Frank Bensel of Fairfield, Conn. entered the final day trailing by one stroke and shot a round of four under-par 66 to capture the 80th Connecticut Open Championship at Rolling Hills Country Club. The state’s most prestigious open championship was held July 28th – 30th at the 6,754 yard par-70 course in Wilton, Conn.
Conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association, the Connecticut Open is the only CSGA Championship that is open to both amateurs and professionals. The tournament tests the state’s top golfers over three rounds of stroke play at the renowned Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton, Connecticut. The total purse for the tournament is $50,000, with the professional champion capturing a winner’s check of $12,500.
Bensel began the day just one stroke back of amateur David Pastore (Greenwich, CT) and tied for second with a pair of professionals in Jason Caron of Stamford, Conn. and Adam Rainaud of Black Hall Club. Playing in the penultimate group with Caron, Bensel wasted no time making his move up the leaderboard. He birdied the first two holes to jump into a tie for the lead at five under-par with Pastore.
As the day progressed, Bensel continued to hold a share of the lead with Pastore, Caron and Mike Ballo, Jr., the round one leader from Woodway Country Club. After a pair of bogies on #5 and #11, offset with a birdie on the par-4 8th hole, Bensel stood on the 15th tee just one stroke back of the lead held by Pastore at four under-par.
However, in the final round of any tournament, experience is priceless. A two-time Open Champion in 2009 and 2011, Bensel had plenty of memories to call upon. He would go on to make three straight birdies on #15, 16 and 17, jumping from one behind to two ahead.
“I’ve played really well in this tournament and had a bunch of good finishes, but today was really special,” said Bensel. “The putter got hot for me today. I was a little squirrelly off the tee, but my irons were great and I really putted the best I’ve putted in a long time.”
Bensel needed just eleven putts on his closing nine, good enough for a two shot victory and his third Connecticut Open title.
“I love the tournament and we always play really great venues,” said Bensel. “Rolling Hills put on an incredible tournament and the CSGA makes you feel like you’re at a tour event. The course conditions were fantastic and it really was a fun week.”
For Ballo, Jr. a closing round of three under-par 67 wasn’t enough for the victory, but a solid second place finish for the 2006 Connecticut Junior Amateur Champion. His brother, Peter, Runner-Up in the 2013 Connecticut Amateur, also finished inside the top 5 after shooting rounds of 71-68-68—207.
“I played a really strong round today and I have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Ballo, Jr. “Making birdie on #18 was strong and I thought if I could post something five or six under I might have a chance. You really just have to take your hat off to Frank. He’s a great guy, a great player and a great champion.”
New Course Record
After an opening round of 77, a realistic expectation for Mike Gilmore of Bethel, Conn. was to make the cut, which fell at 146. Gilmore fired a round of 69 yesterday to make the cut on the number and went on to fire a final round of eight under-par 62. His day began with five straight birdies, and even with a pair of bogey’s on #8 and 10, his ten birdies propelled him to a tie for seventh at two under-par overall.
“The putter has been in the abyss the last ten years or so and its finally come alive, so I couldn’t be happier,” said Gilmore. “I was walking down #18 thinking about the course record and just tried to calm myself down. I had to remember I still had shots to hit and just to go about my business and do what I had to do. I had my son on the bag today and he’s been great with me so that was a real treat.”
Gilmore’s round of 62 set the new competitive course record at Rolling Hills Country Club. The record was previous set by Frank Bensel in 2008 and Adam Rainaud in the second round of this year’s Connecticut Open.
Low Amateur Honors
David Pastore of Oak Hills Park GC was the leader heading into the final round, and although he wasn’t able to hold off Bensel’s charge up the leaderboard, his third place finish was good enough to claim low amateur honors. Pastore fired rounds of 71-65-70—206 (-4), and was able edge out John Jackopsic of Gillette Ridge Golf Club and Peter Ballo of Woodway Country Club by a single shot. At day’s end, seven amateurs finished inside the top fifteen, compared with only two amateurs inside the top fifteen in 2013.