Monday, June 17, 2019 - On the first day of stroke play qualifying at the 2019 Connecticut Amateur soft conditions at Fox Hopyard Golf Club yielded low scores but not very many of them, as the fast, undulating greens prevented anything close to a slugfest.
Brian Zito of Black Hall Club led the morning wave of players, shooting 69 (-2) with three birdies in his final six holes (on the front nine). His 34-35 was a shot better than two college players also in that wave who shot 70 (-1): Old Dominion junior Chris Ayers and Bryant University standout Nick Piersall, who made the round 16 in the 2018 Amateur.
In the early going those were the only players under par, but as the greens slowed slightly in the afternoon—they were running about 11, but their slopes made them feel faster—red figures were expected to increase.
But that really didn’t happen. The three finished before 2 o’clock and at 7:00 their scores still stood as the only three under par. By then two players had come at even-par 71: Nineteen-year-old Matt Churches of Hartford, who shot 33 (-3) on the front nine and parred every hole on the back except the 450-yard par-4 13th, where he made seven. David Renski of Wheeler Golf Club also shot 71, with four birdies and four bogeys. For many players, especially those downstate, the unfamiliarity with Fox Hopyard and especially its greens kept them out of red numbers.
“The undulations and the speed of the greens were the challenge,” said Piersall. “Especially when you were putting downhill. It was tough to gauge the speed. For the most part I hit it on the right spots on the greens so I avoided three putts.” Piersall eagled the 517-yard par-5 third, added three birdies against four bogeys to shoot 70.
Ayers made 5 birdies against four bogeys for his 70. It was strong iron play, he said, that paid off. “The greens were rolling beautifully, smooth, and I left myself a lot of good chances.
Another college star, UConn’s Finn Boynton, was close behind. He had 72 (+1), along with Shorehaven’s Jason Jaworski and Watertown’s Anthony Gerrera. Boynton thought the speed of the greens, especially near the hole, kept players from going way low. “They were rolling fast and around the hole they could roll off 4-5 feet. It made you careful.”
There was also no reason to take big risks on Monday, given that the main goal was to make match play, the low 32 players, ties settled by playoff. Last year at the par-69 Country Club of Waterbury, 148 (+10) played off. If that holds true at Fox Hopyard, 152 would be the number. And indeed, plus-five was T29 today in a field of 111 players who completed the first round.
About the championship: The Connecticut Amateur Championship is the oldest event conducted by the CSGA and is one of the oldest state amateur championships in the country. The first winner of the Amateur was Thomas L. Cheney in 1899. Past champions have included Robert M. Grant, after whom the championship’s medalist honor is named, and PGA Tour player J.J. Henry.