Chris Covelli had not met high expectations so far this summer.
So the 25-year-old Buffalo resident tried a new approach to fix his golf game:
He put the clubs away.
Covelli, who had practiced every day for five months straight, took a full week off, choosing to not even think about the game.
The mental break paid dividends Monday, as Covelli fired what he called one of his best competitive rounds, a 1-under 69 during the annual Porter Cup qualifier at Niagara Falls Country Club. That tied him for the second-best round of the day (with Simon McInnis of Toronto) and was enough to earn one of the eight available spots for next month's tournament.
"I'm really thrilled," Covelli said. "Especially with the way I had been struggling earlier this year, it felt great to put it together."
Covelli, 25, came into the season as one of the favorites to replace Jake Katz (who turned professional) for the unofficial title of Western New York's best amateur player, based on his strong finish to the 2011 Buffalo District Golf Association season. He finished tied for second to Katz in the BDGA men's individual championship at the end of last year, and was fifth in the 2011 BDGA points standings.
But after reaching the semifinals of the BDGA Match Play this spring, Covelli had disappointing finishes in the Mid-Amateur (tied for 28th) and Tournament of Champions (14th out of 18).
"I was getting really technical with the swing," he said, "and having a hard time breaking the high 70s.
"I took a whole different approach. Taking seven days off was something I've never done. I went back to the range a week ago Monday and felt refreshed."
Covelli's ball-striking was on point in windy conditions at NFCC. He also maintained his composure after a pair of three-putts, the last of which came on the par-4 15th hole and dropped him back to even on his round.
Knowing he likely needed to break 70 to avoid a playoff, Covelli still had to play the brutal finishing stretch at NFCC - into the wind, no less.
He made a clutch par save on the par-4 17th, then stuck a knock-down 5-iron to about 6 feet on the par-3 18th hole. That birdie finished off the round of 69, which stood up until Canadian Daniel Kim bested him by a shot for medalist honors with a round of 68.
Still, Covelli had plenty to smile about after the round.
"That was as tough as I've seen the qualifier play," Covelli said, "so I'm really happy about the round."
Covelli will make his third appearance in the Porter Cup, following showings last year and in 2006.
"Nerves always play a factor," he said. "But I'd love to compete this year. I've got enough experience on the course now where I feel like I can."
Joining Covelli as a local qualifier Monday was 19-year-old Brian Jurkiewicz of Hamburg, who tied for fourth with a group of five other players at even-par 70. Jurkiewicz earned his spot in the field by making a nice up-and-down out of a greenside bunker to save par on the first playoff hole, the par-4 first hole.
Also advancing from the playoff were Trevor Sluman of Rochester and three more players from Ontario: Brandon Ng of Toronto, Stephane Dubois of Brantford and Alex Carrigan of Guelph.
> Cantlay turns pro
One player who won't be in the field next month in Lewiston is Patrick Cantlay, the world's top-ranked amateur.
That's because Cantlay, 20, gave up his amateur status last week, opting to turn professional.
Porter Cup Tournament Director Steve Denn sent Cantlay a courtesy invitation to this year's tournament, but knew it wouldn't be accepted. Cantlay won the Mark H. McCormack Medal at the end of last season. That award, which comes from Europe's governing golf body, the R&A, brings with it an invitation to the Open Championship, which this year is the same week as the Porter Cup.
Cantlay, though, is giving up that invitation to turn pro. He missed the cut in his first professional event, last week's Travelers Championship, but has sponsors' exemptions to the next two events, helping to explain the timing of turning pro.
Cantlay, who was a two-time All-American at UCLA, gave up his final two years of eligibility with the Bruins. He signed with agent Mark Steinberg of Excel Sports Management, the same representative as Tiger Woods.
Cantlay had given Denn his word when backing out of last year's Porter Cup that he'd be in Lewiston this summer, but things changed as the year went on and his level of play remained high.
> Peters wins WBDGA title
Belated congratulations go out to Cat Peters, who last week dominated the field in winning the Women's Buffalo District Golf Association championship at Brookfield Country Club.
Peters shot rounds of 78-73 on her home course for a nine-shot victory over second-place finisher Julie Murphy.
It continued a run of strong play by Peters, who earlier this month won the state girls golf championship as a senior for Clarence.
She'll continue her golf career at Michigan in the fall.
* Registrations are still being accepted for the Erie County Amateur Championships, which will be held July 7 and 8 at Grover Cleveland Golf Course.
The tournament is open to county residents with verifiable handicaps of eight or less for men and 12 or less for women. More information is available at www.erie.gov.parks .
* The tips series with local teaching professionals will continue next week. Other news of note can be sent to the email address below.?