Heading through the crucible that is the back nine at Bethpage Black, in a taut race for the state title, Andrew Svoboda was able to summon a unique set of experiences. He was the only one among the leaders who ever has played those holes with Tiger Woods.
During practice rounds at the 2009 U.S. Open on the Black when Svoboda, a New Rochelle native and St. John’s graduate, signed up for a 7 a.m. tee time. The only other person in the group was the greatest golfer of this generation.
“That was cool. I’ll always remember that,” he said after winning the New York State Open Thursday at 3 under. “I played nine holes with Tiger at the U.S. Open.”
The point is, in terms of savvy and status, Svoboda was in a class by himself in shooting for the $17,500 first prize. Despite making bogey 5s on the 10th and 12th holes and having seen his lead shrink to one shot, he held steady, made pars on his final six holes and won by two over 22-year-old Kyle Brey of Farmingdale, who turned pro on Tuesday.
“He’s a great player. I hit some good shots coming down the stretch and he just played a little better than me,” said Brey, the recent Barry University graduate who, like Svoboda, shot 1-over-par 72 in the final round.
In the final few holes, no one in the final threesome hit better shots than Michael Furci, a 28-year-old pro from Sayville, who just couldn’t get the putts to fall and finished at par for the 54 holes. Watching Svoboda served as a lesson.
“You could just tell that the moment is not too big for him,” Furci said. “He knows where to put his ball. He puts his ball in the center of the green. Very controlled and very smart.”
Being head of state added to a strong resume for Svoboda, 38, who won the Long Island Open last month. He played three years on the PGA Tour, having placed second at the Zurich Classic of 2014 (when Brey still was playing for Farmingdale High), and six years on the Web.com Tour. He gave it up — almost completely — to be a teaching pro at Engineers Country Club in Roslyn. Still, there are times (such as Thursday) when he wonders if he has one last tour shot in him.
“On the PGA Tour, you have to have such a good short game and I was just not able to scramble well enough. Of course, I’d like to play,” he said, complimenting Engineers head pro Chris Carter for being such a good boss and accommodating his tournament schedule. “I was tired of being on the road. So, it kind of all played its way out. I’m happy to be working in the Met Section and playing in these events at courses like this.”