van Niekerk tied-2nd and qualifies for NY State Championship

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CLIFTON SPRINGS, NY — Who knew that one of the greatest nightmares for an athlete, a torn anterior cruciate ligament, could end up being a blessing.

Doug Kulikowski sure never would have believed it back in winter of 2012, when, while on the basketball court, his right knee went one way and his body went the other.

But with ACL reconstruction now behind him, he’s pretty sure his golf game is better today than it would have been had he not been hurt.

Kulikowski’s methodical conquering of Monday’s Section V individual Supersectional at Clifton Springs Country Club certainly backed his argument.

The Pittsford Sutherland junior shot a 3-over-par 74 and defeated Pittsford Mendon freshman Gunnar Doyle and Harley-Allendale Columbia senior Matt van Niekerk by two strokes.

“I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason,” Kulikowski said. “I used to always be a good hitter off the tee. But the injury taught me how to grind. It really taught me how important the short game can be.”

That touch on and around the greens enabled him to hold off Doyle, who made 16 pars in shooting a 2-over-73, and van Niekerk, the state runner-up in 2011 who will be making his second trip to Cornell for the state tournament.

The top nine finishers from Monday’s Supersectional earned a spot in the state-tournament field. The two-day event is set for June 2 and 3 in Ithaca. McQuaid’s Michael Lane and Penfield’s Zak Ottman played in the 2012 state tournament. Kulikowski went in 2011.

Also heading to states: Doug Uhazie of Penfield, Evan Gaesser of Kendall, and McQuaid’s Colin Dubnik and Andrew Galvin.

Kulikowski will be bringing a somewhat different game to Ithaca than he brought the first time. He has learned that being conservative isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

After shooting a 76 in Saturday’s Section V tournament at Ridgemont Country Club, Kulikowski took a 3-stroke lead into the Supersectional. There was no reason to be overly aggressive.

“I only hit my driver once today (on the 541-yard 8th hole),” he said after Monday’s round. “I wanted to play to my strength, which is my irons and my chipping and my short game.
Having failed to qualify for the supersectional last year, a return trip to Ithaca was a priority.

“The state tournament was definitely a goal, a high goal,” he said.

That was also true for van Niekerk, and not long after he had secured second place, he was on the cellphone to South Africa, telling his grandfather, Jan van Niekerk, the news.

“He’s been stressed out — I keep shooting 78s and he’s not happy about it,” Matt said with a smile.

Van Niekerk’s 74 on Monday was indeed four shots better than he shot on Saturday in winning the Section V Class C individual championship at Ridgemont.

“I was on the range on Sunday at Locust Hill (Country Club) and Steve Barber (the LHCC pro) gave me some advice,” van Niekerk said. “I always want to hit it full bore, but he said to try to hit more creative shots. That advice helped today. I only made two stupid decisions today (on Nos. 17 and 18).”

Van Niekerk lost the 2011 state championship at Cornell by one stroke when Pittsford Mendon’s Gavin Hall eagled the 18th hole.

A swing overhaul set his game back in 2012, when he missed a return trip to Ithaca by one stroke. He made sure he didn’t miss out as a senior.

“It feels like I should be getting into states, and to miss it last year I felt pretty bad about it,” van Niekerk said.

[Source: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/article/20130520/SPORTS08/305200070/Pittsford-Sutherland-Doug-Kulikowski-golf]