For the thousands of recreational golfers who line up and sign up to play Bethpage Black, here is some advice, courtesy of players in the New York State Open: Don't get too ambitious, hit it long, keep the ball in the fairway and just enjoy the walk. The latter suggestion came from Jeb Buchanan, who should know. After two times around the Black this week, he is 10 under par.
"I was telling my family and friends, I was so excited about this week because it's one of my favorite walks in golf. Walking from the first tee to the 18th green, it's just a treat to play out here," the former University of Connecticut star and current mini-tour player said after his second consecutive 66 left him with a five-stroke lead over Sayville's Michael Furci and Deepdale assistant pro Ben Polland heading into the final round Thursday.
"There's not a piece of grass out of place. Big tournaments have been played here before, all the greats have played out here. There's a special feeling when you're on the grounds here," Buchanan said.
Few golfers ever have had the feeling that the 24-year-old from Loudonville (outside Albany) did Wednesday: seven birdies. That included the par-3 17th, which yielded few birdies in the U.S. Opens and the Barclays on the Black. "A 7-iron: I kind of chipped it up into the wind and it held it up perfectly," he said, adding that he made a five-footer.
Buchanan has played on the PGA Latin American tour, but these days, he is trying to qualify for big tournaments on Monday. Last month, he had a chance to get into the Travelers, the PGA Tour stop in Connecticut, but lipped out his birdie putt on the first playoff hole of the qualifier.
It just gave him more time to practice for this week. He knows that the course is going to have its say, so he did not grouse about making two bogeys.
"I have a game plan going in. I just tell myself not to get too high, not to get too low on any shot. It takes so much energy and so much focus to play out here, I try to stay as even keel as possible. Just try to go with the flow," he said.
Along with other pros, he was asked what tips he would give all the daily-fee golfers who respect the "WARNING" sign on the first tee and go out to play the Black every day. Buchanan's advice was straightforward and encouraging: "Just try and enjoy the walk, just try to soak it in. It's going to be hard. The course is going to beat you up, but stay patient and have fun. You're going to hit some good shots. Just make sure you enjoy those."
John Guyton, an assistant pro at Wheatley Hills, recommended practice with the driver and long irons -- which he did, and helped him reach 4 under. "And do some rough work. You're not going to hit every fairway out here," he said, adding that the Black "is probably my favorite course to play, anywhere."
PGA Professional National champion Matt Dobyns of Fresh Meadow, who shot 66 Wednesday to go 1 under, suggested that amateurs should concentrate most on avoiding the Black's rough, which is thick now. "A longer shot from the fairway is going to be easier than a shorter shot from the rough," he said.
Nick Beddow, an assistant at Piping Rock, who is at par, said daily-fee golfers should avoid playing from the Black's back tees. "Or you're going to be in for a long, miserable day," he said. "You've got to have patience because you're going to hit good shots, even from the fairways, and you're going to wind up in these deep bunkers. Just be patient and enjoy it. It's a great place."
The Jack Kaiser Golf Classic, which benefits the St. John's University baseball program, will be July 27 at Garden City Country Club. Call 718-990-5539.