The East Hampton High School golf team, for the first time in the program's history, won the Suffolk County championship at the Indian Island course in Riverhead Tuesday afternoon.
Zach Grossman, East Hampton's number-one player, topped all the individual scorers with two even-par rounds of 72, to become the school's first individual county champion. Alex Tekulsky, in 2003, and Duane Bock, in 1985, were runners-up.
In winning the team championship, East Hampton's ranking is atop 65 schools in the county that play the sport. There were 25 teams at Indian Island, with representatives from all of the schools.
The top six from Monday's competition -- Ward Melville, East Hampton, Smithtown West, East Islip, Kings Park (the two-time defending champion), and Bayport-Blue Point -- advanced to Tuesday's finale, the 6,300-yard course having been lengthened by about 300 yards, and the pin placements having been made tougher.
East Hampton finished with an aggregate score of 808 (an 80.8 average per player) followed by Ward Melville, at 815, Smithtown West, at 831, East Islip, at 837, Kings Park, at 842, and Bayport-Blue Point, at 850.
Claude Beudert, who has coached Bonac golf teams since 1986, said Tuesday night that East Hampton's win "probably didn't shock any of the other coaches, who remembered that we'd finished fifth in the counties last year without Zach."
Grossman, the defending Long Island junior champion who is to go to Skidmore in the fall, played in the state tournament as an eighth grader here, but spent the next three school years with his family in Charleston, S.C.
He returned to East Hampton for his senior year in June, a homecoming that inflated the hopes of his coach, whose hopes were already high to begin with, East Hampton golf teams having won six straight league championships -- and 10 league titles in the previous 12 years as of that point. He holds the South Fork Country Club's record of 63 on its Amagansett course.
With Grossman, the team, which went undefeated at 12-0, won its seventh straight championship and its 11th in 13 years, and then began the long wait until the county tournament, which because some of Suffolk's high schools play in the spring left East Hampton at a bit of a disadvantage.
In the interim, Grossman and Beudert's other year-round golfer, Ian Lynch, a sophomore, worked on their games at Montauk Downs, whose assistant pro, Paul Dickinson, had supplied the team last year with very helpful Indian Island yardage charts. Lynch finished fifth in the individual tournament.
Four of East Hampton's top six -- John Nolan, Cameron Yusko, John Pizzo, and Jim McMullan -- played other sports this spring. Yusko, Pizzo, and McMullan played baseball. Nolan played lacrosse, finishing his career recently with a career-high seven goals in the season's finale.
But Beudert didn't mind, reasoning that anything that serves to keep the competitive fires burning is worth doing. Grossman, who was on East Hampton's varsity boys basketball squad in the winter, initially thought of playing tennis in the spring -- and probably would have played second singles, his coach said -- but demurred in favor of golf.
"I've never seen anyone who works harder at something he loves," said Beudert. "We could all learn a lesson from Zach. Ian's the same way. They love the sport. Their goals are to do really well. Many times in life you see people who work hard and succeed, but not to this level. That, for me, is the most enjoyable part. They carried us. Which isn't to take anything away from what the others did. But with Zach and Ian it wasn't about what they did individually, it was about what the team had done. They brought us along with them. . . . It was pretty exciting. It wasn't unexpected, but we couldn't take anything for granted."
By the end of the first day, East Hampton, at 404, trailed Ward Melville (another school that plays in the fall) by three strokes. Those teams had played their rounds in the morning, and, interestingly, those that teed off in the afternoon, a group that included Newsday-ranked powers such as Sachem East and Northport, didn't overtake them.
"We got a huge break with the weather, getting our round in between showers. The weather got worse afterward. I think that's why you didn't see Northport and those teams making the cut. Of the teams that played in the afternoon only Kings Park, at 819, and Smithtown West, at 820, made the cut."
Going into the final day, Beudert said he "knew that it was between us and Ward Melville."
And, as aforesaid, by the turn, going out onto the back nine, he began to feel comfortable because Grossman, who was in the last foursome, was trouncing his Ward Melville counterpart, Lynch was on his way to matching the 76 he had shot the first day, and the other three -- Nolan, Yusko, and Pizzo -- while down collectively by four strokes, were not giving up ground.
In the end, the five golfers East Hampton scored matched the 404 they'd shot the first day, while Ward Melville ballooned from Monday's 401 to 414.
A golfer in another foursome, a Sayville freshman, Kyle Burke, who shot a four-under-par 68, tied Grossman for the tourney's lead, thus forcing a sudden-death playoff.
"Zach won it on the first hole, a par 4," said Beudert. "He hit a very good drive, which left him about 150 yards out. Burke pulled his drive into the left rough. Burke hit first and hit the right side trap by the green. Zach could have put it away then, but he 'chunked' an eight iron -- any golfer will know what 'chunked' means -- and landed in the trap to the left."
"Zach hit first and exploded out of the trap to within seven feet of the pin. His was an uphill shot which gave him more of the green to play with. Burke had a more difficult shot, a downhill. There wasn't much room. But he made a terrific shot to within four feet of the pin."
"Being away, Zach putted first. He lined it up and put it in. That put pressure on the other kid. It was a tough putt -- a slider, an uphill to the left. We were all watching -- Ian, John Nolan, Tyler Yusko [Cameron's older brother, who's now in college], Cameron. . . Zach said to Burke, 'Make this and we'll go to the next hole,' but he could see his hands were shaking."
Having won the tournament, "Zach shook the kid's hand, and we all celebrated. Zach and Ian had stayed the same as they had the day before. John Nolan, after shooting a disappointing 87 the first day, was thrilled with his 82. Cameron was just one stroke over the 83 he had the first day, and John Pizzo, who's a sophomore, shot an 89 to go with the 86 he shot Monday."
"It was the best day for East Hampton golf in my 25 years," Beudert continued. "There are many golf banners in our gym, but nothing will match this. I have no idea when it will ever happen again. . . . We wore maroon East Hampton golf jerseys today, the jerseys we wear for away matches. I know it sounds silly, but I don't want to take mine off. I'm going to sleep in it tonight."
"And I want to thank Paul Dickinson and Jason Jeffries, Eden Foster's assistant at the Maidstone Club, who worked on the range last week with our baseball players. Maidstone let us practice on their course the past three weeks. . ."
East Hampton is to play the Nassau County champion, Farmingdale, on Bethpage's Black course Wednesday to determine the Long Island champion. Beudert said his team would practice there Monday.
Grossman and Lynch are to play in the state individual tournament at Cornell University over the June 5-6 weekend.
"This was an open tournament, not a Class A-B-C-D one," Bonac's elated coach said in parting. "From Huntington and Amityville to Montauk we're the champions. I'm thrilled for the kids."