Waterbury (August 17, 2020) It was a day, as P.G. Wodehouse would say, “When all Nature shouted ‘Fore!’
And the scores showed it.
At the Country Club of Waterbury in the opening round of the Russell C. Palmer Cup presented by Chris Cote’s Golf Shop, the temperature was down, the humidity was down, the wind was down, and so were the numbers as the state’s best players took advantage, recording 12 scores at or under par 69 and 22 within a shot of it, at 70 or better.
To make the cut of 39 and ties, a player had to shoot 72 or better. Thirty-nine of them did. They’ll play 36 tomorrow, teeing off from both the first and the tenth tees beginning at 7:30 a.m.
Eric Bleile of Sterling Farms, following a strong showing in the Public Links Championship last week, led the way Monday. He was first in with 66 (-3), taking advantage of receptive greens and lively fairways that allowed more wedges than usual, to make four birdies against a single bogey, that on the 385-yard par 4 fourth. There were no flaws on the back: a birdie at the par-4 15th and eight pars for another 33.
Two-time Connecticut Amateur Champion Rick Dowling of the Golf Performance Center, followed with a second 66, despite a bogey on the final hole. He finished with six birdies and three bogeys, 33-33, making a rare birdie on the long, 420-yard, par-4 2nd, where he hit his approach to five feet. “I really like playing here,” he said. “Par is a good score.” Dowling thinks the Palmer Cup winner will have to take it deeper. “If the weather stays like this, you’ve got to keep going. It’s really receptive. The fairways are firm so you can chase it close and have a lot of wedges. The greens are so you can be aggressive on putts. So you gotta’ keep the pedal down.”
Dan Murphy, perhaps the longest hitter in the field, left his driver in the bag on all but three holes as he played his first Palmer Cup, and shot 67 (-2), with a birdie and an eagle. His approach on the par-5 ninth was 140 yards. He hit it to 20 feet and made the putt for three. His lone bogey came on the 230-yard par-3 14th.
“On the back nine I just hit every fairway with 3-iron,” he said. “The one bogey I made was actually the best shot I hit all day, on the long par-3 where it just rolled over the back and I tried to putt it and it took off.” He said he putted better than he had at Simsbury Farms, where he finished T10. “I probably hit a lot of drivers there where I shouldn’t have. Today I hit 3-iron. Not as much fun, but it seems to work out better when I keep it in play.”
Also at 67 was Public Links runner-up Chris Ayers of Goodwin Park and Old Dominion, who also played well at the Open. “Driving accuracy worked today,” said Ayers. “I drove it pretty straight and the putter was on.” Ayers made five birdies—four on the front, where he shot 31—and one, against three bogeys, on the back. What really helped, he said, were par saves early in the round, including a 10-footer for par on No. 2. He followed that with a 30-footer for birdie on the 205-yard, par-3 third. “Those two holes really sparked me.”
Two former professionals, Ben Day of Waterbury and Cody Paladino of the Country Club of Farmington, also shot 67. Three players were at minus one, three more at even par.
Ideal conditions Monday contrasted with those of a typical May Palmer Cup, when temperatures often dip into the 50s and winds may whip as high as 30 miles per hour. In 2019 seven over par made the cut. Only two players shot in the 60s in the first round. Silver Spring Country Club’s Rick Hayes won with 216, nine over par for 54 holes. This year that number may have a minus sign in front of it.
“I think somewhere around seven or eight under,” said Dan Murphy.
Tuesday will tell.
The Russell C. Palmer Cup, presented by Chris Cote’s Golf Shop, is the state’s premier stroke-play championship. It comprises 54 holes, with a cut to the low 39 and ties after round one, and thirty-six holes on day two. It is named for Russell C. Palmer, former CSGA Executive Director (1986-1995) and inductee into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame (1997). Mr. Palmer’s numerous accomplishments include establishing the use of GHIN throughout CSGA member clubs and initiating the purchase of the “Connecticut Golf House” which for 30 years has served as the home of the CSGA.