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Northport's James Alden hits clutch chip shot to win Suffolk golf title

James Alden of Northport chips the ball inches

James Alden of Northport chips the ball inches from the tee to finish with par on the 18th hole during the Suffolk High School Boys Golf Individual state qualifier at the Rock Hill Golf and Country Club on October 30th, 2019. Credit: Daniel De Mato

When you're as good at golf as James Alden, hitting a nearly perfect chip shot on the 18th hole usually just means it’s a good day.

But when you do it to win the county championship, it's a great day.  

The Northport senior skillfully handled an eventful final hole to finish in first place (151) after the two-day, 36-hole boys golf tournament at Rock Hill Country Club ending on Wednesday. Alden shot 2-over 37 on the front nine and even-36 on the back to clinch both the individual Suffolk title and a spot in the state tournament this spring. The par on the front nine is 35 and the back is 36.

After hitting his tee shot on the 18th hole wide right and into the trees, Alden used his six-iron on his next shot to get out of trouble, landing the ball back on the fairway. He saved his best swing of the day for the next shot — an uphill chip to within an inch of the hole. Alden tapped it in for par to win his first county championship. In his final county tournament, he realized something useful about his golf game.

“I learned today that I can close out and win,” Alden said.

Alden finished two strokes ahead of runner-up Palmer Van Tuyl (Ward Melville). Van Tuyl shot a 77 on the first day and began the second with a 36 on the front nine. But he admittedly “got aggressive with a chip” on the 14th hole, which he said, “started a downward spiral.” The senior would eventually clean it up with a par on both the 17th and 18th holes, but not before Alden sealed the win.

Van Tuyl led a group of four Ward Melville golfers to qualify for the state tournament: Andrew Petraco and Gavin Girard tied for third place (156), and Nick Stoecker tied for seventh. Stoecker sank a 20-foot putt for birdie in a one-hole, four-way playoff for one of the final three spots. Suffolk sends nine golfers to the state tournament.

After winning the county team championship on Saturday to complete an undefeated season, Ward Melville golfers expected to play at a high level this week. Coach Bob Spira knows he has a special group.

“I’ve been coaching 13 years and I’ve never seen more than two players from the same team make a state tournament,” Spira said. “It’s raw talent and hard work.”

Added Van Tuyl: “There is definitely synergy, as a team we jell well together…When you are playing among good players often, that certainly brings your game up,” he said. “We had high expectations this year and I think we’ve achieved them… I’m really excited to take this team up against Nassau County in the Long Island championship this Spring.”

Others to qualify for the state tournament include Tyler Clark (West Babylon) and Cole Federico (Westhampton), who tied for fifth (158). Mackenzie Kim (Westhampton) and Henry Brooks (Pierson) joined Stoecker in a three-way tie for seventh (159). Commack’s Justin Guerra was the odd man out in the playoff, finishing 10th. Guerra shot a 1-under 34 on the front nine Wednesday.

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