Norwalk (June 25, 2020) This was as good as it gets.
The final match of the 2020 Connecticut Amateur at Shorehaven Golf Club may be the most competitive—and well-played—in the 118-year history of the championship.
If you’re thinking that’s hyperbole, consider the following:
Both finalists shot 133 over 36 holes at par-71 Shorehaven Golf Club—nine under par—at the end of four days of two rounds a day, on greens that were running at 12 and a half. They made, between them, 20 birdies and 2 eagles. Many times birdies did not win holes. There were only 6 bogeys throughout the 36 holes. In the afternoon 18, the champion shot 63, one over the course record, and still was not able to clinch victory until the 36th hole.
In the end, 19-year-old college sophomore Chris Fosdick of Timberlin Golf Club, defeated former professional and 2013 Connecticut Amateur Champion Cody Paladino, one up. It was the second consecutive former pro that Fosdick had faced and the second teenager that Paladino had faced. On Wednesday Fosdick eliminated 37-year-old Brad Tilley of Redding Country Club, two up, in the semi-final. The 31-year-old Paladino defeated 2019 Connecticut Junior Amateur Champion Ben James, 17, of Great River Golf Club, one up in a quarterfinal match.
Today’s final contained none of the sloppiness that some finals can, coming as they do at the end of a marathon of golf. Nor was it a slugfest. It was more like the most beautiful boxing match you’ve ever witnessed. Fosdick shot 70 (-1) in the opening round, and after 16 holes was 5 down. Paladino finished that round at 66. His seven birdies enough to floor most competitors.
“It’s over,” said a member of the media at the 16th. “We’re going home early.”
But Fosdick’s counter-punch was coming.
After winning the last two holes of the morning round to get himself to “only” 3 down, Fosdick returned from the lunch break by eagling the par-5 first, hitting a 7-iron to 5 feet and one-upping Paladino’s birdie. They tied the second with pars. Fosdick birdied the third from 12 feet. Paladino birdied the par-4 fourth, dropping a downhill putt of about 20 feet. Fosdick parred the 235-yard par-3 fifth to win the hole when Paladino found a bunker. They parred the sixth, seventh and eighth. Fosdick birdied the ninth.
The match that was “over” 11 holes ago was now tied with nine to play. Paladino had shot 34, Fosdick, 31.
“Who needs the GHO, when you’ve got this,” quipped one spectator, using the Travelers Championship’s old name.
The nine to come were even better. Fosdick shot 32, Paladino 33. At the 10th, Fosdick birdied from eight feet. He was one up. He birdied the par-5 11th to go two up when Paladino failed to get up and down from left of the green.They both hit the par-5 12th in two and birdied, Paladino missing a 10-footer for eagle. Fosdick won the par-3 13th with par when Paladino’s 4-foot putt did a 360 and lipped out. Fosdick, who had been three down to start the round, was now three up.
Paladino hit driver on the short par-4 14th, then splashed a green side bunker shot to a foot for a winning birdie. Fosdick now two up. They parred the par-3 15th, both missing longish uphill putts for birdie, but with Fosdick dropping a tough downhill comebacker from five feet to tie and punctuating it with another short fist pump. On the 536-yard, par-5 16th, Fosdick's second found the right fringe, about 25 feet form the front-right flag stick. Paladino hit the green. Fosdick chipped close. Paladino buried his 15-footer for eagle. He was now just one down. They both hit and parred the long, par-3 17th, narrowly missing birdies.
One up, one to play, Fosdick, hit driver on the 385-yard, par-4 18th, and landed in the bunker lying between the fairway and the marsh to his left. He then hit what he called probably the best shot of the match, a 122-yard wedge to 12 feet. From the fairway, Paladino hit wedge to 20 feet. When his putt missed, Fosdick was the champion.
“It’s hard not to get down when you’re behind 5 holes after 16,” said Fosdick after, “but you have to know that you still have twenty holes left. It’s not over till it’s over so you kind of hang in. The par on 17 in the morning and the 25 footer I made on 18, very aggressive, but that just gave me a lot of momentum heading into the second 18. I knew I needed to leave myself a little hope, and if I did that I could be aggressive with some putts and maybe roll some in. I had to go really low to win.”
Paladino saw the 5-up lead similarly. “It’s match play, so you know you’re going to have the ups and downs. I’m disappointed in the result, for sure, but I’m not disappointed in my play. I played really solid golf. I played really well this morning, then sort of played mediocre in the middle when I kind of sat back and watched him play outstanding, and then great again at the end. Chris was exceptional. It’s not like I started playing really poorly or anything like that. So am I disappointed in myself? No. Am I disappointed in the result? Of course.”
Asked later if the lip-out on the par-3 13th might have been thing that cost him the championship, Paladino argued the opposite. “If anything it motivated me,” he said. “It actually struck a chord with me to hit driver on 14 and [pushed me to] make eagle on 16. I wish I had been able to make the putt on 17, honestly, that was the one I wish I had had. If I could square the match coming to 18, it’s a whole different story.” He called Fosdick’s shot out of the fairway bunker on the final hole phenomenal. “Honestly I didn’t know what he was looking at, but it couldn’t have been good. I give him all the credit in the world. He played outstanding golf.”
As for Fosdick’s age, Paladino smiled. “Honestly, being 19-years old makes no difference. I played [17-year-old] Ben James yesterday and it doesn’t matter. It’s kind of what has happened in the golf world generally. You see it happening on all the tours, I mean kids right out of college winning on the PGA Tour. The level of golf has changed so much in the last 20 to 30 years that if you’re playing a high level of junior golf, you're playing basically tour-level golf. Is Chris Fosdick young and inexperienced at 19 years old? Absolutely not.”
Fosdick won the inauagural CIAC high school open championship three years ago, and has played consistently strong golf, often overshadowed by James. He was required to qualify for the Amateur this year and did at Lyman Orchards Golf Club, where he grew up learning the game. He shot even par as a co-medalist. Fosdick also competed in a pre-qualifier for the Travelers Championship and made the Monday qualifier. He chose to play the Amateur instead.
"I think I made the right call," he said.
Certainly the competition this week, especially during the quarter, semi-final and final matches that included Fosdick, Paladino, James, Tilley, two-time Amateur Champion Tommy McDonagh, and Ben Day, who lost to Paladino in the semis, made Paladino’s case for a new level of amateur play. “It may be the best final I’ve ever witnessed,” said Executive Director Mike Moraghan in presenting the Robert D. Pryde trophy to Fosdick. “It was certainly some of the greatest golf.”
CSGA President Jim Healey praised the membership and staff of Shorehaven, including head professional Mike Laganza and General Manager James Connolly, and expressed the association’s gratitude for their hosting of the 118th Amateur. “We thank you for holding our most important championship and for welcoming us so warmly,” said Healey. He singled out Ryan Segrue, Shorehaven’s superintendent and his staff for the superb condition of the course this week, which drew high praise from players. It was the Shorehaven greens which were the course’s great defense, Segrue said. A defense that today’s finalists 2020 finalists tested mightily.
Team Champions: A separate trophy is awarded to the club that scores lowest in the 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying. A minimum of three scores are required each day. This year the Country Club of Waterbury team of Ben Day, Chandler Morris and Quinn Greene, with a combined score of 436 shots, was champion. Shorehaven’s “home” team of Tommy McDonagh, Jason Jawaroski, T.J. Trimboli, Ron Eppert and Dan Suozzi was only 9 shots back, with 445. The difference was round one, when Morris’s 71, Day’s 72 and Greene’s 74 got them off to an almost insurmountable start. In the second round, the two clubs tied, with 219. Waterbury sent three members to match play, Shorehaven two. Ben Day reached the semi-finals.