July 2—West Hartford. The next time someone tells you that anything can happen in match play, it will set another record because everybody says that.
But the fact is: Anything can happen in match play.
In the first of eight matches in the 2019 Senior Match Play at Wampanoag Country Club in West Hartford, No. 16 seed Dave Jones of Mohegan Sun Golf Club, recovering from oral cancer surgery, still unable to consume solid foods, and two years away from his last competition, defeated No. 1 seed Dave Szewczul, 2 and 1.
Then, after a post-round liquid-food “formula,” he gutted out another win, defeating Vin Capece of Watertown Golf Club, one up. The weariness showed in the afternoon. After building a three-up lead on No. 11, Jones, 57, lost three consecutive holes, gained the lead again with a par on 17, and held on to advance to the semi-finals tomorrow morning.
The fact that Jones is playing the Senior Match Play is something of a miracle. His cancer, which required the removal in December of part of his tongue, his tonsils and several lymph nodes, also involved extensive radiation and chemotherapy in January and February. He lost 30 pounds on an already thin 165-pound frame—and 70 yards, he figured. “My treatments were January and February and in June the strength began coming back. Through May I had nothing. I was just wiped out for three months.” As he began to play this past month, his tee shots have lengthened and so has his stamina. He said when he shot 70, his first round under par in a couple of years, last weekend, he was optimistic about this week. On top of his own health issues, Jones lost his wife Joanne to cancer last year as well. “She used to caddy for me in the CSGA events,” he said. “She would have loved today.”
This is the furthest Jones has advanced in the Senior Match Play, though he has reached the semifinals in the Connecticut Amateur. His preparation for tomorrow’s semifinal is simple. “I’m thinking of one thing right now,” he said of his amazing day. “Get home, get rest. If I leave right away I can beat the traffic.”
Szewczul, recovering from back and knee surgery himself, and pleased with yesterday’s 71, was disappointed but nonetheless philosophical about his match with Jones. “As well as I played yesterday, I played the opposite today. It’s still a process. Still trying to get into a competitive mode. But I’m so happy to be there. And good for Dave. He was strong.”
There were other, less dramatic upsets in the morning. No 12 seed Rick Malafronte, one of four on the 76 (+4) cut line yesterday, eliminated No. 5 seed Paul Fitzsimmons of Brooklawn Country Club. In May Fitzsimmons won the Richardson Memorial Invitational, with the same mixture of match and stroke play, at Wheatley Hills on Long Island. In the afternoon Malafronte faced “the home team” in Mark Vasington, the only Wampanoag member of a handful in the field to make match play. Vasington beat John Svetz of Torrington, 4 and 3 in the morning, and then eliminated Malafronte by the same score, making four birdies to keep him under par for the day.
“I felt a little pressure [to play well at Wampanoag] but in a good way,” he said. “I tried to use that to stay focused and stay with one shot at a time.” Vasington’s knowledge of Wampanoag’s sinuous greens was an advantage, but even he was tested. “Honestly, every time you play out here, you find yourself in spots on the greens where you think, wow, I don’t know how that breaks. ”
Also making the semi-finals were two veterans of CSGA competition, Bob Murphy, Jr. of Brownson Country Club, the No. 2 seed, in his second Senior Match Play, and Bruce Kraczkowsky, the 2016 Senior Match Play champion from Blue Fox Run. Murphy defeated the 15th seed, Richard Wilczewski of Shennecossett, 4 and 3, in the morning and then advanced past Drew Greenland of Rockrimmon Country Club in the afternoon, by the same score. Greenland fought back from two down to beat Timberlin’s Jim Abbott in the morning, one up, to reach the quarterfinals.
Both of Kraczkowsky’s matches went to the 18th hole as well. He holed an approach shot for an eagle 2 on the par-4 14th and then held on for a one-up victory Jeffrey Dolin of Manchester Country Club in his first match, and then, in one of the tightest matches of the day, the former Wampanoag assistant professional, outlasted Randy Rizy of Timberlin, one up, in the afternoon.
The semi-final matches will begin at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, with an 18-hole final to follow. Established in 2007, the Connecticut Senior Match Play is the youngest CSGA championship. It is the first of two majors for players 55 and over, along with the 74-year-old Senior Amateur, to be held this year at Black Hall Club, September 23-24.