(Len and Greg Horvath finished 2nd at 71, one-under par)
August 20, 2018: In the test of loyalty and nerves that is the Connecticut Father & Son Championship, only two teams broke par Monday on a damp, demanding Wampanoag Country Club.
What separated those two teams was two shots and three par fives.
Joe and Ben Conroy birdied all four of the par five holes, two on each side, and despite a pair of late bogeys, shot 69 (-3). Runners-up Len and Greg Horvath of Manchester Country Club made no bogeys all day—the only team with a “clean” card—but birdied just once, the par-5 sixth, and that proved the difference. They shot 71 (-1).
“The par fives you could take advantage,” said Joe Conroy, a 5 handicap with the Eclub of Connecticut. “If I could get one in the fairway, Ben obviously could get the second shot there. I mean even if it was 235 yards, he’s hitting 3-iron.”
Ben, is after all, the 2018 Connecticut Amateur Champion.
That said, the Conroys did not know where they stood when they made the final birdie. “We decided that in a format like this, it’s just play and not worry about it,” said Joe of the modified alternate shot format, in which both players hit tee shots and then play one ball in from there.
“We didn’t know, but I had a feeling three or four would do it,” said Ben. They reached four-under with a birdie on the par-5 12th, then lost ground with bogeys on 15 and 17 and were two under heading into the final hole.
Though many of the teams in the field have played multiple Father & Sons, it was only the second time for the Conroys, the first about six years ago before Ben briefly turned professional and then reclaimed his amateur status last year.
In all the Conroys made six birdies—the only team to do that—including three on the wetlands-crossing, par-4 18th, which played well over par for the day. As was the case most of the day, they had a choice of drives. “I said, ‘Do you want to hit the approach shot or hit the putt?’” said Ben. “My Dad said, ‘I wanna make the putt.’” Ben hit an 8-iron to three feet and Joe converted.
“We really yinned and yanged,” said Joe. “Alternate shot is a whole different kind of rhythm than playing your own ball, given that you’re responsible for someone else. It gives you an appreciation for Ryder Cup competition.” Ben said consistent tee shots were key. “We didn’t hit every fairway, but we had a clear approach to every green.”
The fact that Conroys work together—they have a kitchen contracting business—may have contributed to an unshakable attitude. Or perhaps it’s their ice time that keeps them cool. They were looking forward to a hockey playoff game at 8:30 p.m. the night of the Father & Son. “Hey, to be able to play with your son is just so great. We weren’t worried about anything else really,” said Joe.
Two teams shot even par to tie for third: Steve and Clark Robinson of Ellington Ridge Country Club and Richard and Shep Stevens of Sterling Farms and New Haven Country Club.
But in the 82nd Father & Son, many teams who tasted sub-par front nines, were undone on the 3348-yard back. Early leaders Chris and William Simeone of Race Brook shot two under on the front, five over on the back, as did Joe and Brian Cooney of TPC River Highlands. John and Bradley Sawka of Ellington Ridge were two under on the front, three over on the back. Michael and Patrick Herlihy of Fox Hopyard were one under on the front, five over on the back.
“Are you guys talking to one another?” asked someone of a team that suffered a similar back-nine fate. “Not yet,” came the reply.
The Father & Son is one of more than 50 Championships, Qualifiers and One-Day Tournaments the CSGA conducts throughout the year, in addition to administering handicaps for over 40,000 members and 181 member clubs. The association functions as an extension of the USGA and provides stewardship for amateur golf in Connecticut. Founded in 1899, it is the country’s oldest state golf association. As a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization, the CSGA supports a variety of golf organizations within Connecticut, including the Connecticut Women’s Golf Association, Southern New England Women’s Golf Association, The First Tee, the Connecticut PGA, and the CSGA Scholarship Fund in honor of Widdy Neale.