Old Greenwich (October 5, 2020) A steady wind, difficult hole locations on tricky greens, and the length of Innis Arden’s second nine translated into high scores in stroke play qualifying at the 14th Senior Match Play Monday.
In a field of the state’s best seniors, no one broke or matched par on the 6307-yard, par-70 layout.
Medalists were 2015 Match Play Champion Bill Hermanson and Dave Jones, a semi-finalist last year, who shot 72 (+2). Bob Murphy Jr. of Brownson Country Club and Mike Hooper of Brooklawn Country Club shot 73.
Sixteen players at 77 or better advanced to match play. Survivors included Defending Champion Mark Vasington, who shot 78 but made the final spot in a four-man playoff; Senior Amateur Champion Dick Stevens who won last week at the Country Club of Farmington; 2017 Senior Amateur and 2018 Senior Match Play Champion Pat McGuiness; and 2019 Richardson Senior Division winner Paul Fitzsimmons of Brooklawn. Matches will begin tomorrow morning, move to quarterfinals in the afternoon and then semi-finals and an 18-hole final take place on Wednesday.
Despite the high scores, players had high praise for the golf course, designed by Kenneth Tod, A.W. Tillinghast, and renovated by Ken Dye about ten years ago.
“Everything about it is wonderful. It’s right there in front of you. You just have to hit golf shots.” said 2016 Senior Match Play Champion Bruce Kraczkowsky, who did not make the cut. “Look at this pin on 18,” he said, pointing to the back left flag, tucked on a pie-shaped tier on the sloping, 196-yard par-3. “It’s precarious. So you have to play conservative. You have to keep the ball in front of you. Keep hitting greens. Don’t get heroic.”
Still, the scores surprised some. “Seventy-six is gonna make it?” said Kraczkowsky’s fellow competitor Dave Szewczul, a four-time Senior Match Play champion and Hall of Fame member, acknowledging that Innis Arden is “a tricky golf course. You have to pay attention on every shot. You can’t let up. Especially around the greens. You have to hit the fairways, but the greens are so challenging you have to be able to control the ball.”
Players found the second nine especially back-breaking. Said Steve Gersh of Rolling Hills: “You have three really short par-4s [including the 14th] but that doesn’t help you a lot. They’re still difficult to birdie. Then on the back you have those long ones,” referring to Innis Arden’s 12th, 13th and 15th holes, which measure 431, 430 and 421 respectively. Add three par threes of 176, 189 and 196, one (the 16th), adjacent to water, another with a severe “reverse Redan” or left to right slope (the 10th), and the third (the 18th) with tricky back hole locations and out-fo-bounds behind the green, and a course that starts rather gently, with three par-4s in the 380-yard range, gets mean. “The back is brutal,” said Jim Lawler, who led round one of last week’s Senior Amateur. “Every hole has the potential of a disaster.”
Co-medalist Jones made three bogeys and a birdie (at the par-5 17th) to shoot 37 after an even-par 35 on the front. Hermanson made a birdie on each side and four bogeys to shoot 36-36. “The course played tough,” said Hermanson. “It played long. It was windy. And there were some really hard pin placements. And there were no straight putts. I was defensive-putting all day.” Said Jones: “That back nine is just very, very, very tough. It’s just fantastic.”
Fantastic, most agreed, for match play, where both the long and short par 4s offer opportunities for wins, and the par-3, par-5, par-3 finish can make for great drama.
The game plan today was survival. “Throw it out the window now,” said Hermanson. “It doesn’t matter.” But tomorrow, let loose. “For me, match play frees you up,” he said. “I mean you make one bad swing out here and you can make a seven. But if you’re playing match play, you just lose that one hole. It tends to free me up.”