(Co-medalist Pat McGuiness will face 2016 Champion Bruce Kraczkowsky in the first semifinal match)
June 19, 2018: The final three holes at Gillette Ridge Golf Club can turn any match around. On Tuesday afternoon, they never got the chance.
The quarterfinals of the Connecticut Senior Match Play Championships were, with one exception, one-sided affairs that didn’t reach the tight par-5 16th, the wetlands-crossing par-3 17th, or narrow par-4 18th.
Co-medalist Patrick McGuiness of Keney Park dispatched Frank Geiger of H. Smith Richardson, 6&4. Michael Hooper of Brooklawn Country Club defeated Steve Robinson of Ellington Ridge Country Club 5&4, and Rich Jute of Topstone Golf Course won 4&3 over Rich Malafronte of Hunter Golf Club—who had earlier eliminated the other co-medalist, Bob Murphy Jr. of Brownson.
Only in the day’s final match, in which Bruce Kraczkowsky of Blue Fox Run beat his second 75-year-old opponent of the day, Shawn McLoughlin of Ridgewood Country Club, did those holes even factor in. Kraczkowsky won 3&1 in a match that was all square on the 15th tee.
Which was a lot like his morning match against William Lee of Yale, Kraczkowsky said, that an 18-hole affair. The two matches left Kraczkowsky feeling not only fortunate to survive but in awe of two unshakable competitors who hold multiple Connecticut Amateur, Senior Amateur and New England Amateur championships. They were also the two oldest competitors in the field.
“These are two guys who have won everything. In the course of the day they just wore me down. They kept coming back like a bad dream,” laughed Kraczkowsky, the 2016 Senior Match Play Champion and a semi-finalist in 2017.
In his morning match with Lee, he saw a 4-up lead dwindle to one. “Bill Lee chipped in and came this close to chipping again on 18 to send it to extra holes. I’m surprised we didn’t go the extra mile. And if we had, I might not be standing here.”
Kraczkowsky reported the same treatment Tuesday afternoon from McLoughlin, who came from three down after five to square the match on 13. “They’re both great champions,” he said. “Dogged competitors. I mean, I’m hitting 8 irons and they’re hitting rescues. The difference in trajectory, huge, but that’s how good they are.”
Only one other match in the morning came as close as Kraczkowski/Lee. In what could be considered the upset of the championship, Malafaronte, who had reached match play by surviving Monday’s playoff, beat Murphy, one of only two to match par in stroke play. It took 19 holes.
“It’s hard to say anything’s an upset, though,” said Malafronte. “Anyone can win or lose at this stage of things.” Sketchy play on both sides made things even more unpredictable. The two shared 11 bogeys or worse, and made only one birdie apiece. Malafronte birdied the first playoff hole though, to advance.
Other winners in the round of 16 were Jute, who beat Tennis Hall of Famer and six-time Torrington club champion Ivan Lendl, 2&1; Hooper, who defeated Mike Natale of Candlewood Valley Country Club, 4&3, Robinson, a 3&2 winner over Mark Durand of Indian Hill Country Club; McGuiness, a 4&3 winner over Gary Matteson of Cedar Knob Golf Club; Geiger, who beat Mark Vasington of Wampanoag 3&1, and McLoughlin, who eliminated Paul DiNardo of Richter Park Golf Club, 2 up.
Wednesday morning’s semi-final matches are Kraczkowsky against McGuiness and Hooper against Jute. Winners will advance to the 18-hole final Wednesday afternoon.
Gillette Ridge took its toll in the stroke play qualifier on Monday. Among those not making the playoff at 77 (+5), were Defending Champion Tom Brett, former Senior Match Play champions Dave McNally of Norwich Golf Course and Bill Hermanson of Black Hall Club, and 2013 Senior Amateur Champion Jack Bracken.
This is the fourth time that Gillette Ridge has hosted the Senior Match Play. The Match Play is the first—and youngest—of two senior majors, the second being October’s Connecticut Senior Amateur.
The championship comprises 18 holes of stroke play creating a match-play field of 16. Qualifiers play two matches each day, culminating in an 18-hole final.