CSGA (June 15, 2020) When the Connecticut Amateur tees off on June 22 at Shorehaven Golf Club in Norwalk, it will comprise the smallest field in recent memory.
It might also be the strongest in the Amateur’s 118-year history.
Thanks to COVID-19 precautions and restrictions a field that usually numbers about 120 at the championship proper will be closer to 80. The field has been reduced because the qualifying rounds to reach match play, usually 36 holes over two days, must take place on one day, Monday the 22nd, requiring a two-tee start to play all 36 in one day. As usual, all players will walk. And scores, as they have been recorded during three qualifying rounds, will be kept on smart phones.
That said, the players dealing with these new rules make up one of the most experienced and accomplished fields ever, thanks both to the number of CSGA major winners in the field, the return of several champions to the Amateur who have been missing for years, and the eagerness of every top amateur in the state to be competing again.
One of those is Brad Tilley of Easton, the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur medalist, who last year won three mid-amateur championships—Westchester, Met and New York State—in the space of 10 days.
“I’m really excited to be playing in the Amateur. I love Shorehaven. And it’s great to be back competing,” said Tilley, who regained his amateur status after an eight-year professional career in 2017. “Normally, there would be a conflict with the Ike [tournament], but that has been moved back to August. When I heard that, I thought, great.” Tilley is an Ike MGA Stroke Play past champion.
Also part of the 2020 field is Cody Paladino, the former Connecticut Amateur and Open Champion who, like Tilley, has regained his amateur status and returns to the Amateur for the first time in seven years. Paladino won the Amateur at New Haven Country Club in 2013. He was co-medalist in 2006. He won the Connecticut Open at the Patterson Club in 2015. The field also includes former professionals Ben Conroy, the 2018 Player of the Year and Amateur champion and Ben Day, former Palmer Cup and 2019 Mid-Am champion.
Former Amateur Champions. There are a dozen former Amateur Champions or former medalists in the field. At the top of this list is Defending Champion Rick Dowling, who defeated Chandler Morris of Waterbury on the final hole of their match at Fox Hopyard Golf Club last June, when the final was reduced to 18 holes due to horrific rain throughout the week (despite the fact that this year’s event has been shortened by a day, the final will remain 36 holes. The round of 32 and the round of 16 will be played on Tuesday, the quarterfinals and semifinals are scheduled for Wednesday with a 36 hole final to follow on Thursday).
Dowling, the 2019 Player of the Year, also won the Amateur in 2017 at Tashua Knolls. Besides last year’s Amateur victory, Dowling contended and finished in the top five of the Public Links and the Mid-Amateur, as well. (Morris will also be part of the 2020 field.) Other Amateur champions who are exempt and expected to compete include Tommy McDonagh, who won in 2006 at Torrington Country Club and in 2011 at Rolling Hills Country Club and who grew up playing at Shorehaven, and R.J. Zielinski. They include 2019 Senior Player of the Year Dave Szewczul, 2018 Palmer Cup Champion Brian Ahern, returning from back surgery, and Ben Conroy, winner of the 2018 Amateur and Mid-Am.
2018 and 2019 Major Champions: Virtually every 2019 major champion is expected to compete, including, besides Dowling, Rick Hayes of Silver Spring Country Club, the Russell C. Palmer Cup Champion and Mid-Amateur runner-up; Peter Tomlinson of Orange Hills, the Public Links champion; Ben Day of the Country Club of Waterbury and two senior winners: Bill Hermanson, another former Amateur champion, who won the Senior Amateur Championship at his home club of Black Hall last September and ws runner-up at Shorehaven when the Senior Amateur was held there in 2018. Finally, there is Junior Amateur Champion Ben James of Great River Golf Club, who not only won his first Junior, but also earned a spot on the victorious U.S. Junior Presidents Cup team and his second consecutive New England Junior title. He was also low amateur and third overall in the 2019 Connecticut Open after firing 11-under par at Torrington CC.
2019 Amateur Round of 16: Besides 2019 finalists Dowling and Morris, these include quarterfinalists Finn Boynton, Morris’ UConn teammate who lost to him in the semi-finals, young Matt Chorches of Hartford Golf Club, Jamie Sheltman, who contended in nearly every major last year; Jason Jaworoski, who calls Shorehaven home; teenagers Matt Doyle of Madison Country Club and Calvin Smith of Wee Burn Country Club; Sacred Heart University’s Clifford Lindholm; Belcastro, now at Princeton; Patrick Griffin who qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship; A.J. Sanzaro of Wethersfield Country Club and Seth Egnasko of Wintonbury Hills, who reached the semi-finals at Fox Hopyard.
Other notables include Nicholas Harrington, the recent UConn graduate who qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 2017 and 2019, Mike Kennedy, who played in Last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, and Nick Waddington, who, like Kennedy, was among the Top 20 players on the 2019 Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year rankings. T.J. Trimboli, a Shorehaven member who won the Connecticut Public Links in 2008, will compete.
“I think it’s one of the strongest Amateur fields in the history of the championship,” said Executive Director Mike Moraghan. “You’d have to go back to the days of Siderowf and Courville, Sr. to find so many players who have excelled not only in Connecticut but on a regional and national stage. A tremendous group of competitors at a great venue. Should be a very exciting week.”
The field will compete on a course that is not long, at about 6500 yards, but one that, thanks to changes in elevation, slick contentious greens and Long Island Sound winds has stood up to both CSGA and Met Golf Association championship fields for decades.
Shorehaven’s par 3s in particular are daunting. The shortest, the 2nd, is the lone par 3 well shy of 200 yards, at about 170, but severely uphill. The 5th, downhill, measures 232 yards; the 13th, 229 yards, the 17th, which usually plays into the Sound’s steady winds, about 200 yards. Designed by Willie Park Jr. and Robert White and opened in 1924, Shorehaven requires players to work the ball both ways and to control trajectory on almost every approach. It is a shotmaker’s course.
The Amateur champions who have won here, the late Fred Kask in 1980 and Dick Siderowf in 1960, are both in the Connecticut State Golf Hall of Fame.
Don’t be surprised if the 2020 edition of the Amateur is also won by a future Hall of Famer.