(Drew Aitken will face Elias Gross in Thursday's quarterfinals)
Okay. So A.J. Ouimet kind of likes the first hole at the Country Club of Waterbury.
On his first shot the match play portion of the 116th Connecticut Amateur Wednesday Ouimet drove the 320-yard par 4. His second, a putt from 35 feet, found the cup and he went on to win his round-of-32 match over Matt Camel of Round Hill Club, 5 and 4. Eight hours later, Ouimet, a 19-year-old star at Central Connecticut playing out of Connecticut National Golf Club, birdied that same first hole to win his match over UConn’s Nabeel Khan, 1 up in 19 holes, after Khan had erased a two-down deficit—Ouimet drove out of bounds on 18—and took the match to extra holes.
“I was getting fatigued long before that drive,” said Ouimet. “My miss when I’m tired like that is right. I tried to hold it off, but it kind crept in there,” he said.
The fatigue factor should have favored young guns like Ouimet Wednesday, and for the most part it did. Medalist Evan Grenus, 21, advanced against 1991 champion Bill Hermanson. John Abbot, 22, upset former Mid-Amateur Champion Mike Kennedy, in the afternoon.
But score some for the “old” guys, too. Among those advancing to the round of 8 were
—42-year-old Brian Ahern, who beat 21-year-old Rasmey Kong in the morning, and who, along with Grenus, is one of two former Amateur champions to survive
—30-year-old Rob Neaton of Black Hall Club, who overcame a 3-down, 10th-hole, deficit to 19-year-old Nicholas Piersall to win two up, and
—Ben Conroy of New Haven Country Club, who played briefly after college as a professional
Completing the round of eight were youngsters Drew Aitken of Connecticut National Golf Club, and Elias Gross of the eClub of Connecticut.
Semifinal matches will follow Thursday morning's quarters to determine Friday's finalists. That to be determined pair will play 36 holes for the championship.
For Neaton, who began to take competitive golf seriously 3 years ago at the advanced age of 27—baseball was always his game—simply reaching the round of eight feels like victory—especially after falling 3-down to Piersall, when his approach and then a chip fell back off the green. Piersall, who made three birdies on the front side, had yet to bogey. But Neaton’s three on the par-4 11th seemed to change everything.
“The birdie on 11 got the momentum going,” said Neaton, who won his morning match against Thomas Durkin of Suffied Country Club on the 19th hole. “When Nick left his putt a half an inch short, I said, ‘I gotta get this.’ When mine went in, I said, ‘It’s not over.’” Neaton didn’t make a bogey from that point on, Piersall made four, including the final hole.
Tomorrow, then, a mixture of old guys and young guns will take on a Waterbury course that even with fair weather today, held its own. Don’t expect any old guys to drive the first green. But maybe they won’t need to.