East Haddam—June 21. The golf most of us play is a kind of karaoke version of the real thing. Off key, out of time, missing a few lyrics.
But the finalists in the Connecticut Amateur Championship inevitably shows us how the song should really go.
That certainly was the case Friday at Fox Hopyard Golf Club when Rick Dowling of Ridgefield defeated Waterbury’s Chandler Morris to win the championship for the second time, one up.
Dowling, the 2017 champion, built a 5-up lead late on the front side, at one point winning four consecutive holes, and then held on as Morris found his rhythm, winning the ninth, the 11th, 13th, the 15th and finally leveling the match with a 4-foot birdie at 17. On the final hole both laid up on a sometimes-reachable par-5. Dowling managed to get his, from 145, to the back tier where the hole was set. Chandler’s approach from 120 hit the slope in front of that tier and spun back, leaving him with a 50-foot putt. He putted it to four feet but missed the second putt.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really thinking about the status of the match,” said Dowling about the evaporating lead. “I was trying to play it hole by hole, but I made a few poor swings on the back and couple of silly bogeys. Credit Chandler for coming back. What I’m proud of is that I played pretty even keel throughout the round and stayed with my approach to each shot.”
“Rick is both methodical and unflappable,” said Nick Taylor, Dowling’s partner in the CSGA Two Man Championship, which they’ve won for the past two years. “He has a plan and he sticks to it. He is a perfectionist.” A tenacious competitor, Dowling is nonetheless very softpoken, raisiing his voice only to his golf ball. "Settle!" he shouted to one of two flyers on iron shots from the rough that cost him holes on the back. An entrepreneur with a new golf service web site called Junior Golf Hub, in Ridgefield, he's an analytical, complete player and showed that in the final.
Morris’s theme had been “patience” all week, arguing that Fox Hopyard, with its mostly tree-lined fairways and perplexing, tiered greens, demanded it above all, and Friday afternoon he lived it.
“The course played tougher than it has all week,” he said of the 6912-yard, par 71 layout. “The wind picked up, the greens got more difficult with the traffic.” Morris said. Gauging the speed became tougher as the putting surfaces slowed with the rain. He three-putted both the 7th and 8th to go five down. “I got myself in kind of a hole on the front, but I hit a lot of good shots on the back. I came back. I hung in there. I’m happy with that.”
Every Amateur is a marathon. This one slightly less so on Friday for Dowling. First, the final was shortened to 18 holes after Tuesday’s four-hour-plus rain delay forced stroke play qualifying for match play into Wednesday. Then, after the conclusion of Thursday’s play, semi-finalist Seth Egnasko of Wintonbury Hills, who was to play Dowling, withdrew due to a work-related emergency, leaving Dowling with a pass to the afternoon finals. On the other hand, his progression to the finals involved more long matches, going to at least the 16th. Morris had won 5 and 4, 5 and 3, 3 and 2 before meeting Finn Boynton in the morning semifinal.
The "UConn bracket" semifinal between the two Huskies went 17 holes and was tied as late as the 15th. Morris won 2 and 1. And it was a three-putt by Boynton on the 15th that turned that match. Hitting a wedge from a lie that left the ball below his feet, Boynton hit to the middle of the green and then watched his approach putt roll out 6 feet. “Fifteen was big,” said the UConn junior. “I made a bad decision there. I’ve played those last couple holes well and I felt good about playing the last three. But that putt rolled out far more than I thought it would. It was disappointing.”
“They’re both really strong players,” said UConn coach Dave Pezzino, who followed the match. “They’ve played one another before [in stroke play] for starting spots in our matches. They’ll be a big part of our team going forward.”
As he congratulated Morris on his semifinal victory Boynton told him: “You've got to go out and win it now!”
“That’s the goal,” said Morris, and he almost made it.
For Richard Dowling III, the victory was sweeter for having father Richard Junior on the bag and his mother Nancy there—“I surprised him”—to give him a congratulatory hug.
Dad was moved to tears talking about Dowling’s win at Tashua Knolls in 2017, Tashua being the course where the father, once a 3-handicap, had played thousands of rounds.
“I’m very proud,” said the elder Dowling, moved all over again at what his son had accomplished. “But also congratulations to Chandler, who played so well and came back like that.”
In the end that spirit holds the appeal of the Amateur, when golfers who don’t play for money nonetheless show us how sweet the game can sound.
About the Amateur: The Connecticut Amateur Championship is the oldest event conducted by the CSGA and is one of the nation's oldest state amateur golf championships. The challenging format tests the state's best amateur golfers over two rounds of stroke play to determine the low thirty-two match play qualifiers. Two rounds of match play each day culminate in a thirty-six hole final to crown the top amateur player in Connecticut. Champion Richard Dowling will have his named engraved on the Robert D. Pryde trophy, and Chris Ayers, the low stroke play qualifier at -4, receives the Robert M. Grant Medal.