Now that his college career has ended, now that his aspiration of playing pro golf nears the time of truth, Jake Katz is approaching this year's Buffalo District Individual Championship with goals that go beyond winning his second straight title.
If Katz is going to ascend to competitive levels as a pro, an achievement that has eluded the area's better amateurs the last decade, he'd best be putting up numbers that reflect his readiness. And that's exactly what he did during Friday's second round at Brookfield Country Club, making seven birdies to go with a where-did-that-come-from? bogey in a round of 6-under 66 that has him four strokes ahead of Matt Stasiak heading into this afternoon's final round.
It wasn't all that long ago that anything around par was a good bet in the district. And now? Stasiak, the former Miami (Ohio) player and International Junior Masters champ, sits second at 4-under 140. Chris Covelli, a Florida Gulf Coast grad, fell five shots in arrears with a 2-under 70. The three will play a third straight day together when the lead group tees off about 3 this afternoon.
Katz, the winner at Tri-County last year, acknowledges that going low has become a mission now that his college playing days at Binghamton are over. If he's going to take a serious run at a pro career he needs to put up scores in competition, to reinforce his worthiness.
"I've really been working hard on my game," Katz said. "Last week at the Porter Cup I played OK but the last two rounds I really started to feel a little bit better. I've been working real hard with Chuck Antonuccio over at Westwood, really kind of working toward swinging like a pro golfer. [Friday] was one of the better ball-striking rounds I had, this summer at least."
Superior length off the tee enabled Katz to play the par-5s as if they were 4s, the result being birdies on all four of them. He also birdied the 436-yard first hole, the par-3 third and the par-4 17th, set up at just 286 yards. His lone bogey came when he yanked a wedge from 122 yards into the left bunker at No. 7 and failed to get up and down.
"All my [made] birdie putts were within 10 feet, so if I make one really good putt it could have been 64, 63," Katz said. "But it was seven birdies and one awful bogey from the fairway."
"It's Katz's deal," said former district champ Frank Garcia Jr. "If someone's going to beat him they better pack a lunch. It's nice to see we have kids who aren't playing video games all the time."
Four strokes is a nice cushion but hardly insurmountable, especially if Stasiak brings the same tee-to-green game he had Friday and gets his putter going. A three-putt from some 10 feet, a missed 2-footer and two putts left on the lip separated him from a potential 65 that would basically have turned the final round into a rematch of the Katz-Stasiak BDGA Match Play final of a month ago.
"The putting was brutal," Stasiak said. "I can give you five or six shots just from putting alone that cost me [Friday]. But that's how the game goes. Some days you got it, some days you don't."
Stasiak is hoping to extend his collegiate career by playing for Canisius this coming season. The Griffs have petitioned the NCAA on his behalf, seeking a medical exemption that would grant him a fifth year of eligibility. Stasiak played in just one event his sophomore year at Miami after being diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a bowel disorder.
"I'm very hopeful of it," Stasiak said. "Todd Hummel, the coach at Canisius, is working really hard on it right now. I'm hoping to hear in the next week or two if I'm going to be able to play at Canisius this year."
But for today he'll be out to keep Katz honest and see what might transpire.
"Jake's playing really well right now," Stasiak said. "He's definitely playing the best in the area. When you shoot 69 and lose three strokes it's tough, but there's another day left."