(2016 Public Links Champion Kyle Nolin fired 70-72 (-2) to finish runner up to John Abbott's -5 total)
August 15, 2018: John Abbott dreams of someday working in the film business in California. Maybe his first project will be: Home Alone at the Top of the Leaderboard.
On Wednesday, the 22-year-old Western New England graduate produced a masterpiece at Timberlin Golf Club, his home course, backing up his opening round 69 (-3) with a two-under-par 70 to win the 33rd Connecticut Public Links by three over 2016 Champion Kyle Nolin of Middletown. Only Abbott, Nolin, Alling Memorial’s James Sheltman and Norwich’s Josh Cameron finished the 36-event under par. Only five players in the field of 31 broke par Wednesday, when pins were tucked and even soft conditions yielded few birdies over the almost 6,900-yard layout.
Except for Abbott. He made five, three of them coming on the difficult back nine, where, for the most part, scores ballooned. What’s more, he did it his way—without looking at the leaderboard.
“I really had no clue. I knew that there were a bunch of guys like Kyle Nolin who are really great players behind me but I thought if they shoot even par and I play my game, I’ll be okay. When I got to three under and six under for the tournament, I knew it was mine to lose.” Actually, he got to seven under before a three-putt bogey on No. 15, but Nolin and Sheltman, playing in the group of head of Abbott, got things going, too. Nolin reached three-under for the tournament on the 14th, Sheltman got it to two-under there as well. But Abbott’s birdies on the par-five13th, as they were playing 14, and at the 14th spelledThe End for his pursuers.
With his Dad Jim, on the bag—he’s 3-handicap, and three-time club champion at Timberlin, where John has won the championship once—Abbott knew he had a big advantage.
“There are lots of shots here where guys have water or hills and are not sure really how to play it. So I feel really confident on a lot of holes where if this were not my course I would not feel comfortable at all.”
Oddly one of those holes, No. 2, with hazard right and trees left, was where he felt the first and last pang of nervousness. He bogeyed, and that would be the last time he was over par for the day.
“The most important hole for me was the fourth hole,” said Abbott, of Timberlin’s first par three. “Once I made bogey on two I was like, the last thing I want to do here is shoot 75 and just hand it away to somebody. So to make birdie on that hole to get back to even par just kind of calmed me.”
He got even calmer when he birdied the par-four fifth hole and was suddenly back in his comfort zone at Timberlin - under par.
With the exception of checking out playing companions Chris DeLucia (who shot 72 and finished fifth) and Eric Bliele (75, sixth), Abbott said he didn’t need to know what the rest of the field was doing. He concentrated, he said, on making birdies, and Dad helped “because when I didn’t know how a putt broke he always did.”
On the 18th his father said, “Do you want to know?”
John replied, “After I hit this shot.”
He striped a three wood to about 160 yards, turned to his Dad and heard that he was four ahead. A meaningless three-putt on 18 narrowed the margin to three.
“It’s just the best feeling. My Dad actually is the one who told me about the tournament being here,” said Abbott, who finished T19 last year. “Going into this I really wanted to win it. Going out today with the lead and having to play with that pressure and being able to do it, well, it feels just great.”
Jim Abbott, a high school teacher, said he told someone yesterday, “John might shoot 77 and he might shoot three under par, but he won’t be nervous.” In fact, says Jim, the last time his son was really nervous when he played his first tournament at age 10. “He told me, ‘I’m really nervous, I think I might throw up,’ and I said, “Whoa! At ten years old? And I got him out of that. When he came back to competition a few years later, he wasn’t nervous at all. You have to understand, John isn’t passionate about the game the way some people are. He doesn’t like to pound balls or spend hours on the range. He’s passionate about the competition. The higher the stakes the better he gets.” Case in point: The recent New England Public Links Team Championship, where young Abbott got off to a rough start. He shot 39 on the front. Then he shot 29 on the back. It was not dissimilar to his one-over par on the front nine at Timberlin yesterday in round one. He shot 32 on the back. Hollywood may love last-scene, come-from-behind victories by the underdog. But John Abbott won the 2018 Public Links his way: wire to wire.