Zach Zaback of TPC River Highlands grabbed the overnight lead at the 13th Russell C. Palmer Cup, shooting a round of three under-par. The 2014 CSGA Player of the Year holds a two stroke lead over Eric Dietrich of The Farms CC, Dave Szewczul of Tunxis Plantation CC, and Monte Mullen of TPC River Highlands.
Conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association, the Russell C. Palmer Cup is a 54-hole stroke play competition being played at the Country Club of Waterbury on Monday and Tuesday, May 23rd and 24th. Named for former Executive Director of the CSGA and Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame Member Russell C. Palmer, the event features Connecticut's top amateur golfers who are vying for the state's amateur stroke play title. The par-69 Donald Ross layout was originally founded in 1899 and is set up to play at a total of 6,550 yards for the competitors.
A recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, Zaback birdied the first two holes of his opening round and never looked back, making the turn in four under-par 31. Although he would make a pair of bogies on his closing nine, he matched it with a birdie on the 16th hole to post the round of the day.
"I was playing really well; even when I drove it in the rough I was able to hit a wedge close. My wedges were really dialed in, and I was able to make some good putts."
Zaback is hoping that 2016 is the year that he can finally break through to capture the Palmer Cup. He finished third last year, missing out on a playoff by a single stroke, and also finished sixth in 2014. His senior campaign at UCONN this Spring included a fourth place finish at the Loyola Intercollegiate and a record-tying 64 at the AAC Championship.
"Hopefully I can continue what I am doing tomorrow. My putting has been much improved, so hopefully I can continue doing what I did today."
A trio of players stand just two strokes back of Zaback, which includes fellow UCONN teammate Eric Dietrich who is looking to capture the first CSGA title of his young career. A rising senior, Dietrich led the UCONN team in scoring average this season and captured his first collegiate title at Mohegan Sun Country Club, a tournament in which he shot a career-low 64.
Joining Dietrich at 68 is Monte Mullen, a familiar face among the CSGA staff. Mullen, who is working for the CSGA as the 2016 USGA P.J. Boatwright Intern, is seeking to capture his second CSGA title, having previously won the Connecticut Junior Amateur in 2010. He nearly captured the Palmer Cup in 2014, losing in a playoff to eventual champion Blake Morris. Much like Zaback, Mullen made the turn in four under-par 31 but wasn’t quite able to sustain the momentum on the challenging back nine at the Country Club of Waterbury.
“I really wanted to just got off to a solid start and put myself in a good position for the 36-hole marathon tomorrow,” said Mullen. I got off to a great start early with the putter and rode that momentum for the rest of the round. I have some great memories from the Country Club of Waterbury that I’ll draw on tomorrow to try to catch Zach.”
Completing the trio is a name that is synonymous with golf in Connecticut. Dave Szewczul, the six-time CSGA Senior Player of the Year, also shot a round of 68 and hopes to add the Russell C. Palmer Cup to his impressive collection of CSGA hardware. Szewczul’s round featured just one bogey, which was the least of any player in the field, and no doubt his solid ball-striking will keep him in contention throughout the championship.
Rounding out the top five is Philip Perry of Black Hall Club, one of two past champions in the field having won the Russell C. Palmer Cup in 2008. Perry shot a round of one over par after opening his round with three consecutive bogies. Perry played solid the rest of the round, matching four birdies with two bogies and sits just four back of Zaback.
If history is any indication of the final result at the Palmer Cup, then no lead is safe heading into the 36-hole finale. In 2014, Blake Morris came from nine shots behind after the first round to win his first CSGA title at his home club. Last year, Ben Day of New Haven CC started the final round eight strokes behind the lead and shot five under-par on the second day to capture the Palmer Cup. Among those who hope to continue the tradition of a second day rally is Evan Grenus (2015 Connecticut Amateur Champion), Ben Hunter (2013 Connecticut Mid-Amateur Champion), and Chandler Morris (CC of Waterbury member and brother of Blake Morris, 2014 Champion).
This year’s starting field of 96 players was trimmed to just 41 competitors following the conclusion of play on Monday, with the cut line falling at seven over-par 76. Players who made the cut will play 18-holes in the morning and 18-holes in the afternoon, with the lowest 54-hole total claiming the title. Starting times begin at 7:30 a.m. off the 1st and 10th tees, with the leaders teeing off at 8:30 a.m. Live hole-by-hole scoring will be available for the leading groups online at CTPalmerCup.com.
About the Connecticut State Golf Association
The Russell C. Palmer Cup is one of 18 championship tournaments conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association. The CSGA functions as an extension of the USGA and provides stewardship for amateur golf in Connecticut. Founded in 1899, it is the country's oldest state golf association and conducts over 50 Championships, Qualifiers and One-Day Tournaments throughout the year. For more information, visit our website at csgalinks.org.