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Jay Skurski’s Golf: Tour dreams intrigue North Tonawanda’s Blackwell

Golf has opened so many doors for James Blackwell that it’s understandable why he’s not willing to say goodbye to it just yet.

The North Tonawanda resident and St. Joe’s product recently completed his senior season with the Ball State men’s team and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human resource management.

Before he puts that degree to use, however, he’s spending the summer at River Oaks Golf Club on Grand Island, working 40 hours a week in the pro shop and countless more on the practice range.

“I’ll do that for the summer, and then I’ll look at where I am come November,” Blackwell said. “If it’s looking like I can give it one more good run, then I’ll go for it. I’ll go down to Florida or something like that, and see what happens. But if it’s not, if I’m still really searching for it, then it was a good run at it, I guess.”

Blackwell’s college career did not always go as planned. His sophomore and junior seasons, by his own admission, were miserable.

“For a while there … I pretty much lost it all as far as the swing goes,” he said. “Mentally, I was having trouble keeping the pieces together.”

Things improved for his senior season, though, and Blackwell ended up playing in every event for the Cardinals, ranking third on the team with a 75.42 stroke average.

“I started seeing the work I was doing on the range pay off on the course,” he said. “It was better in that sense. I’m moving in the right direction again, to where I’m feeling good about my game.”

His collegiate career culminated with a fifth-place finish at the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, held earlier this month at the PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Blackwell was one of 26 players from around the country to compete in the championship, which was first contested in 1987. In 2006, the National Minority College Golf Scholarship Fund granted the PGA of America complete control of the tournament. An hourlong highlight show from the tournament will air on the Golf Channel at 8 p.m. June 29, and then again at 2 p.m. July 5 and 2 p.m. Aug. 23.

“The opportunities have not always been there, and for many individuals they’re still not there,” Blackwell said of minority golfers. “The opportunity to get out and play competitively, for some people, that’s not a reality.

“Being a black golfer and just bringing awareness to, really, the world – that’s something I take a lot of pride in being able to be a part of. … It really is a great game.”

The relationships Blackwell has formed through the sport promise to serve him well no matter how far his game takes him.

“I have met some of the most amazing people through this game,” he said. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, if it doesn’t work out for you, let me know and I’ll help you with a job.’ It’s nice to know I have that security, and other people like me can have that as well just through playing golf.”

Before Blackwell gets there, however, he’s determined to see just how far he can make it. If all goes to plan, he’ll head south sometime in the fall to take on a pro career.

“I’ve played with a lot of the top guys,” he said. “I’m friends with a lot of people who are trying to play on tour. I know how good you have to be, so I’m not going to pursue something if I know it’s going to be so far-fetched to get to that level.”

Last summer, Blackwell shot a 62 at River Oaks, so the ability to go low is there.

“I know I’m good enough,” he said. “It’s just getting that to the tournament and getting it more consistently. Maybe not 62, but rounds of 65, 66, 67 – that’s what it’s going to take.”

Blackwell is still mapping out his playing schedule for the summer, but likely will attempt to qualify for both the Porter Cup and state amateur. After that, he says, it will be dependent on his work schedule.

“I’m not in college anymore,” he said. “I’ve got a real job. I’ve got to balance that with golf.”

That’s something we can all relate to.

Yustin, Nowak advance

East Amherst’s Danny Yustin and Lancaster’s Austin Nowak are onto the next stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open.

Yustin advanced to sectional qualifying by tying for fourth with a round of 1-over 71 at the local qualifier hosted at Butler Country Club in Butler, Pa., last week.

Nowak earned the fifth and final qualifying spot with a round of 3-over 75 at The Club at Nevillewood in Nevillewood, Pa., on Monday. He emerged from a four-man playoff to secure the final spot.

Also included in the five players advancing from the Nevillewood qualifier is Corey Long, a junior on the St. Bonaventure golf team. He finished tied for second with a round of 1-over 73.

A total of 111 sites across the country will host 18-hole local qualifiers this year, with about 600 players advancing to sectional qualifying. Held at 10 different courses around the country on June 6, sectional qualifying consists of 36 holes – otherwise known as “Golf’s Longest Day.”

Last year, a total of 22 players made it through local and sectional qualifying to earn a spot in the U.S. Open, which this year will be held at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh from June 16-19.

Chip-ins

• Amherst native Jake Kreuz, a sophomore on the Arizona men’s golf team, recorded his best collegiate finish recently during the Pac-12 Championships, tying for 15th place with a score of 3-over 287 over four rounds at The Country Club in Salt Lake City. Kreuz made 51 pars over four rounds, which tied for third most, and recorded 10 birdies.

• Dwayne Randall of Peek’n Peak shot a round of 4-under 68 Friday to win the Western New York PGA’s Webster Pro-Am, earning $940. Kirk Stauffer of Pine Acres Country Club in Bradford, Pa., was second with an even-par 72, while Rob Krajewski of Orchard Park Country Club finished third with a 1-over 73.

The winning pro-am team consisted of David Granata (Webster Golf Club) and amateurs Bill Nugent, Adam Levy and Dan Don, with a score of 128.

• Local golf news of note and story ideas are welcome at the email address below.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com