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Bethpage Black shines during New York State Open

A group of golfers makes their way down

A group of golfers makes their way down the first fairway after teeing off during the New York State Open at Bethpage Black on Wednesday, July 23 2014. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The sight lines are as superb as ever at Bethpage Black. From anywhere on the course during the New York State Open Wednesday, you could see 10 years into the future, when the Ryder Cup will come.

"It only enhances the status of the Black. Not that it needs enhancing," said Adam Fuchs of Bethpage, who shot 4-under par 67 in the windy afternoon wave and is leading the State Open at 4 under heading into the final round Thursday. Fuchs, 32, a pro who works full time for a New Jersey lumber company, has been playing the Black Course since he was 10.

"I actually wanted to play the Black earlier, but my dad took me to the side and said, 'You see that first hole? When you can reach the first hole [in two], you can play it,' " Fuchs said, having had no problem reaching it Wednesday, or in making just about every big putt he faced.

Fuchs plays every year in the State Open, which always is held on the Black. But it felt different this time, the first since the course was named the site of the 2019 PGA Championship and 2024 Ryder Cup -- one is a major, the other is the most exciting event in golf.

"You know the New York crowds. It's going to be crazy, it's going to be a great time," said Jimmy Hazen of Miller Place, Fuchs' close friend and the reigning Long Island Open champion, who is 1 over.

Darrell Kestner, the dean of Long Island pros as a player and teacher, said, "The course can hold its own and with the New York audience. It might just be one of the best Ryder Cups ever."

Not only does the Black have a great reputation burnished by two U.S. Opens, it has The Look. "It's as good as ever," Kestner said. "You think, 'Well, with the Opens not being here for a while, they might let it go.' It's not the case at all. The greens are smooth, the rough is lush. It always beats you up, but it's fun to play."

Course superintendent Andy Wilson, who assisted and succeeded Craig Currier, said the weather has been ideal: warm enough during the day, cool enough at night to let the course breathe.

"This is just an incredible course. You've got to have some power, you've got to have some touch, you've got to be able to put that ball in the air and get it to stop on these greens," said Lonnie Nielsen of Buffalo, who is having a pleasantly nostalgic return to Long Island. He was on the Champions Tour in 2007 and scored the biggest win of his life here, in the Commerce Bank Championship at Eisenhower Red.

Nielsen is 61 now, on two replacement knees, and still he made the cut at 5 over. Here's how he explains the Black's distinction, from his Tuesday round: "The fifth hole, one of the hardest holes I've ever played in my life. I hit a beautiful long drive down the right side. I thought I've got to get it up this hill, I've got to get some height on this, so I've got to swing as hard as I can with an 8-iron. And I hit a beautiful shot and it looked like, from where we were, that it really didn't take much of a bounce. I was thinking, well this is going to be great. And it still went off the back of the green."

Imagine shots like that and bounces like that, with thousands of passionate, partisan and throaty New York fans reacting. What you get is one heck of a Ryder Cup. 2024 can't come soon enough.

"I've got 10 years to become a top 20 player in the world," said Hazen, 32. "I've got time."

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