LEWISTON – Billy Gaffney had tried qualifying for the Porter Cup so many times, he lost count.
“Probably six years, at least. Maybe eight,” Gaffney said. “I was just never ready.”
He is now.
Gaffney, a 23-year-old from Williamsville, shared medalist honors during Monday’s qualifier after a round of 4-under-par 66 at Niagara Falls Country Club.
Gaffney finished his round in style, stuffing his tee shot on the par-3 18th hole to about a foot for a kick-in birdie.
“I didn’t have to think about the putt at all,” he said. “It was just like, ‘wow, I finally qualified.’ I’m really relieved.”
Gaffney started his round with a birdie on the first hole, then added another on the par-4 fifth. His lone dropped shot came at the tough, par-4 ninth, but he bounced back for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 11th after putting his 230-yard approach shot to within 6 feet with a 6-iron.
He added a final birdie on the par-3 16th hole.
“My three nemesis holes I have out here are 10, 16 and 17, and those were three of my best holes today,” Gaffney said. “I made a good save for par on 10. On 16, I hit a 6-iron to 10 feet and made it, and then 17 I made a good par.”
Windy conditions along the Niagara Escarpment presented a challenge for the field of 92 golfers competing for eight spots. Gaffney’s approach was a tried and true in tournament golf – hit as many fairways and greens as possible.
“I hit 17 out of 18 greens,” he said. “I had a birdie putt, really, on every hole.”
Gaffney finished his senior season with the Youngstown State men’s team in the spring with a 23rd-place finish at the Horizon League championship. He played in all 12 tournaments and 33 rounds with the Penguins.
Last month, Gaffney teamed up with Jeff Wolniewicz to win the New York State Golf Association Amateur Four-Ball Championship. He’s set to turn professional at the end of the summer – but getting his first Porter Cup experience before then will be priceless.
“I would say I’d do anything for an invite,” Gaffney said, “but nothing beats qualifying. Shooting a good score and knowing that you did the work to get in, that’s a great feeling.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting. By qualifying, I know I have the game to play. I’ve been looking for the opportunity and the chance to play against guys like this.”
Gaffney shared medalist honors with John Boncoddo. The Brantford, Ont., native’s round of 66 was highlighted by a hole-in-one on the par-3 12th hole. Boncoddo recently finished his sophomore season with the Eastern Michigan men’s team.
Included in the rest of the qualifiers are a pair of local players – East Amherst’s Chris Yustin and Elma’s David Hanes – both of whom shot 3-under 67.
Yustin, 18, is a recent graduate of Williamsville East High School who will play collegiately at Binghamton.
“I was hoping to get anything under par, since that’s usually what gets in,” he said. “I hit my driver probably the best I’ve ever hit it. I never got into too much trouble, so I could go at greens.”
Yustin went out in 32, making birdies at the second, seventh and ninth holes. He added another one on the par-5 13th hole, with his only dropped shot coming at the par-4 17th.
“I played really well,” he said. “I made a couple 20-footers, but otherwise hit it pretty close and was able to make a few putts.”
Yustin had a familiar face working the bag. His older brother, Danny, is a past Porter Cup participant who recently started a professional career.
“He was really good, actually,” Chris Yustin said of his brother’s caddying skills. “I was surprised. He was into it and taking everything seriously, so it was nice.”
There’s also a family tie with Hanes. His older brother, Billy, is in the field as the Buffalo District Golf Association points champion.
“Very happy for him!” Billy Hanes said in a text message to The Buffalo News. “Brother battle soon.”
David Hanes opened with a bogey on the first hole, but erased that with a birdie on the par-3 fifth hole. He got to 2-under with birdies on the eighth and 11th holes, then dropped another shot on No. 13. He closed with birdies on the par-4 15th and 18th.
The remaining qualifiers were Jake McNulty of Port Perry, Ont., with a 2-under 68 and three players who shot 1-under 69: Joo-Young Lee of Dekalb, Ill., Charlie Green of Ann Arbor, Mich., and former Niagara Falls resident Tony Bagneschi, currently of Scottsdale, Ariz. McNulty’s round included a hole-in-one on the par-3 fourth hole.
The 58th Porter Cup will be held from July 27-30.