Eastport South Manor freshman Kyle Tillinghast was on the verge of qualifying for the New York State Championships last week at the Section XI Boys Golf Championships at the Rock Hill Golf Course in Manorville.
But, as they say, golf is a game of inches, and Tillinghast came up just short.
For the second year in a row, Tillinghast advanced to play a second day of golf last Thursday, May 22, after shooting an 81—just two shots under the qualifying 83—the day prior. The second round was played in less-than-ideal conditions, with rain and wind making things difficult, but Tillinghast actually shot better than he did on the first day, finishing up with an 80 and in a three-way tie for eighth place.
Since the top eight finishers of the Section XI Championships qualify for the state tournament, with the ninth serving as an alternate, Tillinghast and the two golfers he was tied with played a playoff on the 10th hole to determine eighth, ninth and 10th place, respectively, for Suffolk County.
Tillinghast had a great drive to start the round but eventually landed in a bunker. He then nearly sank a 10-foot putt to go even on the par-four hole, but missed by a few inches. He had to settle for a bogey, and 10th place, while his two counterparts sank their par puts to lock up the higher seeds.
ESM head coach Todd Skala said his young golfer showed some real grit in the playoff round.
“[Kyle] is a freshman, and for him to be on that stage—with everyone watching you and your every shot—it’s pretty impressive,” Skala said.
Tillinghast, who earned All-County and All-Conference honors with his top-10 finish, was the first ESM golfer to have a playoff-round in the county tournament since Matt Kontagianis in the mid-2000s, who was a senior at the time.
Thanks to sharing the League VII title in the fall with Mattituck, ESM qualified six of its golfers for the Section XI Championships. Joining Tillinghast was Joey Busiello, Trevor Hayle, Connor Mantel, Connor Halpin and Tyler Simmons. Busiello had a great first day of golf, shooting a 79, but he faltered in the second round with a 94 and was eliminated. Busiello earned All-Conference honors for his efforts, while Hayle was All-League and Academic All-League.
Thanks to Tillinghast’s and Busiello’s scores, ESM was able to walk away with the Conference IV title, beating out fellow League VII schools Mattituck and Mercy, as well as League VIII schools East Hampton, Pierson and Southampton.
The Section XI Championships had been played at Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead for years before being moved to Rock Hill. While ESM plays its home matches at the Hampton Hills Golf Course in Westhampton, many of its golfers also play at Rock Hill and that provided the Sharks with a nice advantage.
“It was a good venue,” Skala said. “A lot of people were wary of moving it from Indian Island, but I think it worked out well for everybody.”
Since Hayle is the only Shark graduating from the team this June, Skala thinks his young squad will be tough to beat in the future.
“We had a great year and we’re young, with only one senior that we lose,” he said. “With Joey and Kyle being only freshmen, the future looks pretty good for us.”
Information on the Hampton Bays and Westhampton Beach golfers who competed in the Section XI Championships was not provided.