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The Butler Did It: McClancy’s golf Crusade

There isn’t a golf course anywhere near Monsignor McClancy HS. There isn’t an inch of extra space in East Elmhurst and besides, could you just imagine teeing off on the seventh hole just as a massive 747 is landing a few yards away at LaGuardia Airport?

Suffice to say, McClancy hasn’t garnered much of a reputation in terms of CHSAA golf. There’s been an occasional stellar player here and there, but when it comes to winning championships, the tiny all-boys’ school cannot compete with the sport’s giants in suburban Westchester and Staten Island.

And that’s what makes the Crusaders trip to the CHSAA Class A intersectional semifinals this year that much more amazing. For the first time in at least 20 years, McClancy can claim it had one of the top four golf programs in the city.

As with any good rags to riches story, this turnaround started with one special player deciding to attend McClancy. His name is Marvin Phisitkraiyakorn and not only is his name difficult to pronounce, he was tough to beat on the golf course. Phisitkraiyakorn walked into McClancy with a junior golf pedigree rarely seen there.

Phisitkraiyakorn didn’t play as a freshman, suffering from leukemia. But he was McClancy’s best golfer for the following three years before graduating a year ago. Following Phisitkraiyakorn to McClancy was Ryan Toupaz, who also attended St. Sebastian’s grammar school in Woodside and had an impressive golfing resumé to boot.

“They were among the two best golfers the school has ever seen,” said Andy Song.

And he should know. Song, who was on the golf team as a student at McClancy in the mid 90s returned and is now the head coach. He knows better than most about the program’s struggles.

“For a few years it was a really mediocre program that didn’t do very well,” he said. “I started as an assistant coach, became head coach and it just so happened that talent started coming into the school.”

With Phisitkraiyakorn and Toupaz as the Crusaders’ top two golfers last year, McClancy finished third in its division with an 8-4 record, a vast improvement from previous sub-.500 seasons. In a tightly contested match, the Crusaders lost to eventual champions Molloy in the quarterfinals.

A year later, McClancy exacted its revenge, stunning the Stanners, a team that has won its division for the past decade, in a match that needed to go extra holes.

The battle between Toupaz and Pat Collins, Molloy’s No. 1, was the stuff of legends. They went birdie for birdie and needed four extra holes to determine a winner, with Toupaz prevailing in the end.

It had all the drama of a late Sunday afternoon Grand Slam final round. Of course, without the thousands cheering from the grandstand and millions watching from home. This is, after all, high school golf, which around here is a niche sport. And a small one at that.

McClancy’s Cinderella run came to an end Monday with a convincing 5-0 defeat to mighty Iona Prep, which fields a team literally three times the size of McClancy’s group of five. While Phisitkraiyakorn and Toupaz have helped to change the golfing environment at McClancy, there are about five Phisitkraiyakorns and Toupazs at Iona Prep or Fordham Prep, which draws from a wealthier student body and has its pick of pristine private courses.

McClancy, meanwhile, has to jump into a school van and head to Clearview Golf Course, a well-maintained public course at the foot of the Throgs Neck Bridge it shares with Holy Cross HS and just about anyone else in Queens trying to feed their golfing fix.

Powerhouses like Iona Prep and Staten Island’s Monsignor Farrell, though, owe a debt of gratitude to McClancy. You see they wouldn’t have a league to play in if not for the efforts of the late Jim Murphy, who was a driving force in the birth of CHSAA golf and was McClancy’s first coach.

Is a championship out of reach for McClancy? There’s no doubt the Crusaders are a longshot, but then again, skill is just one part of the golfing equation.

“You just have to get lucky,” Song said.

Song said his goal at the start of the season isn’t to win a championship, although he wouldn’t mind bringing the title back to where the league got its start. He just wants to help his players improve and have some fun.

That, to him, is the definition of a good season.

It doesn’t hurt to make a rare appearance in the Final Four, either.

“This,” he said, “was definitely a successful year.”

Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at dbutler@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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