Norwalk (June 22, 2020) The first day of the Connecticut Amateur was one made for young bodies and younger nerves: 36 holes in 90-degree heat on greens as slick as bowling lanes, all of it walking. A day to wear you out.
It was somewhat of a surprise then that two “mid-ams,” one 37 and one already into his 40s, led all qualifiers. Brad Tilley of Redding Country Club and Ben Day of the Country Club of Waterbury were the only players under par at Shorehaven Golf Club, where putting surfaces running at about 12 on the Stimpmeter by most estimates Monday had competitors talking to themselves.
“Seven three putts!” moaned one major champion to no one in particular as he walked off the particularly slippery 12th green during his second round.
Of almost 80 players, 32 played qualified for match play, shooting +10 or better over the two rounds. (A playoff of five competitors at +10 set the final three spots.) Virtually no one in the field of 32 survived without multiple three-putts.
“The greens were very difficult,” said Tilley, who counted six three-putts over the 36 holes. “They were really pure, really fast, with a lot of slopes. So if you weren’t on the correct side, you were going to struggle. You really have to position yourself here. So I’m happy with the way I played. Pretty much everything worked. I hit a lot of 3-irons off the tee and got it in good position. I hit a ton of greens, didn’t make very many bad swings, except a couple coming in. Got a little tired at the end.”
Tilley captured the R.M. Grant Medalist award by shooting 68-70-138 (-4). Day was two behind at 140 (-2). “Hot, tired, ready for bed,” smiled Day. “Too much for a 40-year-old.” But the 2019 Mid-Amateur Champion had enough in his tank to birdie his final hole, the 9th, to reach two under. He made only one double-bogey all day.
The 32 qualifiers included many more mid-ams, as well was 60-year-old Bob Murphy of Brownson Country Club. Younger players were about half of the mix. Milford’s Ben James, a 17-year-old who finished third alone in last year’s Connecticut Open, shot 70-72-142 (E) for third. Matthew Doyle of Madison Country Club, also 17, was in a group at plus-2 and tied fourth that included Great River’s Adam Friedman and two-time Amateur champion Tommy McDonagh, who grew up at Shorehaven. Michael Hanratty, another high school star, won a spot in the playoff. Connor Belcastro and Chris Fosdick, who just finished freshman years at Princeton and Florida Southern respectively, also made the match play field. (Fosdick will transfer to the University of Virginia in the fall).
Despite their struggles on the greens, nearly every player had high praise for the golf course, which played at about 6550 yards. “The greens were difficult and some of the holes were cut in tough spots,” said Cody Paladino (+4), who regained his amateur status this spring, “and I’m a little out of practice putting on greens this fast. But I was thinking, walking up one fairway, you could hold a tour event here. There’s not a blade of grass out of place.”
Other notable players making the cut included a mix of old and young: 2019 runner-up Chandler Morris; 2018 Palmer Cup Champion Brian Ahern, returning from back surgery; 2018 Player of the Year and Amateur Champion Ben Conroy; Josh Cameron of Shennecossett Golf Club; 2017 Mid-Amateur Champion Mike Kennedy; Nick Waddington and Hunter Byramof Manchester Country Club; Indian HIlls’ Patrick Griffin and Alling Memorial’s Jamie Sheltman; Mike Carey of East Hartford, who contended in last year’s Mid-Am; Chase Barbe of Greenwich Country Club; Matt Chorches of Hartford Golf Club and Jason Jaworoski of Shorehaven, who made the rounds of 8 and 16 last year, respectively and Christopher Ayers, the 2019 medalist.
Tilley says he won’t change his approach to Shorehaven as he transitions to match play. “The game plan I’ve picked out is the game plan I’ll stick to. You got to play good golf to win matches. There are situations where you have to adjust maybe based on wind or where you stand in the match, but essentially, you have to play the match in the way you set out to play it. Make as many birdies as you can and post the lowest score you can even in match play.” Tilley will meet Hanratty in the round of 32.
Qualifiers will play two matches tomorrow, reducing the field to eight. Quarter- and semi-final matches will take place Wednesday, followed by a 36 hole final match on Thursday to crown the 118th Connecticut Amateur Champion.