STONINGTON — Pete Stefanski has won nine Elmridge Golf Club championships in his career and six of the last seven of the match play events.
He's racking them up to the point where it wouldn't be a surprise if he lost track of particular details of a past triumph. But his latest title July 28 will be one he'll always remember.
Hours after defeating John Donohue on the 31st hole of the 36-hole final, 6 and 5, Stefanski, 61, felt chest pains at home. His wife, Pamela, drove him to the hospital, where it was determined Stefanski had suffered a heart attack.
Heart problems run in Stefanski's family. He lost his younger brother, Lou, a Stonington High Hall of Fame athlete, to a heart attack at age 55 in 2016. Pete's heart condition was treated through cardiac catheterization surgery Monday to unblock an artery and place a stent in a valve. It was the first heart attack Pete has experienced.
"I like to think I keep myself in good shape and my cholesterol is low," Stefanski said. "But with my family history, I've always been mindful of my heart health. This, however, came as a surprise to me and my golfing friends. I played golf all weekend in hot weather and never had shortness of breath. There was no indication that anything like this was going to happen. I'm thankful for my wife, who got me to the hospital quickly."
Stefanski will begin weeks of cardiac rehab at the end of August.
"I'll have to miss some work as I came back from this," Stefanski said. "But I'm looking forward to getting back on the course once I get cleared to play."
Though talking about his golf game may seem trivial compared to his health concern, Stefanski was satisfied with his performance en route to the title. Donohue, a 50-year-old from Pawcatuck, won Winnapaug Country Club titles in 2010 and 2013. At Elmridge, he was the top seed by virtue of earning medalist honors with his 36-hole qualifying score of 151 (7 over par) on June 26. He shot one stroke better than Stefanski, who was seeded second.
"That tells you something about Pete," Donohue said. "He could have automatically taken the No. 2 seed as the defending champ. But he's competitive and wanted to play to get the No. 1 seed, which he almost earned."
Both players won decisively in Saturday's 18-hole semifinals. Stefanski beat Ian Mackay, 6 and 5, and Donahue bested Lou Laudone of Westerly, 4 and 3.
In the Sunday final, Stefanski never trailed. Both finalists were within a hole or two of each other after nine before Donohue suffered a three-hole bogey streak to trail by five holes after 18. Stefanski held the margin on the second 18 before clinching on the 31st hole with seven holes left. A potential Donohue birdie putt hit the pin and bounced in and out of the hole to end it.
"I like match play," Stefanski said. "I like the head-to-head competition."
Donohue also favors match play, but lamented a couple of bogey slides on three straight holes.
"I made some birdies, but the bogeys put me behind and I couldn't recover," Donohue said. "Pete's the type of player who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He had only two bogeys or so in the entire 31 holes in the final."
Donohue fully expects Stefanski to return and defend his Elmridge title.
"I expect to see him back on the course this year," Donohue said.