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Rockville Centre teammates battle for CHSAA golf title

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Rockville Centre’s Declan Kilduff was leading by three shots heading to the 18th hole of the Red Course at Eisenhower Park during the Catholic High School Athletic Association boys golf championship on May 28.

After what Declan called a good drive, he had 195 yards left to the hole, uphill and into the wind. He hit his second shot into a greenside bunker, “which is usually not a problem,” the Chaminade High School sophomore recalled. “But I wasn’t in a bunker all day, and it was rainy, so the sand was different.”

It took him two shots to get out of the trap, and after another chip and a missed 10-foot putt, Declan tallied a triple-bogey, finishing 6-over-par with a 78. Fellow Chaminade teammate Matt Durnan, of Garden City, who finished before Declan, had also shot 78.

Declan’s other teammate, sophomore Bryan Ruland, also of Rockville Centre, said he found out about the triple-bogey while walking up the fairway on the 17th hole. He too was 6-over-par. “My game plan was a little different after seeing what he did,” Bryan told the Herald. “I was a bit surprised.”

Bryan parred the last two holes, setting up a three-teammate battle in a playoff for the title. “I was kind of mad at myself, because I knew I was right there, and it was a big accomplishment that I could have achieved,” Declan said. “I was just bummed out, but I knew I could get another chance.”

The three replayed the 18th hole, and Declan’s par was enough to claim the title.

“The triple bogey was a killer, but it was an honor to have three of our guys fighting it out,” said Chaminade golf coach Gregory Gerner, noting that the three golfers thought it was cool to go up against one another. “It stunk, because only one of them could win.”

Declan, 16, started golfing when he was 12, and almost immediately fell in love with the sport. He began playing often, especially in the summer, at his “home” course, Hempstead Golf and Country Club. “I started to get the bug,” he said. “I liked it a lot.”

As a freshman, he made Chaminade’s A-team, and has been a consistent force on the course ever since, Gerner said. This season, he won the team’s Most Valuable Player award.

Declan, who Gerner called “the heart and soul of the team,” has a knack for making others around him laugh, even if things aren’t going his way during a round. His focus on the course is incredible, he added.

“When you see him, he’s lining up every shot before he even gets up to that ball,” Gerner said. “He’s looking at every possible angle, what club he needs. By the time he reaches that ball, he already knows where it’s going to go.”

On June 3, at the CHSAA State Championship at the par-71 James Baird State Park in Pleasant Valley, Declan shot an 85 (placing 25th of 64 golfers), and Bryan shot a 91 (46th place).

Bryan, who lives a few blocks away from Declan, plays the Rockville Links the most, but said he also enjoys playing with Declan at Hempstead Golf and Country Club. The best part of golf, Bryan noted: “Just enjoying myself, and knowing there’s worst places to be, even if you’re not playing well.”

Gerner said he is looking forward to seeing his young players continue to improve over the summer, which they intend to do. When Declan’s not at Hempstead Golf and Country Club trying to beat his personal-best 72 (even par), he’s on the range or the putting green, or just watching his favorite golfer, Rickie Fowler. Declan and Bryan said they hope to continue golf in college, and have dreams of playing professionally.

“I’m really proud of him,” said Declan’s mother, Jean. “He practices it all the time. I wouldn’t even consider it work, because he enjoys it so much. I think that’s the most important thing.”