Old Lyme (September 23). The first round of 74th Connecticut Senior Amateur Championship was, you might say, a gathering of usual suspects.
Bunched at the top of the leaderboard were:
At 73 (+2):
—Bill Hermanson, the 2015 Senior Am champion and Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame member who has won some 25 club championships at Black Hall Club, site of this year’s championshi
—Tom Yellin of Stanwich Club, the 2019 Westchester Senior Amateur Champion and veteran of many national championships
—Dave Szewczul, the three-time Senior Am champion and Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame member who last week won the New England Super Senior Championship
—Jim Romaniello of Shorehaven Golf Club, the 2017 Westchester Player of the Year
—Tom Brett, the 2017 Connecticut Senior Match Play Champion
—Richard Wilczewski of Shennecossett Golf Club, the 2002 Public Links Champion
—Randy Rizy of Timberlin, Top 25 at last month’s Mid-Amateur
Though their numbers weren’t strikingly low, these champions led 39 players who survived a relatively high cut of 81 as Black Hall, measuring only 6415 yards, played longer and tougher, sending many other “usual” contenders home early. There were six scores in the 90s and 23 of 85 or higher.
Among those not making day two were Defending Champion Ray Underwood of Torrington Country Club, Mark Vasington, the 2019 Senior Match Player Champion, 2013 Senior Amateur Champion Jack Bracken, Mike Hooper of Brooklawn, finalist in the 2018 Senior Match Play and Manny Cavalieri, the 2009 Senior Amateur Champion.
“That’s Black Hall,” said Hermanson, who has won 25 club championships here. “Today it was windy, and tough to pick the right club. The greens slowed down this afternoon and were much slower than over the weekend. I was leaving every putt short. It could have been the humidity because they were faster in the morning. But it’s just tough out there. At Black Hall you have to drive it in the fairway. If you don’t drive it in the fairway, you’re struggling.”
For his part, Hermanson missed only one fairway, he calculated, hit 15 greens and made only one birdie, at the par-4 sixth. Yellin’s was a different kind of round. “Actually, I played poorly,” he said. “You have a lot of rounds where you say, ‘I left about six shots out there.’ Well today I left none out there. I scored as well as I could have. I hit the ball poorly. I wasn’t hitting fairways. I wasn’t hitting greens, but I made every putt but two within 15 feet. I made a lot of mid-range 6 and 8-footers. I probably had around 29 putts.” (Those included birdie conversions on Nos. 5, 6 and 14)
Even those who hit lots of fairways and greens found Monday’s Black Hall a bear. “Honestly, I calculated during a practice round that you hit uphill approaches on 13 of the 18 holes,” said Wilczewski. “It plays long. And soft. At Shennecossett you hit a drive 225 and it rolls 40 yards. Here, you hit it 225 and it goes to 226.”
Given Black Hall’s challenges, birdies were at a premium. Most of the players in the top-ten made one or two.
“This is a great golf course, in great shape,” said Romaniello, who said he both drove the ball well and putted well. “I only got into problems at the end of the round, at 16 and 17, when I started protecting. I hit a perfect tee shot and then thought I don’t want to hit it left and I hit it in the rough, didn’t get up and down and made bogey. Did the same on 17. So being conservative cost me.”
He might have added that getting tentative in any sense will cost you at Black Hall, with its many doglegs, strategically positioned trees and tiered greens. He might have suggested, too, that tomorrow will be a test of nerves for this senior field as much as it is a test of swings.