Torrington (July 14). Bobby Gage is a big fan of Torrington Country Club’s par 3s.
They are, Gage and other 2019 Connecticut Open Championship competitors agree, the backbone and defense of the 90-year-old Orrin Smith layout.
“I will say this. If you’re even par on the par 3s you will be in the hunt,” said Gage, who has played everywhere during stints on both the PGA and the PGA Champions tours. He is especially an admirer of the first of the short holes, the 173-yard third, which can play at 140 or 150 as well, depending on tee placement and hole location. “It’s not long but you could put No. 3 on any golf course in the world. It is as good a par 3 as there is anywhere. It’s a great hole.”
Torrington’s four par 3s measure 173, 177, 183 and 188, but topography, prevailing winds and the depth of greens mean they will play considerably different from one another at the Open. The sixth is slightly uphill and the green is pitched severely right to left. The 11th, from the forward tee, can also play uphill, while the 17th inevitably plays into the wind.
Partly because of Torrington’s 3s, and its often perplexing greens, Gage would love to win here. “If I had my pick of the places to win the state open, this would be the place,” said Gage, the 2018 Connecticut Senior Open champion, who grew up nearby in Winsted.
“There are certain places around these greens that you simply can’t play from,” says Gage, 54, who finished T-32 in the 2016 U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club. “It reminds me in that way of Scioto. You don’t think of it as a place where you make a lot of bogeys but you can get into a string of them if get yourself into the wrong spots. You’ve got to play the right angles.”
Gage cited the uphill, par-4 7th, with its sloping, tiered and elevated green. “That’s a green complex that will eat you alive, if you’re in the wrong place,” he says.
Given his respect for Torrington, which hosts the Open for the fourth time, his experience and his recent strong play, Gage is a player to watch this week when the Open is played over a weekend for the first time in years.
Other Players to Watch
Besides Gage, the following players could very likely contend:
—Jason Thresher of West Suffield. Thresher won three consecutive Massachusetts Open Championships, 2016-2018, and would love to make his mark in his home state. “I’ve been lucky enough to win quite a few New England events,” said Thresher. “But I would trade one of those Mass Opens for a win here, my state open. That would mean so much to me.”
—CJ Swift, runner-up to John VanDerLaan last year at New Haven with a score that would usually win the Open, -14, a competitor on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.
—Jeff Curl, the 2013 Open champion who won here at Torrington. He’ll play the first two rounds with Thresher and Chris Bennett, who finished T4 in the 2019 Russell C. Palmer Cup.
—Mike Ballo, Jr. of Stamford, an assistant at Winged Foot Golf Club, who finished T4 at the 2018 Open and been close before. Ballo’s father won the Open in 1978.
—Kyle Bilodeau of Manchester Country Club, one of the strongest players in the Connecticut Section and a star for the professional side in the previous two Julius Boros Challenge Cup Matches.
—Chris Tallman of Cold Spring Country Club and Holyoke, Mass., Bilodeau’s partner at the Challenge Cup and defending Connecticut Section Professional Champion.
—Chris Wiatr, the former UConn star who in June won the Vermont Open by five shots.
—Paul Pastore of Greenwich, who finished T7 last year.
The last amateur to win the Connecticut Open was Jeff Hedden of Old Lyme in 2008 at Round Hill Club in Greenwich. There are several this year who should be considered contenders:
—Ben Conroy, the 2018 Player of the Year who is coming off a runner-up finish in the Palmer Cup and a strong showing in the Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rhode Island. Conroy’s 65 in the final round of the 2013 Connecticut Open at Torrington established a new competitive course record. Conroy agrees with Gage’s assessment of the course. “There are certain spots where it’s just difficult to make par. If you don’t manage things strategically you can hit good shots and wind up struggling to make par.”
—Max Theodorakis of Ridgewood, Low Amateur at New Haven Country Club last year, who shared fourth with Ballo.
—Richard Dowling, the 2019 Connecticut Amateur Champion and, with partner Nick Taylor, the winner of the last two Two Man Team championships.
—Ben Day, Country Club of Waterbury, a past Palmer Cup champion who played last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship and this year’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball.
Former Open Champions
There are six former Connecticut Open Champions (accounting for eight Opens) in the field:
—2017 Champion Jeff Evanier of Clinton Country Club who finished T16 last year.
—Cody Paladino, the 2015 Connecticut Open champion from Farmington, who is in the process of regaining his amateur status.
—Jeff Curl, who has won the Open twice - at Torrington in 2013 and at Lake of Isles in 2007.
—Mike Gilmore of Winged Foot, who won in 1993 at Stanwich Club and 1997 at Race Brook Country Club. Gilmore will play in the “low score” group, with Joshua Salah of Great River who shot 62 in Connecticut Open qualifying at Tashua Knolls Golf Course and Ben Conroy, owner of the previously mentioned 65 at Torrington.
—Ken Green, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour and former Ryder Cupper who won at Ridgewood in 1992, before an automobile accident nearly cost him his life and necessitated the amputation of a portion of his right leg.
—James Becker of Blue Fox Run Golf Course, who won the Open at Ellington Ridge and Woodbridge in 1975 and 1976.
The College Brigade
—UConn star Chandler Morris, who was third at the Palmer Cup and a finalist in the Amateur against Richard Dowling, is having a strong season.
—Morris’ teammate, Finn Boynton, whom Morris defeated in the semis of the Amateur, is also in the field.
—Nick Piersall, a rising junior at Bryant University, tied for 11th last year, (third low amateur), and tied for 24th in the Palmer Cup with another college standout, Austin Rupp of RPI, who’s also competing.
—Michael VanDerLaan, who in May won the NCAA Division II individual championship, and who made made the cut in last year’s Open and watched brother John win.
—Arthur Ouimet of Valdosta State, a quarterfinalist in the 2018 Connecticut Amateur
—2019 Connecticut Junior Amateur Champion Ben James, 16, earned a spot in the field with his win on July 11. James also won the AJGA Killington Junior Championship this month.
—Michael Hanratty of Avon, also 16, made Day Three of the Open at New Haven last year and shot his second 69 in the final round. Hanratty was a semi-finalist in the 2019 Junior.
—Matthew Chorches, 19, of Hartford Golf Club, a quarterfinalist in the Connecticut Amateur this year, will compete.
Four recent winners of Connecticut senior majors are in the field:
—Mark Vasington, who won the Senior Match Play Championship early this month.
—Dave Szewczul, the 2016 Senior Amateur champion and the winner of every Connecticut major except the Open.
—Defending Senior Amateur Champion Ray Underwood, a Torrington member.
—Bill Hermanson, who won both the 2015 Senior Match Play, and 2015 Senior Amateur which was held at Torrinton.
Torrington Country Club
Torrington Country Club was designed by Orrin Smith, who worked under renowned architect Willie Park Jr. (Shuttle Meadow C.C., New Haven C.C.) and was construction supervisor for several Donald Ross projects. A par 72 measuring about 6650 yards, Torrington is considered perhaps Smith’s finest design. In addition to hosting several top amateur championships, this will be the fourth Connecticut Open Championship hosted by Torrington Country Club.
By the Numbers
4—Most CT Open victories by an individual: Kyle Gallo and John Golden
11—Number of times the Connecticut Open has been successfully defended
25—Longest gap between CT Open Championship wins: John A Gentile, 1970 and 1995
194—Open scoring record, set in 2018 by John VanDerLaan: 66-62-66.
2006—last time an amateur won the Connecticut Open: Jeff Hedden