By Rob Potter
CALLICOON It wasn’t the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, but there were still plenty of bracket-busting upsets.
The 2008 Sullivan County Democrat Two-Man, Better Ball Golf Tournament played this weekend at the Villa Roma County Club in Callicoon featured plenty of excitement as many lower-seeded teams scored shocking victories over their opponents.
The event teed off Friday with 108 golfers 54 two-man teams qualifying for flight positions in the 27th Annual “Democrat.” The top 16 teams qualified for the Championship Flight by shooting 75 or better on the par-71 layout.
The upsets started during Saturday morning’s matches as for the first time in the 27-year history of the tournament, a 16th seed defeated a No. 1 seed. Robert Kuhn and Drew Suttie, seeded 16th after Friday’s qualifying rounds, topped brothers Sean Semenetz and Gregg Semenetz Jr. on Saturday morning. The match went into sudden death with the Kuhn-Suttie team winning with a birdie on hole No. 1.
Sean Semenetz, who won the 2006 and 2007 Democrat tournaments with Joe Winski, was seeking to become the first golfer to “three-peat” at the event.
Also on Saturday, Josh Goldstein and Mike Culclasure defeated two-time Democrat champions Gregg Semenetz Sr and Bill Phillips 1-up. That upset occurred only a few hours after the Semenetz/Phillips team beat Maxx Kleiner and Ben Kleiner, 3 and 2. The Kleiner cousins were the Championship Flight runners-up the past three years.
When the dust of the upset-filled event settled on Sunday evening, Goldstein and Mike Culclasure emerged as the tournament champions. They defeated the team of Alex Etter and A. J. Lee, 3 and 2, in the Championship Flight finals.
The Goldstein/Culclasure team reached the final by defeating Bill Elliott and Bob Elliott, 4 and 3. Etter/Lee beat Ken Cohen and Marvin Newberg, 1-up, to qualify for the final.
In the title match, Goldstein/Culclasure went 1-up when they parred the 365-yard, first hole and Etter/Lee recorded a bogey.
After both teams parred No. 2, Goldstein/Culclasure shot a 5 on the par-4 third hole. But Etter/Lee had a double bogey 6, which put Goldstein/Culclasure 2-up.
Etter/Lee cut that lead in half on the fifth hole, however, as Etter made a nice 10-foot birdie putt.
Goldstein/Culclasure extended their lead on the eighth and ninth holes. Goldstein drained a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 8 and made a 2-foot par putt on No. 9 to give his team a 3-up advantage.
Culclasure made a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 10 to push the lead to 4-up.
Lee’s 6-foot birdie putt on No. 11 again made it a 3-up match.
But the Etter/Lee team could not get any closer on the remaining holes. The Goldstein/Culclasure duo clinched the title when both teams parred the 430-yard 16th hole.
The win capped a great weekend for Goldstein, who graduated from Liberty Central School in June, and Culclasure, who resides in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Neither man had ever played in the Democrat tournament before and they had never played as a team.
Goldstein and Culclasure became a team because of John Napolitano, coach of the Liberty Central School golf team.
Originally, Napolitano was going to play the tournament with Culclasure. But after three surgeries on his hand in the past year and a half, Napolitano did not feel he could play at the competitive level required for the Democrat tournament.
So Napolitano called his friend Culclasure, whom he met on a South Carolina golf course 12 years ago, and told him he could not play but that he had a great partner for him. That partner was 18-year-old Goldstein, who won the Section IX boys’ golf championship this spring and competed in the state championship.
Napolitano followed the Goldstein/Culclasure team from the first hole on Saturday to No. 16 on Sunday afternoon and was one of the first people to congratulate Goldstein and Culclasure.
“They made a great team and worked very well together,” Napolitano said. “Whenever Josh was out of the hole, Mike was on the green. Whenever Mike was out of the hole, Josh hit the green.”
Goldstein agreed that teamwork and the ability to make birdie putts made the difference.
“You need to make birdies to win matches,” he said. “We had seven birdies in our semifinal match and four in this match. We probably had close to 30 birdies during the weekend.”
Goldstein, who will attend Elon University in Elon, N.C. later this month and compete for a spot on the school’s Division I men’s golf team, also praised his partner.
“He’s a great player,” he said of Culclasure. “When I was out of a hole, he was on the green.”
Culclasure, who won the Myrtle Beach Match Play Championship in 2002 and placed second in the event in 2000, noted Goldstein’s talents.
“He’s a great player who has a bright future,” Culclasure said.
Culclasure noted that it took him a while to get used to the Villa Roma course.
“It is tough to play these side hills,” he explained. “The courses in South Carolina are pretty flat and they have Bermuda greens. These greens are much faster.”
But Culclasure enjoyed his visit to Sullivan County.
“This is a great tournament, it’s very competitive,” he said. “I like this course. It is one of the prettiest golf courses I have ever played.”
This was also the first time Lee, who lives in Nyack, played in the Democrat tourney, while Etter, a resident of Edgewater, N.J., has played in the event the past two years.
“We started off sluggish,” Lee said. “We dug ourselves too big a hole.
“They played great,” Lee said of Goldstein and Culclasure. “They are very good players.”
Both Etter and Lee said they plan to play in the Democrat tourney for many years to come.
One of the highlights of the tournament occurred prior to the second qualifying round on Friday. Democrat Publisher Fred Stabbert III and Democrat Publisher Emeritus Fred Stabbert Jr. presented “The Always There Award” to Chris DuBois and Marvin Newberg. DuBois and Newberg were honored for being the only two men who have played in the Democrat tournament since it was started by Fred Stabbert Jr. and Paul Zintel in 1982.
During the awards dinner at The Club at Villa Roma on Sunday evening, Fred Stabbert III thanked everyone who made this year’s tournament a success. In particular, he noted Villa Roma Owner Marty Passante, General Manager Paul Carlucci, Golf Pro Matt Kleiner and Golf Course Superintendent Jeff Coccodrilli for working so hard to have the course ready for the tourney in light of the fact that the Villa Roma was hit by a severe flood the previous week.
“2008 will certainly go down in the record books as one of the best tournaments ever in great part because of the tough competition that was out there all weekend,” Stabbert III said. “I would like to recognize the past champions who were with us this weekend: Sean Semenetz 2006 and 2007; Gregg Semenetz Sr. and Billy Phillips 2001, 2002; Chris DuBois and Bill Elliott 2000; Pat Murtagh 1998; Walter Herzog 1995; Tom Drobysh 1986; and a guy by the name of Ken Cohen 1984, 1987, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005. That’s 18 championships among those nine golfers, not a bad record.
“And the Democrat’s legacy lived on this year, too,” Stabbert III continued. “No one, not even Mark [Etess], Mitchell [Etess], Ken [Cohen], Sean [Semenetz], Gregg [Semenetz] Sr. or Billy [Phillips] has ever won three Democrat titles in a row and the level of competition you see in these champions is certainly one of the reasons why. Someday it will probably happen, but it will take a lot of great golf over three long years to do it.
“Thanks to everyone for a great 2008 and we look forward to seeing you next year.”
The top three teams in each flight were as follows:
1st place Lou Siegel/Charlie Siegel; 2nd place Michael Zager/John Garnett; 3rd place Ben Newberg/Logan White
1st place Michael Mednick/Steve Proyect; 2nd place Nolan Levine/Darren Kenney; 3rd place Stu Novick/Sean Novick
1st place Paul Denault/Michael Lofaro; 2nd place Troy Gregory/David Gordon; 3rd place Ron Lewis/Rick Riley
1st place Mike Cardo/Jeremy Levner; 2nd place Andrew Goronstein/Joel Klaiman; 3rd place Steve Berry/Steve Sherlock
1st place Mike Novogrodsky/Wayne Pirnos; 2nd place Rick Schmidt/John Meyer; 3rd place John Etter/Andrew Etter
1st place Sean Semenetz/Gregg Semenetz Jr.; 2nd place Ben Kleiner/Maxx Kleiner; 3rd place Brian Gordon/Michael Goldstein
1st place Josh Goldstein/Mike Culclasure; 2nd place Alex Etter/A.J. Lee; 3rd place Gregg Semenetz Sr./Bill Phillips