West Simsbury (August 10, 2020) There are a whole bunch of reasons why winning the 2020 Connecticut Public Links presented by GOLFTEC would be special for 22-year-old Connor Roche.
First, he grew up in West Simsbury, and learned the game at Simsbury Farms, the host course. “You walk past the 4th green and that will take you right to my house,” he said. He played here for the great Simbsbury coach, Ed Lynch, one of the winningest high school golf coaches in the country, before heading to Wisconsin. When he turned to fitness—a self-confessed gym rat—and became a golf fitness expert he would train by running the golf course perimeter.
But the biggest reason is: This is Roche's last golf tournament...for a while.
“I’ve joined the Air Force,” said Roche, after his round of 69, one off the lead set by Chris Ayers of Goodwin Park early, and Eric Bleile of Sterling Farms late in the day. They shot 68, Roche and Keney Park’s Patrick McGuiness 69. Roche's round of golf tomorrow in the second and final round will be his last for some time.
“I loved my job [at Golf Performance Center in Ridgefield], but when COVID came and things slowed down, I decided it was time to do it. It’s really a dream I’ve had since childhood.”
Roche’s next “event” is two months in San Antonio and a year in Seattle to earn his stripes in the SERE program, whose aim is to “Train Others to Survive.” He’ll first learn, and then teach the skills of survival to pilots and other who could face isolation and capture.
Roche’s news put golf and this championship in perspective at Simsbury Farms, but it also served as special motivation for Roche himself to keep playing the way he did today. Winning here, he acknowledged, would be the perfect send-off.
“It would be so special,” he said. Roche made seven birdies today, offset by one double bogey and two bogeys. “I think I’ll need another 69 to do it. I think six under might win.”
Bleile, tied with Ayers, thinks he’ll need another 68, and that eight-under is the number needed. If Roche has had a lifetime of preparation at Simbsuy Farms, Bleile has had none. “Maybe this is the secret,” he said at the end of the day, “show up 14 minutes before your tee time, don’t play a practice round and just go.”
Despite thin preparation, Bleile made but a single bogey. He had a birdie on the front, four on the back—at the par-5 12th and 14th, as well as the long par-3 16th, and the short uphill par-4 17th.
“This would be among the top five golf wins I’ve ever had,” said Bleile, a perennial participant and contender in both CSGA and MGA events. “I’ve never won a CSGA championship, so that would be very cool.”
Roche, Bleile, McGuiness (2018 Senior Match Play Champion) and four players at -1 will have to out-play Chris Ayers, the Old Dominion star, who has had a very hot summer. He made the round of 16 at Shorehaven in the Amateur. He finished T-17 at last week’s Connecticut Open presented by Reby Advisors, and at one point late in the second round, threatening the lead. In short, he has picked up and improved upon his medalist performance in last year’s Amateur at Fox Hopyard.
Today he recorded a very clean 68, making three birdies and a bogey on the front, and two birdies—both 2s on the par-3 13th and 16th, with no bogeys on the back.
Ayers and McGuiness were off early, Bleile and Roche off late, but Simsbury Farms, at 6500-yards and par 72, played remarkably similar throughout. Greens were smooth, not lightning, but very firm, sending approach shots bouncing, sometimes over the green. Winds were mild. And the golf course—“it’s all there in front of you,” said one player—held its own. Only 8 players in the field of 121 broke par. Only 3 others matched it.
Thirty four-players made the cut at +3 or better. They will tee off beginning at 7:30 Tuesday morning.
This is the 35th playing of the Connecticut Public Links. Last year’s champion, Peter Tomlinson, is not defending this year because he is caddying for his friend and playing companion Ben James, Connecticut’s sole representative and one of the youngest players in the field, in the 120th U.S. Amateur Championship at Bandon Dunes Resort.