier.”
The only new qualifiers are McHugh, who returned to Rye after a year of prep school, Scarsdale’s Sol Thompson, and Gay.