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Bethpage Black not a monster as State Open begins

It wasn't windy, it wasn't so arid that the greens were hard and fast. It also wasn't moist and temperate enough for the rough to be thick and lush. In short, it was as benign as the place ever could be.

It was, nonetheless, the Black Course.

So, none of the top pros and amateurs around here was taking anything for granted. And the golfers who did manage to break 70 during the first round of the 54-hole New York State Open Tuesday didn't consider it so much a triumph as an honor.

"It's an unusual thing when you can get under par and stay under par at the Black Course," said Carl Alexander, head pro at the Golf Club of Purchase, who played many rounds at Bethpage when he was an assistant at Pine Hollow on Long Island but can't recall ever having shot 4-under-par 67, as he did yesterday.

"There are a lot of good memories here,'' Alexander said. "My dad grew up playing here. I just feel really good playing the Black Course, I love the way it is set up, I love the sight lines. It really gets me focused."

Usually, it wears down just about everyone. So Tim Hegarty, a minitour pro who plays out of Sleepy Hollow in Westchester, wasn't aiming for the 67 that he shot.

"I stepped up on the first tee today and I said to myself, 'Every hole that you make par on out here, it's a good score, no matter what,' " he said, after having made five birdies and a bogey. "You almost think par is going to win the tournament, so pars are good. You try not to make any big mistakes, which I didn't do."

The heat wave and rain shortage have prevented the Bethpage staff from cutting the greens extremely tight or getting the rough to look tropical.

"I saw there wasn't half the rough that was here last year," said Jamie Miller, a minitour pro from Buffalo who also shot 67 (including an eagle on No. 4). "I was like, 'Yes, I can hit it in the rough and get out of it.' Last year, I would just go home and go to sleep, I was so tired. Trust me, I played terrible here last year."

Not that it was pitch-and-putt. Most of the 144 golfers failed to break par. All of them started and ended with a healthy respect for a course that has hosted two U.S. Opens and was tough on everyone who played in either.

"Shooting 69 on the Black is a fantastic score any day of the week," said Gerard Connolly, an Irish-born amateur from Brooklyn who has won the Bethpage club championship - and shot 69 Tuesday.

Nor is anyone planning on dominating the Black Wednesday or Thursday.

"You break 70 out here," Hegarty said, "I don't care who you are, that's a good round of golf."


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