ITHACA, N.Y. — With every shot the pressure grew, the New York State golf championship on the line, two players locked in a tie on top of the leaderboard after two rounds.
Forced into a sudden-death playoff that took three holes to decide, Somers sophomore Nathan Han showed little emotion as he calmly made the shots.
Of course, despite only being a sophomore, Han had been there before, on the same course. He finished one stroke off the lead in second place at the state championships last year on the Robert Trent Jones course at Cornell University in Ithaca. This time he was determined to rewrite the story with a happy ending. On the third hole of the playoff he hit his drive into the bunker, but Han was able to blast out onto the green and make the putt to win the title.
“It was definitely a goal of mine to win the state championship after last year when I came pretty close,” Han said. “That experience helped me understand what I needed to do to win. There’s a lot of pressure, but I’ve been in that spot before and I knew what I needed to do to make the shots.”
Han finished with a 74 on the first day of the tournament on Sunday, June 4, and shot a 72 on Monday to finish at 146 and tied for first with Adam Xiao, a sophomore from Section 8's Manhasset.
The playoff for the title started on the 10th hole, and Han hit his drive into the bunker. He was able to stay tied up with Xiao to move on to the second playoff hole on the 18th, then they came back to the 10th hole still tied and once again Han hit his drive into the bunker. This time he was able to clear it out on to the green where he sank the one putt to win the title.
After the first round it was Xiao in the lead as he shot a 72, while Han was two shots back with a 74. It wasn’t the first time Han and Xiao had squared off against each other in a tournament as the two sophomore stars took control at the state tournament. Rounding out the top five finishers were three seniors in Danny Gianniny of Pittsford Sutherland in third a stroke behind at 147, Christian Chapman of Victor in fourth at 149 and D.J. Griffiths of Susquehanna in fifth at 150.
“Me and Adam go way back about eight years,” Han said of Xiao. “He’s a great player, we see each other a couple of times each year at tournaments. Coming in today I was thinking, two back, just play the golf course to the best of my ability and it will fall into place. I wasn’t playing opponents, just trying to make shots. From my experience last year I’ve learned how to handle pressure and my mindset is a lot better.”
That mental toughness was clear and pretty impressive for a sophomore, according to his Somers coach Leigh Fiorito.
Han had done the same thing at the Section 1 championships, trailing after the first day he came up big in the final round when he had to. It was the same scenario in the state championship coming from behind and making the big shots to win the title.
“He took it all in stride,” Fiorito said of Han. “At one point he was tied for third, he had to make a birdie and he did it. That got his engine started. He has a mind like a steel trap. He was in the rough all day, but he just kept making the shots. His goal is to win every tournament. He’s playing disciplined golf, within himself, very methodical. His club choice today was brilliant. It’s all working for him.”
Han will forego a chance to advance to the New York State Federation Tournament this weekend as he is scheduled to compete in the Haas Invitational, a tournament in Greenville, N.C., with the Amateur Junior Golf Association.
Now that he has won the state title he has other goals to fulfill as he plays a year-round schedule of tournaments. He also knows that Xiao will be back next year and others will be hungry to win a state title as he tries to defend it. One reason he wants to play the tournament in North Carolina is that Duke is among the schools he is looking at to continue his golf career in college, but all of that is down the road for Han as he continues to enjoy the sport he has played since he was young. Golf has been a big part of his family life with his dad and grandfather often by his side as he competes in tournaments.
“I’m taking it one tournament at a time, one shot at a time,” Han said. “Golf has been a big part of my life. My family is highly supportive of me. They come to my tournaments and I wouldn’t be who I am without them and I appreciate all their support.”