(Kyle Gallo (64) lead by 1 over Adam Rainaud and CJ Swift)
July 30, 2018: Day One of the 84th Connecticut Open belonged to those who saw that New Haven Country Club’s rain-softened greens were “getable.”
And then went out and got them.
On a day when 25 players bettered par, four-time Connecticut Open Champion Kyle Gallo of Manchester Country Club made seven birdies against a single bogey, including birdies on his final three holes (the 7th, 8th, and 9th) to shoot 64 (-6) and lead by one.
“I drove it to numbers where I could hit full clubs, and the greens were receptive,” said Gallo, who did not play a practice round and had not played New Haven since the 2002 Open, just two years removed from having won his second Open. “The course is soft, and I think it will stay soft,” regardless of the weather in the next two days, he said. “Who knows what will win? It’s only the first day of the golf tournament.”
Gallo credited recruiting visits he made as Central Connecticut State University coach to the Northern Junior with getting to know the course well enough that he didn’t even play a practice round this week. That, and hitting all but two fairways. “I knew what was there from a viewer’s perspective.”
Playing in one of the final groups, Gallo overtook CJ Swift of New Canaan, who had the day’s earliest time and held the lead at -5 for most of the day. Swift plays the PGA Tour Latinoamérica, and occasionally the Web.com tour. He made six birdies in a 33-32-round. He was joined late by 2016 champion Adam Rainaud, playing with Gallo, who birdied four times in the last nine holes to shoot 65 as well.
Swift made only one bogey—on the short par-4 fourth—and finished with birdies on holes 16, 17 and 18, sinking putts of 15, 12 and 20 feet.
“It was definitely getable if you hit it in the fairway,” Swift said after his birdie-birdie-birdie finish. “The greens were accessible. There was no wind. So as long as you’re hitting the fairways you were all right.” It was only the second time Swift had played New Haven, the first in a practice round Saturday.
Four players were at minus four: Ian Marshall of Watertown Golf Club, Jason Thresher of West Suffield, John VanDerLaan of Southbury and Danbury’s Max Theodorakis, who recently tied third in the New England Amateur and will play the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach in two weeks. He hit all 18 greens and birdied twice on each nine. Theodorakis credited work on his putting to his recent hot play. “I’ve been spending a lot of time on that. About three weeks ago I switched to left-hand low inside of 20 feet and it seems to be working.”
Defending Champ Jeff Evanier, after double-bogeying his first hole of the day, bounced back to shoot 69 (-1). Three-time champion Frank Bensel was even.
Dealing with those “accessible” and “receptive” greens will be the challenge of the next two days. Frank Leja of Springfield Country Club, who slipped from -5 after ten to -2, said “Yes, the rain softened the greens and you could definitely shoot at the pin, but the ball will spin, too, so you have to be careful.”
New Haven’s home team—the club had nine club members and its head professional in the field—had a mixed day, led by Ben Day at 69 (-1).
Round 2 starts at 7:30am on Tuesday. After completion of 36 holes the field will be cut to the low 40 and ties for the final 18 holes on Wednesday.