By Greg Gulas
Scotty Jones hasn’t played much golf lately, and his front nine Friday at the Farmers National Bank Greatest Golfer of the Valley showed it.
Then came No. 9.
A bad bounce tossed the East Palestine native’s approach shot 60 yards past the north course green and under pull carts. His only hope for a chance at par – once the carts were moved – was to punch into a mound guarding the green and get a lucky bounce.
He did just that, and then dropped a 15-foot putt for par.
“I was 1-over after salvaging par on No. 9 and after I birdied 10, that kind of got things going for me,” said Jones, who came home from Denison to play in the Men’s Open Division. “I birdied four of the last five holes and that helped me finish really strong for the day.
“I hadn’t played much heading into today. You might say that I didn’t have high expectations so I am really pleased with my day,” said Jones, who carded a 2-under 68.
He and 300 other Valley golfers continue their quest for Greatest titles today as play continues at four Valley courses before concluding Sunday at The Lake Club for the top 96 golfers.
The only other golfer to finish under par is a familiar name.
Brandon Pluchinsky’s 2016 title march started with a 66 at Mill Creek, and he duplicated that effort Friday to lead the Men’s Open division.
In Senior Open action, Frank Santisi and Robert Gintert each carded 71 to share the lead. Santisi, whose home course is Kennsington, missed the cut the only other time that he played (2014).
He added his nervous energy subsided once he teed off.
“I was pleased with my round because I putted really well,” he said. “I made some long ones, but the key was keeping the ball in play and out of trouble. From tee-to-green, I’d say it was a very comfortable round.”
A native of Newton Falls, Gintert’s family owns Riverview Golf Course. Friday was the first time he played Mill Creek.
Today also will be the first time he tees off at Tippecanoe Country Club.
“The greens here at Mill Creek matched up really well with the greens at Riverview,” Gintert said. “I hit the ball well, but if I had to single out one area then it would be that my ball striking was really good today.”
In Women’s Open play, Angela Molaskey, a teacher in the East Palestine School System, is tied with Katie Rogner for the top spot after both carded 79s.
“This is my first time playing in the Greatest and except for a few drives, was happy with my play,” she said. “I left a few shots on the course and had a couple double bogeys I wished I didn’t have, but my putting really saved me.”
Her second round takes place today at Oak Tree Country Club.
In other action, Don Ferko III (Tippecanoe Country Club) and Jonathan Sliwinski (Tamer Win Golf and Country Club) each carded 75 to sit atop the leader board in Men’s 5-8 while Peter Margiotta (Knoll Run Golf Course) shot 76 to sit atop the Men’s 9-12 division.
The big number of the day was Pluchinsky’s. And it was almost bigger.
“I finished bogey-bogey and to me, the ninth hole (his last of the day) is the toughest on the course,” he said. “It’s a hole that he says commands a golfer’s full attention. I just didn’t finish like I had hoped.
“Shooting 64 on any course is a great round, but today it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Pluchinsky is looking forward to his second round today at Oak Tree Country Club.
Former Greatest champ Jonah Karzmer sits just behind Jones at 70.
A total of 306 golfers entered this year’s 10 divisions — the second largest field ever.
With Mill Creek Golf Course serving as their home course, Joe Bellino’s 74 places him at the top of the Men’s Seniors 10+ division while George Kelly’s 72 helped him forge a tie with fellow Mill Creek golfer Bob Leonard for the top spot in the Super Seniors division.
“I couldn’t believe it, but I hit every fairway,” Kelly said. “I also hit 13 greens in regulation and when you do that, you’re going to score well. Add in a couple birdies and it was a good, solid round for me.”
In the Ladies 9-plus division, Toni Notaro’s 77 placed her seven strokes ahead of Abby Cook (Pine Lakes Golf Course). Notaro plays out of Salem Golf Course.
Corey Susany (Reserve Run Golf Course) registered a 79 to pace those in the Men’s 13-16 division while an 80 by Paul Marovich (Rolling Hills Golf Course) has him the leader by a stroke in the Men-17 division.
Brian Tolnar, Mill Creek PGA director of golf, added that this year’s field is once again very competitive.
“It’s always awesome to host the event because it’s one of the very best, not just locally but in the entire country. Other communities need to take note of the first-class operation that this has become,” Tolnar said.
“Mill Creek is happy to be a part of it and for what it does for amateur golf in the Mahoning Valley.”
The 54-hole competition continues today with second-round play slated for Avalon Golf and Country Club, Oak Tree Country Club, Youngtown Country Club and Tippecanoe Country Club serving as host sites.
The field will then be pared to 96 for Sunday’s championship round at The Lake Club.
All locations are free for the public to come watch.