LATHAM, NY — These past two weeks for Shaker boys golfer Kieran Cummins have been nothing short of crazy.
It started first with a comeback victory in the Class A tournament, after trailing by three strokes entering the 15th-hole, followed by another com-from-behind win a week later, in the Section 2 State Qualifier Tournament, after trailing by one-shot entering the final round of play.
The wins were something the Shaker junior knew he was capable of, even after missing out on making the State Tournament his first two years on the varsity golf team. So, to achieve them not only crosses off the goals Cummins’ had already set for himself, but also creates a whole batch of new ones as he looks towards competing on even bigger stages ahead.
“I knew that I’d have to play quite well, because there’s a lot of other golfers who are just as good as me, but I knew if I played well, I’d be in contention and getting the win in the Class A tournament was huge; I sort of proved to myself that I could do it and then that only fueled me for the State Qualifying Tournament,” Cummins said. “The main goal was getting in the top-nine and making the State Team, because I hadn’t done that my freshman or sophomore year, so that was kind of something that I wanted to do and gave me, kind of, a chip on my shoulder. But, getting getting the win in that one was even bigger than Class A, because not only am I proving that I can do it against the best in Class A but it’s the best in the entire section. So, I was able to check off two things by winning the tournament ”
“Now having won Section 2, I feel like I have some expectations for myself going into the State Tournament. Knowing that if I can compete with Section 2, why can’t I compete with the state, so I’m definitely looking forward to that. It’s just kind of a shame I have to wait so long for it.”
By placing first in the Section 2 State Qualifying tournament, Cummins punched his ticket to the 2023-24 NYSPHSAA Boys Golf State Championships, in June at the Mark Twain Golf Course, in Elmira, N.Y. But even though he’s disappointed in having to wait to don the ‘Shaker-Blue’ on the golf course again, Cummins won’t be waiting all winter before he’s back competing on the golf course.
From Nov. 4 through 6, Cummins will be competing in the Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championships, at Koasati Pines at Coushatta, in Kinder Louisiana. The lights will be a little brighter for this tournament, as not only will it be televised on the GOLF Channel, but also will feature some of the top junior golfers from around the United States, including Charlie Woods, son of Tiger Woods, who will be caddied by his father.
While Cummins seemed ecstatic to be competing on the same course as the father-son duo, it’s the overall star power and level of competition the tournament holds that drew him to play in the event, for what will be his second straight year.
“It’s definitely different competing in a national tournament because you’re playing with the best players in the entire country. On the regular, I’ll play against the best players in Upstate New York or New York State, but playing with the top players from Florida, Georgia, Texas, California and anywhere in the United States is the highest level, so it’s definitely great if you can play in any of those tournaments,” Cummins said.
Cummins is no stranger to high-stakes golf however, as over these past two weeks he’s already had to use two, thrilling come-from-behind performances in order to take home tournament titles.
In the Class A Sectional Championship on Oct. 12, at Fairways of Halfmoon, it took a little bit of luck and a lot-a-bit of skill from Cummins, in order to climb out of his three-shot hole and win the tournament.
After back-to-back birdies on the ninth and 10th holes, Cummins still trailed Ballston Spa freshman Jeffrey Fumarola by three shots entering the 15th hole. But after Cummins was able to drain an eagle putt on the par-five 15th to cut into his deficit by two shots, Fumarola would then make triple-bogey on the 16th and allow Cummins to jump into first place, leading by three strokes.
With the quick switch-up in the leaderboards, Cummins was still able to maintain composure and hold-on for the win, at two-over par (74).
“I can’t say that it (mindset) didn’t change. When you’re going from chasing, to in the lead it’s two different feelings, but ultimately, you just have to take it one shot at a time and try to execute that shot to the best of your ability,” Cummins said. “It was super fast, the turnaround. But, I mean, the eagle I can’t even describe how huge that was and then being able to make a few pars coming in on some holes, like 17 with the water or 18 with the driving range, that were giving people trouble, all tournament, so, to be able to finish well and close out the tournament was big.”
Next up, last week at the Section 2 State Qualifier Tournament, Cummins led a different sort of comeback to win back-to-back tournaments. Through round one of the competition, back in Halfmoon, Cummins was under-par for much of the day, before eventually carding a one-over (73). His round-one play left him just one-shot back of the lead, which was again held by Fumarola, which Cummins said felt very minimal with 18-holes left to play.
He’d prove that as well, shooting four-under (68) on the final day of play, to win the tournament with an overall score of three-under-par (141).
The victory came in large part this time from the strength of Cummins’ putting, as he sank five birdies in round two, including a 50-foot birdie on a two-tiered, 14th-hole green. Prior to the tournament, Cummins had acknowledged that putting was one of the weaker aspects of his already pretty polished game.
But after he went nearly bogey-free on the final day of play and won the tournament by seven strokes, he called it, “the best putting day,” of his life.
“I did say that putting was, sort of, a weaker aspect with James Allen (Times Union) in an interview, but I would have looked like a liar with how I putted it in the State Qualifier. That just proves that I can have those great putting rounds where a lot of putts are going in,” Cummins said. “It just, kind of, is proof that the work I put in putting does pay off. It’s not going to happen every single time, but just overall, it’s going to make me definitely, a lot better of a putter and I think making putts is the key to shooting low scores.”
“If the putter is working for me, it could be a good day.”
Aside from his putting, Cummins also remarked on the head-to-head battles the and Fumarola had competed in over the past two tournaments. With Cummins being a junior and the Scotties’ golfer being just a freshman, Cummins knows the two are set up in the Section for more tight-knit battles to come.
“Jeffrey (Fumarola) is the first person that comes to mind when I think of young talent in the section. I mean, he’s incredible. He’s,13 years old…but, you wouldn’t know that because he’s so good. He’s so mature, so respectful and he has one of the best mentalities in golf. If you ever meet the kid, you’ll be blown away by how he handles himself and that’s not even to speak about his golf ability,” Cummins said. “I mean, to be in the thick of it and these big, high school tournaments, I know that in the future he’ll have his fair share of wins and he’s going to have an incredible future.
“It’s super fun to compete against him and we both feel like we push each other and both bring out the best in each other. So, for me and him going head-to-head in, essentially, two tournaments, is a lot of fun.”
The tournament wins and now State Tournament appearance were goals that Cummins was confident he’d be able to achieve during his time at Shaker High School, but it wasn’t just him that believed in his capabilities, as first-year head coach Aric Kucel knew what he had in the junior golfer even before taking over at the helm.
“This is my first year as varsity coach … but I kind of knew what I was getting my hands on. I’m a member of the same club as Kieran and he’s the back-to-back, Club Champion; there’s a lot of stud golfers at Wolferts Roost (Country Club) and he’s the best golfer there,” Kucel said. “He’s proven that and then, after this year I think he’s he’s proven himself to be the best male golfer in Section 2.
“You just knew at some point, this was going to happen for him with just the way he works and the way he carries himself. It was just a matter of time.”
All that said allowed Kucel to take a less-hands-off approach with Cummins, while still showing his support along each step of his journey thus far in the fall season.
“I’ve been coaching varsity basketball for a while and I’ve had some really good athletes and Kieran’s right there with them. One thing I’ve learned is that when you have a special talent, which which Kieran is, you don’t over coach. You want to make them as comfortable as possible and just, kind of, turn them loose,” Kucel said. “So, it’s been just a lot of words of affirmation with him, sending him a couple of texts, here and there, but I just don’t put too much into his head.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him, so, it’s just about, kind of, letting him go out and do his thing.”
Now, as Cummins looks towards his national and then the State Tournament, Kucel will prepare for his winter hoops’ season with the Bison, even though he was jokingly, disappointed when he didn’t get the invite to caddy for Cummins, alongside the Woods’ family.
The Bison boys head golf coach is aware that Cummins’ recent hot streak and performances in his national and NYSPHSAA State tournament will only set him and the rest of his teammates up for a successful year, in what will be his senior season.
“It’s certainly gonna be a fun ride for me (next season). Kieran put us on his back this year and I’m sure he’s gonna do the same next year,” Kucel said. “Kieran is a perfect example of what we want a Shaker golfer to be. He works hard, he’s certainly talented, but he’s got great competitive character out on the golf course and he’s a good role model for the younger guys.
“They certainly look up to him, so, we’ll be leaning on him a lot for not only his scores, but his his leadership.”
After Cummins graduates in the Spring of 2025, he hopes to continue to pursue playing golf at even higher levels, by making a collegiate team. Being a junior, Cummins said he has just begun his search for a potential, college-suitor, but knows the best way for him to do that is just to keep playing at the level he is.
“Golf is an interesting sport because you almost have to recruit yourself as opposed to a coach recruiting you, but, I’ve got a whole system and platform that I use, to put myself out there,” Cummins said. “But ultimately, the easiest way to get into golf at college is to play good golf.
“So, I know if I can play my best golf, everything else will fall into place.”