Kensington (August 26). So much for practice rounds.
The two players who shot 68 (-3) at Shuttle Meadow Country Club to lead the 32nd Mid-Amateur Championship, sponsored by KOTA, after day one didn’t need one.
The first, Ben Day, had never played Shuttle. The other, Rick Hayes, played it more than a decade ago.
But each said he felt like he’d putted the greens before.
“The greens are phenomenal,” said Day. “I feel like I’ve putted them because of the years at New Haven,” said Day after shooting 68 (-3). New Haven Country Club is also a Willie Park Jr. course, and its greens tend to run to 11 or 12, where Shuttle Meadow’s were today. “They are the kind of greens where if you lose focus you can three putt four or five times. The key for me today was I had the speed, and that’s from putting New Haven’s.”
Hayes, the 2019 Palmer Cup Champion, told a similar story. Finishing about an hour after Day, (who won the Palmer Cup in 2015), he hit a nifty pitch to 5 feet on the tri-tiered 18th green and birdied a hole that drove some players batty. (There had been one four-putt there.)
For the two leaders, it’s all part of the Mid-Am Life. Hayes’ daughter Quinn just turned one month. Day has two small children of his own. Practice rounds are a luxury.
So, like Day, Hayes made do with a little practice on his home course, Silver Spring Country Club in Ridgefield, and he, too, thought that putting those greens prepared him for today. Silver Spring is not a Park course—it was designed by Robert White—but the speed and firmness of the putting surfaces, and their unpleasant reactions to shots from the rough, are identical. The tendency of putts to roll out well past the hole, leaving grinding four and five footers, also seems to be a shared experience.
“I wouldn’t say that I did anything exceptionally today, except that I putted it really well,” said Hayes. “I never had a five-footer for a par. My lag putting was such that I had a lot of tap-ins.”
His strategy, to hit fairways at all costs, had him pulling hybrids off the tee on holes where others were bombing drives. An approach shot on hole No. 1 by playing companion Richard Dowling from the rough, which bounced uncontrollably past the flag, was enough to set that strategy.
“If you had a front pin out of the rough, you had to land it ten yards short of the green. I hit a bunch of hybrids to keep it in the fairway. Coming out of the rough, once it hit the green you knew you were going to get 30, 35 feet of release. So based on where some of the holes were, it was much more important to figure out which side of the fairway to be on rather than to be hitting driver down there to 85 yards. I’d rather be hitting 120 yards from the correct side the fairway.”
Day’s mantra, “steady and calm,” translated to a similar round and an identical score. Though birdies were scant across the field, the two leaders made five each, against two bogeys. Day had a string of three early, birdieing the downhill, 163-yard sixth, and then the par-5 7th and 8th, Hayes spread them out. Both birdied the short par-5 18th, again because of their mastery on the greens, that one being the trickiest, with a mid-level hole location today.
“This is the perfect course for this championship,” said Day. “You get a lot of different changes in elevation, lot of different looks. A great venue.”
Both leaders thought that another four-under par, over tomorrow’s two rounds, might be what it takes to win.
Though Shuttle Meadow is not long—it played to par 71 and 6516 yards—the leaders agreed that its greens are the defense. “You have to put approaches in the right spot,” said Steve Wagner of the Country Club of Farmington, the only other player under par at -1, "or you’re facing a three-putt.” (He had only one). Day and Hayes also avoided them.
The cut fell at 76 (+5). Thirty-six players advanced to tomorrow’s 36-hole finale.
Among them: Defending Champion Ben Conroy, who shot 40 (+3) and then 31 (-3) to finish at even-par 71. He sits in fourth. Two other former Mid-Am champions, Mike Kennedy (2017) and Dave Szewczul (2016) also survived, at T9 and T18 respectively.
At plus one is 2019 Amateur Champion Rick Dowling, tied with Chris Maxwell of the Country Club of Farmington, Conor McGovern of Brooklawn, and Dan Murphy of H. Smith Richardson. Pat Griffin, who has won four tournaments in the Chris Cote One Day Series, is tied for 13th.
In short, the surviving 36 includes many of “the usual suspects”—Pat McGuiness, Jamie Sheltman, Michael Thompson, Rob Tedoldi, Michael Hooper, Glen Boggini, to name a few—all promising to make tomorrow’s finish memorable.
Because now you can say everyone has had a practice round.