With a back-nine of 30 in the final round, Monte Mullen of TPC River Highlands charged up the leaderboard to capture the 14th Russell C. Palmer Cup presented by the Lincoln Motor Company. His birdie on the final hole edged Eric Dietrich of The Farms Country Club, who finished runner-up by a single stroke.
Mullen held the overnight lead with Steve Chevalier (Lake of Isles) and David Giulietti (Golf Club of Avon) after posting a round of even-par 69 in cold and wet conditions on Monday. But a slow start on Tuesday morning coupled with a double-bogey on the final hole of his second round left Mullen believing his chances of winning had evaporated.
“I felt pretty confident this morning and I had a feeling I would need something around par to keep pace with the lead,” said Mullen. “Even after I made double-bogey on my twelfth hole, I didn’t feel too bad about my round. But making double on #9 to shoot 78 was really deflating.”
His second round score of 78 dropped to eight strokes behind Giulietti, whose steady round of 70 put him in control. In fact, seventeen players stood between Mullen and the lead, making any chance of a comeback seem improbable.
“I was sitting at lunch before going back out for the final round just thinking about relaxing, trying to shoot a respectable score and maybe get into the top-5,” said Mullen.
But final round comebacks are no surprise in recent Palmer Cup history. In 2014, Blake Morris trailed the leaders by eight strokes heading into the final round before making a late move up the leaderboard. A year later, Benjamin Day made up eight strokes in the last 27 holes and emerged victorious in a playoff.
After opening with back-to-back bogies on the second and third holes, the gap had grown to ten strokes. But as the leaders were faltering, Mullen quietly made four birdies in the next eight holes to get within three strokes of the lead.
“I honestly didn’t even think about the leaderboard until I saw that Giulietti was only one stroke back and I was only three back,” said Mullen.
Throughout the afternoon round, six different players held a share of the lead, but none could hold onto it. With Dietrich posting a +7 total of 214, Mullen knew he needed something special to have a chance. Even with a bogey on #14, Mullen was only two back at +9 for the tournament with four holes to play. And that’s where the magic began.
A 30-foot curling birdie putt on #15 closed the gap to one. A fifteen foot birdie putt on seventeen pulled him even with Dietrich. A monstrous tee shot on #18 left him with just 150 yards left on the 445-yard finishing hole. A 9-iron to within six feet of the hole left him with a chance to win. And a single confident stroke later left a smiling Mullen with the trophy.
“After that putt went in, it was just relief,” said Mullen. “It was such a grind out there all day that it was hard to believe I had come back to win.”
The Russell C. Palmer Cup marks Mullen’s second CSGA title, having won the Connecticut Junior Amateur in 2010. In 2014, he was in a three-way playoff for the Palmer Cup and lost to eventual champion Blake Morris. This year, three birdies in the final four holes for a back-nine 30 left no doubt.
“It’s huge….It really means a lot to me. This is one of my favorite tournaments all year - I love the course and I’ve always wanted to win it. A lot of hard work and long days have gone into this, and it definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into the summer.”
Next up for Mullen is the Hornblower Memorial at Plymouth Country Club, followed by the Connecticut Amateur Championship at Tashua Knolls Golf Course, an event where he finished as a semifinalist last year. Tashua Knolls Golf Course will become the first public course to host this prestigious championship, and Mullen hopes to become just the third player in CSGA history to win both the Palmer Cup and the Amateur Championship in the same season.
Despite coming up just short, a runner-up finish caps off another great week for Dietrich, who successfully advanced through local qualifying for the U.S. Open last week. He will also be representing Connecticut in the U.S. Four-Ball Championship this weekend in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Kyle Nolin of Tallwood Country Club and Dave Szewczul of Tunxis Plantation Country Club finished in a tie for third place, with Chandler Morris of the Country Club of Waterbury and David Giulietti rounding out the top five.
About the Tournament: Conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association, the Russell C. Palmer Cup presented by the Lincoln Motor Company is a 54-hole stroke play competition played at the Country Club of Waterbury on Monday and Tuesday, May 22nd and 23rd. Named for Russell C. Palmer, former CSGA Executive Director (1986-1995) and inductee into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame (1997), the Palmer Cup is the Connecticut Stroke Play Championship.
About the Course: The 2017 Russell C. Palmer Cup marks the ninth time that the Country Club of Waterbury has hosted the event. In addition to hosting the Palmer Cup, the CC of Waterbury has also hosted ten Connecticut Amateur Championships and the 2005 Connecticut Open Championship. The club was originally founded in 1899 and the present Championship course was designed and completed in 1929 by renowned architect Donald Ross.