Under sunny skies and light winds, Frank Bensel and Jeffrey Evanier shot rounds of five under-par 67 to share the overnight lead after day one of the 83rd Connecticut Open Championship. The state’s most prestigious open championship is being played on the 6,936 yard, par-72 layout at Ellington Ridge Country Club in Ellington, Connecticut.
Bensel started strong and finished strong, opening his round with birdies on four of his first six holes, and closing with birdies on two of his last four holes to share the clubhouse lead. Playing the course for the first time, Bensel navigated the Geoffrey Cornish layout like he had played it a hundred times, making a total of eight birdies on his round.
“I thought the course was great, and I managed to have eight birdies which really helped,” said Bensel. “There’s definitely some hard holes out there but the conditions were near perfect.”
Bensel is hoping to join an elite group of players which includes Kyle Gallo and John Golden as the only players to have won the Connecticut Open four times. Bensel won his titles in 2009 at Hartford GC, 2011 at Brooklawn CC and 2014 at Rolling Hills CC.
Joining Bensel at the top is reigning Rhode Island Open Champion Jeffrey Evanier of Clinton CC, who was able to overcome an opening bogey with five birdies and an eagle to rebound to the top of the leaderboard.
“I started out with a bogey on #1, which isn’t one you should bogey out here, but I was able to birdie every par-5 and holed a wedge on #13 from 80-yards for an eagle,” said Evanier. “This course fits my eye really well. I’m a member at Clinton Country Club which is designed by the same architect (Geoffrey Cornish), so it’s a very similar layout. For me, it’s just about finding fairways and taking advantage of the par-5’s.”
William Downes of Greathorse and CJ Swift of TPC River Highlands sit just one shot back after rounds of four under-par 68, and neither are a stranger to being at the top of the leaderboard. Now a professional, Swift won the New England Amateur in 2012, while Downes won the PGA’s Spring Stroke Play earlier this year to earn a spot in the Travelers Championship. Downes nearly won the Connecticut Open in 2013, losing to Jeff Curl in a four-person playoff at Torrington CC.
Round two action begins at 7:30 a.m. with live scoring and complete coverage throughout the day at csgalinks.org, connecticutopen.com and on social media @CSGALinks.
What’s in a Cut?
Following Tuesday’s second round, the field of 150 players will be cut to the low 40 players, plus ties. Those players will advance to play the final round on Wednesday, August 2nd. At day’s end, a total of 41 players shot rounds of 73 (+1) or better. Based on the projected cut method utilized by the USGA, the cut would fall at 147 (+3).
Past Champions in the Hunt
Aside from Bensel, a number of past Connecticut Open champions are in contention after day one. Defending champion Adam Rainaud of Chester, Conn. shot a round of three under-par 69 to sit just two strokes off the pace. 2015 Connecticut Open Champion Cody Paladino of Wethersfield CC shot a round of two under-par 70 and stands in 10th place, while 2007 and 2013 Champion Jeff Curl of Cedar Knob GC shot a round of one over-par 73 to sit in a tie for 31st place.
Brothers Mike, Jr. and Peter Ballo both shot rounds of three under-par 69 and stand tied for fifth place. Their father, Michael Ballo, who was the longtime Head Professional at Woodway Country Club, won the Connecticut Open in 1969 and 1978. Mike, Jr. was the runner-up in 2014 at Rolling Hills Country Club, while Peter was the runner-up at the 2013 Connecticut Amateur and finished tied for 8th place in last year’s Open Championship.
Low Amateur Watch
A total of sixty-two amateurs began the tournament hoping to become the first player since Jeff Hedden (2009) to win the Connecticut Open Championship. At day’s end, three amateurs are inside the top 15 – Max Theodorakis of Ridgewood CC, Rasmey Kong of Eclub of Connecticut, and Adam Friedman of Birchwood CC. All three players shot rounds of two under-par 70 and are just three shots off the lead.
Ellington Ridge CC boasts one of the toughest finishing stretches in all of Connecticut, and on Monday they lived up to their billing. The holes played as three of the four hardest, with the finishing hole playing the hardest of the day (4.62 average). The par-4 16th and 18th holes measure 445 yards and 473 yards respectively, and the 239 yard par-3 17th features a green completely surrounded by bunkers.
About the Connecticut State Golf Association
The Connecticut Open Championship is one of 18 championships conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association. The CSGA functions as an extension of the USGA and provides stewardship for amateur golf in Connecticut. Founded in 1899, it is the country's oldest state golf association and conducts over 50 Championships, Qualifiers and One-Day Tournaments throughout the year. For more information, visit our website at csgalinks.org.