(University of Hartford sophomore, Elias Gross - Runnerup in the 2018 Connecticut Amateur Championship)
When Ben Conroy dispatched Elias Gross 7&6 in Friday’s 36-hole Connecticut Amateur final at the Country Club of Waterbury, he exorcised a few demons as well. Three to be precise.
Conroy, who played 2-under for 30 holes, finished runner-up in the 2012 Connecticut Amateur, the 2013 Connecticut Open and the 2017 Connecticut Mid-Amateur, the last two in sudden-death playoffs. Disappointments like that can make a victory all the sweeter.
“I definitely drew off that,” Conroy said. “It changed my attitude. I knew my game was good enough to be a champion, but I think in the past I wanted it so bad and tried so hard to make it happen, that I almost tried too hard to make it happen.”
His new outlook had an inspiration, he said.
“A big part of it was watching Brian Ahern win the Palmer Cup [in May],” said Conroy, of the 42-year-old from Wampanoag who had won the Amateur in 1999. “There are lot of great young college players out here. Elias played great today. He’s a terrific player. But Brian’s win sort of made me think one of these weeks was going to be my week.”
As Conroy had said on Thursday, when he beat medalist Evan Grenus: “Score one for the Mid-Ams!”
Conroy’s long week included victories over young and “old” alike: Matthew Stafford of Suffield Country Club, Patrick Griffin of the Country Club of Farmington, Grenus, Rob Neaton of Black Hall and Gross.
Friday Conroy took the lead early and never lost it, winning the difficult second with a par, and making three birdies on the front, two on the back, to amass a 5-up lead after 18 holes. Gross, whose strength is accuracy and ball-striking, was off his game in the morning. He hit only four fairways, and none until the tenth hole on a course the Donald Ross fan said he loved.
“This is by far the most golf I’ve ever played over a few days,” he said. “So there’s probably the fatigue factor, and I’ve never been in a spot quite this big, so I’m sure that played into it as well.”
For 28-year-old Conroy fatigue posed a problem, too. He took a caddie for the first time all week after carrying his bag until Friday. His game plan remained the same.
“I knew my game was there. My thought process all week has been to make the other guy beat me. Don’t do anything to hand it to him,” said Conroy, who briefly turned professional after college and then petitioned to have his amateur status reinstated last year.
His biggest challenge Friday might have been sitting on a 5-up lead between rounds. “There was a point at lunch, I was like, I can’t wait to get back out there. The more I sit here and think about it, the more I’m going to work up my nerves. I was really happy to make a birdie on one [to go six up] in the second round, that kind of got me back into the swing of things.”
It was a friendly match. When Gross asked Conroy to make a short putt for par on the 14th in the morning, he apologized and explained, “You know, I’m five down in a final.”
“And there’s that two-footer I missed a couple holes ago,” laughed Conroy.
“That might have had a bearing on it,” said Gross.
That short 3-putt miss on 11 in the morning, Conroy said, was a wake-up call. “I said to myself, hey, there’s a lot of golf to go.”
Nineteen more holes to be precise, until he won the 116th Connecticut Amateur Championship with a conceded birdie on the par-3 12th in the afternoon.