Raman Luthra was getting some work in on the driving range after a round at the Porter Cup over the weekend when he was joined by fellow competitor and East Amherst resident Danny Yustin.
After the practice session was over, Luthra – the defending Buffalo District Golf Association points champion – could only marvel at Yustin’s ability.
“Danny doesn’t even know how good he can be,” Luthra said. “He’s just scratching the surface of his potential.”
Yustin showed some of that by tying for 18th place in the Porter Cup – one of the elite amateur stroke-play events in the world – the highest finish for a Western New York player since Jake Katz tied for 10th in 2010.
“I struck the ball well all week,” Yustin said. “I can take a lot from it. I think I ended up losing by eight shots. That’s two a round. That’s two more putts dropping. I can take a lot of confidence from that and build from it.”
Yustin also realizes just how lucky he is to be playing at all.
Back in February 2013, he suffered a brain hemorrhage after being struck in the head with a beer bottle while trying to break up a fight in his college dorm room at the University of Hartford. Yustin equated the symptoms of the injury to a severe concussion, and came home for two weeks so that his parents could monitor his condition.
Amazingly, he returned to the Hawks’ golf team that semester and didn’t miss an event. He tied for fifth in the America Sky Championship, and then came home and won the Western New York Open.
This past fall, he returned to Hartford for his junior year, but his performance dipped. He competed in just three of six events, and failed to crack the top 20 in any of them.
“I just wasn’t the same player,” he said. “There was some doubt about what was going to happen.”
It turns out, there was a lingering side effect from the initial injury that hadn’t been detected – an inner-ear problem that, around last Thanksgiving, began causing vertigo-like symptoms.
“My balance just went. The room would spin and stuff,” Yustin said. “I literally couldn’t do anything.”
The condition was so bad, he wasn’t able to take his final exams because he couldn’t study. From November to February, practicing his golf game was not an option.
Physical therapy that focused on eye movements proved to work wonders on the condition, however, and Yustin was once again able to join the Hawks for the spring season.
“It’s a little unfortunate what happened, but at the same time, I think it made me a better person,” he said. “Bad things happen all the time to good people, so you’ve just got to make yourself stronger from it. … Now that I feel back to 100 percent, I feel like my game has gotten way better.”
Yustin, 21, opened the Porter Cup with a round of 4-over 74, but then finished the final three rounds 4-under to end the tournament at even.
“I definitely left a bunch of shots out there each round, so it could have been even better,” Yustin said of his performance. “I missed a couple putts, but it wasn’t because of misreads. Sometimes they just don’t go in.”
Yustin said he’s gotten to a point where he feels comfortable with his swing. He works “once or twice” a year with eccentric swing coach Mac O’Grady, who is based out of Palm Springs, Calif.
“Growing up, working with Mac, I was always kind of working on my swing and not really working on my scoring skills,” Yustin said. “Now that I’ve finally got that down, I can start working on other things I need to improve, especially my wedge play and using the putter.”
Yustin qualified earlier this summer as an alternate for the U.S. Amateur, and should he get the call, he’ll participate in that next month at Atlanta Athletic Club. But up first is the BDGA men’s individual championship, which runs from Sunday through Tuesday at Cherry Hill in Fort Erie, Ont.
“I feel like my game is there,” Yustin said. “This last year and a half, I’ve been working hard and I’ve started to see my scores really drop.”
Yustin will return to Hartford in late August for his senior season. The biology major plans to pursue a professional career after graduating, but for now is holding off on making any concrete decisions on his future.
“Eventually, I’m going to turn pro, but I don’t know exactly the route I’m going to take,” he said. “I might play another summer of amateur, because after what happened, I feel like I missed some time.”
Should he keep his amateur status, he’s got another Porter Cup invitation waiting for him as a result of finishing in the top 25.
“My game has taken some big steps,” he said. “I’m excited to see where it can go.”
• Luthra and Silver Creek’s Jamie Miller are coming off a great week – and it wasn’t limited only to their appearances in the Porter Cup. Luthra and Miller each shot 73 at Ridgemont Country Club on July 22 to qualify for the United States Golf Association’s Mid-Amateur Championship, which will be held Sept. 6-11 at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.
• The 78th Southwestern New York-Northwestern Pennsylvania men’s amateur begins next Wednesday with a medal qualifying round and continues Aug. 6-10 with match play. The tournament, which will be at Bartlett Country Club in Olean, is considered one of the oldest match-play events in New York.
The tournament is open to all BDGA member clubs in the area and is part of the district’s point system. The field annually consists of about 120 golfers.
Entry for the event is $120 and includes the qualifying round, match play and a dinner Wednesday night (it’s an additional $15 for a practice round Monday or Tuesday).
This year, there will be an over-55 flight and a junior (18 and under) medalist, in addition to a tournament medalist. Entries must be received by Monday. Visit www.swny-nwpa.com or call 372-0150 for more information.
• The Chautauqua Golf Club is celebrating 100 years this season and will hold a luncheon from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. A putting contest with vintage clubs, club history anecdotes and silent auction of old tee signs and ball-washers are among the planned activities. Tickets are $20 at the door. For more information, call 357-6211.
• Local golf news of note is welcome at the email address below.