Stratford (August 13). It may not last forever, but the Connecticut boys’ dominance in the New England Junior is pretty sweet while it lasts.
And the new Connecticut girls team isn’t far behind.
For the second year in a row, Connecticut boys dominated the six-state invitational competition, finishing 17 shots ahead of the Massachusetts team and, at 1035, 15 strokes under par in the 54-hole competition. None of the five other teams was under par.
Also for the second consecutive year, Milford’s Ben James took individual honors. At 69-66-68-203 (-7) the 16-year-old who plays at Great River Golf Club edged teammate Chris Fosdick of Middlefield by a single shot. Tied with Fosdick was Massachusetts phenom James Imai, who shot 66 on Tuesday, almost overtaking James.
Behind Connecticut, at -15, were Massachusetts at +2 and New Hampshire at +29.
Five Connecticut boys finished in the top ten, including James, Fosdick, Jackson Fretty (-1), Alexander Gu (+1) and Matthew Doyle (+1).
On the girls side—we can say that now because part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the New England Junior this year was the addition of girls teams—the Connecticut team of Madeleine Hong of Glastonbury, Elizabeth Garfield of Fairfield and Alexandra Fox of Ellington placed second. Rhode Island was first at +11; Connecticut second at +38; New Hampshire and Maine tied third at +61.
And yet, a 17-shot victory and a solid second can be said bittersweet, this one was, as four of the stalwarts of the Connecticut boys team and two from the girls' move on.
In the fall, Jackson Fretty is off to Princeton. Chris Fosdick will play at Florida Southern, following in the footsteps of the VanDerLaan brothers John and Michael. Alex Aurora, who made it his first goal this year to make the team, will play at Lehigh. New Canaan’s Gunnar Granito, who finished second to James this year at the Connecticut Junior Amateur to make the team for the first time, will do a postgraduate year at Berkshire School, where he’ll play golf and hockey, beginning next month. Maddy Hong heads off to Hamilton College and Liz Garfield will take a gap year and compete prior to college, possibly at Holy Cross.
For the boys who’ve played together for three and in some cases four years, this week was a chance to look back. “I was just happy to be part of this special team,” said Fretty. “I mean [winning] back to back, this is such a tough event. It’s a marathon, you get really tired, and everybody’s got to show up because you’re taking five out of seven scores. Nobody can take holes off. I’m really proud that we really brought our A game when it counted this year. To collectively play well, especially in that first round this week when practically all of us were under par, yeah, it’s really special.”
Fretty, who has been part of consecutive state and FCIAC champs at Greenwich High, appreciates the difficulty of assembling, and maintaining such a team. “When I look back on my junior career what’s definitely meant the most to me are team victories, because it’s one thing to play well by yourself, and another thing to be part of a collective group that all brings it on the same day.”
On a day when intermittent rain softened Mill River Country Club’s perplexingly sloped greens, both Connecticut boys and girls “brought” it. James and Fosdick were under par on Tuesday, shooting 68 and 67, two of seven boys who shot in the 60s. Fretty and Darien’s Alexander Gu shot level par 70. Doyle, of Madison, shot 73. Granito had 76, Aurora 79.
On the girls side, Garfield shot 73 (+1) fully 15 shots better than her opening round and the second-lowest round of the day among the girls. Fifteen-year-old Alex Fox, who played No. 2 on the Ellington High boys team this year, shot 75, the third best Tuesday score and also far below her opening round of 89. Garfield led the Connecticut team with a total score of 236. She finished 5th overall.
All three girls were thrilled to be part of the first girls team.
“It was awesome, a really great opportunity and I’m really happy that we did it, even if took 50 years,” quipped Garfield.” Fox agreed: “I think it’s a pretty big honor to be part of the team,” said Fox. “It’s so cool to be chosen for the first time we’re doing this.” Said Hong: "It's really nice how they finally included the girls, and it's a good step for women's golf in general."
Fosdick, who has represented Connecticut for three years and placed second or tied second each of those years, said he nonetheless appreciated the team competition most, especially with a group as close as the Connecticut boys have grown over the years. “It’s been really cool being friends with everyone here and going out there and playing for something besides just yourself. Knowing that a four or five-footer could mean the difference between the team winning or losing…it’s really cool. Like college golf. Or at least I hope college golf will be like this.” Alex Aurora said he'll miss it. “To play with Chris and Ben and this team, they play at the level I aspire to get to. To be able to play with them and be friends with them, it’s really been inspiring.”
Fosdick came oh-so-close to finally winning the individual competition, too, this week. “I had a 50-footer on 18 for eagle, and I knew Ben was at seven under and I was at five. I just missed the putt. It grazed the hole. So I gave it a run, and I’m happy with how I finished.”
Happy with their finish: a pretty fair way to summarize the attitude of both Connecticut boys and girls at the 50th edition of the New England Junior Invitational.