Given his first choice, Prescott Butler by now would have been drafted by a National Hockey League team or at least on a college hockey roster. It was the combined effect of two knee surgeries and what he calls “a bunch of concussions” that caused him to focus on a game that uses different sticks.
Woods, irons and a putter are the tools of his brighter and greener future, which was on clear display this past week at Brookville Country Club. The former left wing for the Long Island Royals and Long Island Gulls won the Long Island Amateur Championship.
The 20-year-old from Old Westbury, a rising sophomore for the University of Alabama’s golf team, stood out from start to finish. He was the medalist in the stroke-play qualifier (4-under par 66) then won his five matches, capped by an 11 and 9 victory over Russ Aue in the 36-hole final Thursday. Butler officially became a player to watch.
“He played great, he’s got all the shots,” Aue said after his own strong week despite a neck injury that his limited his season. “I knew I’d have to play my best just to stay with him. He’s a good kid, too. It was a tough day for me, but he made it a lot more enjoyable.”
Butler knows about tough days. He was crushed when he was cut from the Gulls one season. He had his first knee surgery at 15. The worst were the head injuries. “My mom was begging me to stop from my first concussion. She said, `You’re good at golf, just go play golf,’ ” he said.
He did just that, enrolling at the Pine School in Hobe Sound, Florida, where he could devote himself year-round to his new favorite sport. Butler still plays all summer at the Meadow Brook and Piping Rock Clubs on Long Island, but the move allowed him to practice at the Bear’s Club, Jack Nicklaus’ Florida course (“I think he knows who I am, I know his grandson pretty well,” Butler said).
Most important was that it put him in range of a then-unheralded instructor. “My dad and I were looking for a new guy to work with down there. We were like, `How is nobody working with Claude Harmon?’ No tour pros, I guess, were working with him,” he said.
Soon after that, Harmon (son of famed teacher Butch Harmon) took on a young pro named Brooks Koepka. After that, Dustin Johnson signed on, followed by a roster of clients that includes Rickie Fowler. Butler sees some of those pros — once gratefully playing a few holes with the “awesome” Koepka in a junior invitational — and is proud that Harmon still has plenty of time for an amateur.
“Basically, what he told me is that almost all coaches can see what’s wrong with a swing. But what he does, what his dad always taught him to do, was find the 'cancer’ in a swing the one thing that’s causing all of the other problems. Just fix that and all the other things will follow,” Butler said.
In his case, the flaw was a matter of keeping too much weight on his left side and having too much of an arc in his back, which could have caused back problems. The advice sure worked this past week, as Butler adopted a swing that produced a low cut. “I hit almost every fairway yesterday, and today I missed two or three, but pretty much I’ve been right down the middle on every tee shot,” he said Thursday.
His parents were in the gallery the whole final day and joined him in being thrilled and honored. “This is home, right where he grew up. This is so cool,” said Lea, his mom.
Aue noted the way the champion respected the game and his fellow competitors. Butler in fact later said that he was impressed when a mid-match conversation revealed that Aue, a member of the Nassau Players Club, is a Suffolk County police officer.
So, yes, the young man is happy that circumstances convinced him to switch sports. He gets to go to Crimson Tide football games. He has met the school’s famous golf alumnus, Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA champion (“He actually gets a police escort when he comes back,” Butler said).
Then again, when he still loves going to the rink to watch his sister’s games. “I wish I could play a little more hockey,” he said, “but I think my coach would kill me.”
Stock up on golf balls
Lesson No. 1 to all competitive golfers: Make sure you have enough golf balls in the bag. Pro Clement Berardo of France was disqualified Thursday from a Challenge Tour event in Spain because he ran out and could not finish his round.
William Pinamonti, Middle Island CC Dogwood, third hole, 160 yards, 6-iron
Peter Levy, Cold Spring CC, third hole, 140 yards, 8-iron
Mark Donato, Holbrook CC, 11th hole, 117 yards, pitching wedge
Keith Martey, North Hills CC, third hole, 148 yards, 9-iron
Davide Somma, Glen Cove GC, 16th hole, 165 yards, 8-iron
Andrew O’Keefe, Glen Cove GC, eighth hole, 105 yards, 9-iron
Ronald Goldstein, Greens at Half Hollow, seventh hole, 162 yards, 3-hybrid
Madelyn Lambert, Greens at Half Hollow, 14th hole, 110 yards, 7-wood
Marion Wegener, Sumpwams Creek GC, fifth hole, 125 yards, 5-iron
Ava Maresca, Sumpwams Creek GC, third hole, 100 yards, 9-iron