Pride of Schenectady: Sweet swing made Farina a golfing legend
Quiet and reserved, the late Armand Farina consistently put red numbers on scorecards like a deadly golfing assassin.
Known for a smooth swing that late Gazette golf writer Lou Torre termed perfect, Farina continued to break par with relative ease from the time he starred on the Nott Terrace High School golf team in the 1930s until he himself was in his late 70s.
It’s no wonder that the man considered one the greatest golfers in Schenectady history will be inducted into the Schenectady School District Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I met him when I was just 12 years old at Schenectady Municipal,” said longtime Mohawk Golf Club head pro John Maurycy, another one of Schenectady’s all-time greats. “He kept mine and my sister’s clubs in the pro shop for us so we didn’t have to carry them on our backs while we rode our bikes to the course every day. I played golf with Armand many, many times over the years. He was like a second father to me.”
Maurycy learned the game from Farina by simply watching him and trying to mimic his swing.
“He was a great player. He was unbelievable,” Maurycy said. “He would take three good players of the time up to McGregor Links Country Club and play them three-against-one in best ball. He would beat all three with ease. He was a fantastic ball-striker. He was not a good long iron player, but he was great at almost every other club. He never forced anything in his swing. He kept hitting it in play all the time.”
Farina’s golf exploits were legendary. At Nott Terrace, he led the golf team to unbeaten seasons in both 1935 and 1936, and the team also won the District Championship both seasons. He was the medalist in the 1935 District Interscholastic Championship.
He began his association with several local golf courses by becoming a professional at both Western Turnpike Golf Club and Shaker Ridge Country Club after high school. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and then became both the head pro and the course superintendent at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course from 1945 to 1966.
Along with giving lessons and playing in Northeastern New York PGA events, Farina eventually helped design both Van Patten Golf Club and Ballston Spa Country Club. He later became head pro at Van Patten.
But he would also break away from his duties at Muny to play on the PGA Tour against the likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Jimmy Demeret. He once tied for fourth in the San Francisco Open and won his first-round match in the 1948 PGA Championship. He finished in the money in several PGA Tour events and competed in numerous majors, including the 1946, 1948 and 1957 PGA Championships, as well as in the 1953 U.S. Open.
“He could have made a lot of money if he kept on playing on the PGA Tour, but his wife, Lilly, didn’t want to jeopardize their savings,” said Maurycy.
“I remember Armand telling me the story about what happened at what I think was Bellaire Country Club one time. He was playing with [PGA Tour pro] Toney Penna, and he saw these four guys walking around them just off the fairway. Armand asked Tony who those guys were. He thought they were the mafia or something. Tony just told them they were members of the board of directors at Bellaire and that they were interested in signing him up to be their head pro. But Armand wasn’t really interested. He wasn’t in a comfort zone out on the West Coast. He told them he made plenty of money on the pullcarts back at Schenectady Municipal.”
Farina didn’t just play on the PGA Tour, he excelled. He set a nine-hole PGA Tour record of seven-under-par 28 during the 1950 Rio Grande Open in Harlingen, Texas. He finished in the money in the Empire State Open (seventh), Pensacola Open (eighth) and Durham Open (15th).
Closer to home, he won the NENYPGA Stroke Play Championship five times and the Woodstock Open six times, including shooting a nine-hole score of 29 en route to one title run. Farina was elected into the NENYPGA Hall of Fame in 1982.
“Armand would shoot 65 in practice at Muny all the time while getting ready to play a PGA Tournament,” said Maurycy. “It was very easy for him. He was always down the center and on the green. When he played on the PGA Tour, he was playing against the best in the country. He was very competitive. He was not just playing for the heck of it.
“Armand was a graet role model,” Maurycy added. “He did everything slow. He swung the same way. He walked slow. He didn’t hit the ball a tremendous distance, but he was very straight and was always a great fairway woods player. He kept it in play all the time and kept shooting 66 or 67.”
Maurycy said that once during the Glens Falls Open at Glens Falls Country Club, Farina saw the legendary Gene Sarazen hitting balls into Round Pond Lake.
“Golf balls were very expensive then, and Armand only had some balls that were cut up. He asked Mr. Sarazen if he could trade his cut balls for some of Sarazen’s good balls, so that Sarazen could hit the cut balls into the lake, but Sarazen told him he wouldn’t waste a swing on those balls.”
Farina was also known for his outstanding teaching ability. In fact, almost the entire Farina family was involved in the golf business.
“Everybody in my family was a pro except for my mother,” said Farina’s niece, Janie Farina, currently an LPGA teaching pro in Pinehurst, N. C.. “My father, my uncles Jim and Armand, my brother, my sister, my brother-in-law and my ex-husband were all golf pros and instructors. It’s in the blood.”
Janie Farina said she didn’t get to see much of Armand when she was little because all the Farinas were working hard as golf professionals during the spring, summer and fall.
“I do remember that my uncle came over with his hunting dog, Misty, a few times. In his spare time, he hunted and fished,” said Janie Farina. “I think both my father and my uncle Armand would be surprised if they knew that I became a golf pro, too. I’ve had my LPGA teaching card for 20 years now.
“I know that Armand was definitely the one guy in our family who enjoyed teaching the most. My father, even though he was a golf pro, hated to teach, but uncle Armand loved it.
“I think my uncle was the smart one in the family, because he didn’t run into any of the hardships the rest of the family members did in the golf business. He just loved to play golf and to teach golf. He had a pretty happy life, except that he never had any children.
“I’m accepting the [SCSD Hall of Fame] award for my uncle. It’s a big deal to me, because I’m the last surviving pro in the family. This award is special to the family.”