Whether you unfold your copy of The Buffalo News, or call it up on the device of the moment, golf in our local newspaper is written by Jay Skurski. Jay finds a way to balance coverage of the big events with the ones that might not command great attention. All events, all courses, all golfers, are deserving of notice and commemoration, and Skurski and his newspaper see to that. Unbelievably, BuffaloGolfer had not sat down before 2017 with Jay to discuss his take on golf and golf writing. Consider that oversight remedied.
1. Tell us who you are and how you are involved in the game of golf.
My name is Jay Skurski. I’m a sportswriter at The Buffalo News, a job I’ve held for the past 8 years. Before that, I worked for Greater Niagara Newspapers, a collection of three daily newspapers in Western New York. I’m from Lewiston originally, went to St. Francis High School and currently live in Amherst, so to be able to work in my hometown doing what I love is an absolute thrill.
I’m involved in golf on a professional level in that I cover the sport for our newspaper. On a personal level, I’m a recreational player. My goal is to become a single-digit handicap one day.
2. You’re known as a Buffalo Bills beat writer, but when the weather breaks, you turn to golf. How did that come about?
My boss, Lisa Wilson, came to me a few years ago and asked about reviving a local golf column in the summer months. I was absolutely all for it, given my love of the game. One of my co-workers, Mark Gaughan, had done the column for a long time, but eventually got pulled away as he covered the Bills. We have local columns on running, hunting and fishing and auto racing, so it only makes sense to have one on golf. It’s been an absolute joy for me to be able to do it.
3. What are the highlights of the golf-reporting season for you?
Definitely the Porter Cup. Being from Lewiston and getting a chance to cover that tournament every year in my hometown is awesome. The Porter Cup is absolutely one of the best sporting events in Western New York every year. The list of players who have competed in it is really amazing. From Phil Mickelson winning it to Tiger Woods’ playing (and getting a hole-in-one), the stories are just endless. It really is a chance to see the stars of tomorrow up close. I’ve also enjoyed covering the International Junior Masters the past few years. Although the players are younger, they perform at a really high level, and having local winners in consecutive years has been nice. Both tournaments are incredibly well run and put on by terrific people.
4. Following that, what do you wish we had more of in Buffalo-Niagara, golf-wise?
A longer season! Outside of that, a “major” presence every year – be it in the form of a professional event or top-level USGA amateut tournament — would be welcome. We got that last year with the return of the Web.com Tour to Peak n’ Peak, and the PGA Tour has hosted the Canadian Open the past few years in Hamilton and Toronto. Both of those events, however, are at least an hour from downtown Buffalo. It would be great to see a course a little closer to the heart of Western New York get to host something like that.
I’d also like to see participation pick up. As mentioned above, I think the Porter Cup is an absolute hidden gem on the local sports scene, and it’s free! I can’t wrap my head around why more people aren’t there every year. The same goes for interest in events put on by the Buffalo District Golf Association, which has been around forever and is a terrific way for golfers of all ability levels to participate in events. My hope is that those opportunities do not disappear one day because of a lack of support.
5. How does golf reporting differ from coverage of other sports? What do you look for at an event?
Covering golf is quite a bit different than my usual beat, which is football. At a football game, the action is right in front of you. On a golf course, especially in the first couple rounds, that’s not the case. With so many players on the course at the same time, it’s impossible to follow all the action. I’ve heard it said that the best golf writers in the world never left the media tent, and I can see why that would be true. If you’re out on the course, especially early in tournaments, you might miss a guy signing his card for a 62. Of course, by the final round, particularly if a few players have separated themselves from the pack, it’s easier to follow a group and pay more attention to each shot.
For a football team to be successful, it takes teamwork. The coaching staff has to come up with a good game plan, and then the players have to execute it. The quarterback and receivers have to be on the same page, the offensive linemen have to know their assignments, etc. One mistake by a single player can screw things up for the team. Golf is obviously much different. Outside of match play, you’re not competing against someone else. It’s you against the course, trying to shoot the lowest score possible. I absolutely love that aspect of the sport. There is so much to be said for the mental part of the game – how do you block out bad shots, for example – that goes into writing about golf. That’s what I look for. What was a player’s strategy going into the round? What were they thinking on the critical approach shot? How did they read the winning putt? Questions like that are at the heart of covering golf.
6. What has been your favorite golf story during your tenure as golf writer at TBN?
It’s impossible to pick just one, so I’ll give you a few. The growth of the Porter Cup to include a women’s tournament and hold its senior event as a standalone has been great. Just a few years ago, Brooke Henderson won at Niagara Falls, and now she’s one of the best players in the world.
As for the golfers themselves, there seems to be a “changing of the guard” going on. Young players like Ben Reichert and David Hanes represent the future of the game locally. On the women’s side, I did a column on childhood friends Sidney Shaw, Marah Penn and Sara Riso growing up on the same street and all getting Division I scholarships. I thought that was really cool.
For our annual golf preview in April, one of my projects a couple years ago was to compile every course record available in both Western New York and Southern Ontario. We now have a database of those records that is available on our website. The project included a lot of phone calls and emails, but the end result is something I’m really proud of. I’ve always been fascinated by course records, and some of the stories of those from Western New York courses are great. For example, Ben Hogan (!) holds a share of the record at Brookfield.
I also did a story on the relatively recent explosion of new courses in the area has made Western New York a great place for golfers – short as the season may be. Places like Diamond Hawk, Arrowhead, Links at Ivy Ridge, Harvest Hill and Hickory Stick all weren’t around 10-20 years ago. When you add in the quality Canadian courses that are easily accessible to us and have opened in the same time frame (Legends, Grand Niagara, Thundering Waters, etc.), it’s quite a collection of public courses that we get to play.
7. Which tournament have you not covered, from which you would love to report?
I’ve been lucky enough to cover the PGA Championship at Oak Hill and the U.S. Open at Oakmont this past year, so that would leave the Masters. The News used to send a reporter to it every year, but budget constraints put an end to that a few years back. My hope is that one day we have a player from Western New York get into the field. Then I can campaign for coverage.
8. What’s the state of your golf game these days?
I don’t keep an official handicap, but would guess I’m somewhere between 13-16, somewhere in that range. I can break 90 fairly consistently, although I’ve never cracked the 80 barrier for 18 holes. I frequently play nine holes at a time, and shot 1-over at Hickory Stick last year, so I think I’ve got it in me. My wife and I have a son who turns 3 in March, so I haven’t played quite as much in the past couple years, but he loves to play, so toward the end of last season we started to take him with us on the course. I’m hopeful I can bring him out a lot this year, and finally shoot in the 70s.
9. What question has not been asked, that you wish we had? Ask it and answer it, please.
I always like to know how people got their start in the game.
For me, it was with my dad, Dan. He owns a hunting cabin in Belfast, N.Y., and when I was little, we would go down there almost every weekend. We would play at Six-S. I’ll never forget how cool I thought it was how the holes on the back nine would go up the hill and into the woods. Those rounds are some of my most cherished memories. My dad and I still play as often as possible, mostly at Hickory Stick in Lewiston, including on Christmas Eve in 2015 with my uncle and two cousins. That is one of the most memorable rounds I’ve ever played, and the part of golf I cherish more than anything. The time spent with family – my wife, my son, my dad – and lifelong friends on the golf course is something I treasure. I might not ever be a scratch player, but that’s ok. The sport to me is so much more than just shooting a low number.