Danbury, August 28, 2018—At the 2017 Connecticut Mid-Amateur Championship Ben Conroy came to the final hole three shots ahead. Not knowing where he stood, he hit driver on the last, made triple-bogey and lost in a playoff.
At the 2018 Connecticut Mid-Amateur Championship Conroy made the simplest possible correction.
He increased his lead to six going into the final hole.
In humid, scorching, heat that caused several players to withdraw and sent scores on the second round of the day soaring, Conroy got hot. He made two eagles and a birdie in his first eight holes on Richter Park in Danbury and so separated himself from the field that no one in the afternoon got closer than four shots. He closed with the only round of the 54-hole tournament in the 60s, and only the sixth round under par, two of those, 71 and 67, his rounds today.
First-round leader Brian Ahern, the only player under par on day one, withdrew Monday night after suffering food poisoning.
Conroy finished six under par. James Sheltman of Alling Memorial was second at one over.
“When I saw what Ben was doing on the front, with those two eagles [on the par fives], I said, ‘Just play your own game,’’” said Sheltman, who is having perhaps his best summer ever. “It didn’t look like anyone was going to catch him.” Sheltman came closest—he shot 70 (-2) in the morning and was still one under after a birdie at 16 in the afternoon—but Conroy’s birdie on 17 from four feet slammed the door for good.
“I don’t have that gear,” said 2016 Public Links Champion Kyle Nolin, one of Conroy’s pursuers, about Ben’s third-round breakaway. “I don’t know how you do that.”
Conroy said his approach to the final round was no different, but early on things seemed to go his way.
“My game plan didn’t necessarily change,” said the champion of his approach to the final round. “It kind of got jump-started when I hit my second shot on Hole No. 2 [a par five] to a foot and a half. Then I made a really good two-putt from the lower level of the par-3 fifth and on seven I was about 250 yards out, but I knew it was firm in front of that green so I thought if I could punch a four-iron it might bounce up, and I got it on to about 25 feet and when that went in I knew things were going my way.”
A three-putt on nine was a “wake-up call” and as he began the back nine he made one other correction from last year’s finish. “I decided this year I wanted to know where I was at, so on ten I asked [rules official] Shelly Guyer how things stood and he said I think five or six and I knew that it was going to be tough for anyone to shoot five or six under par on the back nine. So if I could keep it around par, I’d be all right. I made a nice birdie on ten that kind of settled me down a bit, and a good birdie on 12.” He also birdied 17.
Among those three birdies, two three-putts, at eleven and 14, were all that gave his pursuers even a whiff of hope. “I have never had that kind of lead in a stroke play event,” said Conroy. “I knew it was down to four on the 17th tee and hit a really nice 6-iron [to four feet]. I knew it’s never really over. I learned that last year. You can never coast.”
To father Joe, who followed him for the last seven holes Tuesday with Ben’s sister Katharine, it was not only a case of lessons learned but a personal make-up that refused to dwell on mistakes.
“After what happened last year, I just let him decompress,” said Joe of last year’s Mid-Am. “I’d certainly want that. But then the next day he said, ‘Let’s go play the Apple,” referring to Lyman Orchards’ executive course, where Joe plays. “Then I knew he was fine.” If there would be another near-miss, Joe decided, Ben would treat it just as that, a near-miss, not some demon he’d be carrying around.
“I played a lot of golf for a ten-year stretch,” said Conroy, of Berlin and New Haven Country Club, who after a brief pro career regained his amateur status last year. “In the last two years it’s slowed down a little bit, I’m working, so I know I have to take advantage of these chances while I’m still relatively young and a Mid-Am. Today feels really good. It really does. And I think breaking through at the Am, knowing I can really do it, it’s all been big.”
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