May 13—With the addition mid-week of Max Theodorakis, Corey Birch and Paul Pastore, a total of nine Connecticut players have advanced to U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying next month with only today's qualifiers to be decided.
They join 2018 Connecticut Open Champion John VanDerLaan, who qualified in Florida, the Connecticut qualifiers at Lyman Orchards Golf Course May 6, who were Eric Dietrich of Cheshire and Brian Carlson of Madison, along with Dylan Newman of Greenwich, who qualified at Rockaway Hunting Club, Peter Ballo, who qualified in Alpine, N.J. and Fletcher Babcock of Danielson, who qualified in Seekonk, Mass. Add Jimmy Hervol, a Massachusetts native who plays for UConn and shot 70 to finish one behind medalist Chris Houston at Lyman, and consider it ten.
VanDerLaan shot 68 at Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra to qualify. Theodorakis (above left) also had 68 at Columbia (S.C.) Country Club. Birch (below right) and Pastore shot 67 and 68 respectively at the Hollow Brook Golf Club qualifier in Cortland, N.Y., conducted by the Metropolitan Golf Association.
The Lyman qualifier may have been the most challenging. In sunny but soggy conditions that generated many embedded balls and dozens of rulings, Houston of Gilford, N.H., played as if he hadn’t noticed, shooting 69 (-3) and leading the 66 qualifiers at Lyman Orchards Golf Club on May 6. Houston decided to qualify at Lyman because his Penn State college teammate, Geoff Vartelas, played here and was with him today. The three-hour drive proved to be worth it.
“I came down early and we made a weekend out of it,” said Houston. “I’ve played here a couple of times and I like it.” The course, though wet, was in surprisingly playable conditions given the recent rains. Vartelas also competed Monday, but failed to qualify. (He just earned status on the Mackenzie Tour—PGA Tour Canada, along with
UConn’s Jimmy Hervol, who was earlier this month named the AAC’s Mens Golf Player of the Week, shot 70 to secure the second of four spots.
The remaining two spots were decided in a playoff of four players, with Eric Dietrich of Cheshire (below left) and Brian Carlson of Madison both making birdie on the first playoff hole, the par-4 tenth, and Chris Tallman of Holyhoke, Mass., won first alternate when he parred the par-3 11th and Michael Young of Ireland bogeyed.
The conditions helped Dietrich on the first playoff hole. He hit his tee shot so far left that he missed the penalty area pond along the left side of the fairway. His ball plugged on the far side of the pond, near the 18th fairway, allowing him a drop. Having to guesstimate the distance to the hole, hit a wedge to four feet and made the putt. Just ahead of him, Carlson, about 20 feet left of the hole, also made birdie.
Several “favorites” narrowly missed. 2018 Player of the Year Ben Conroy made three bogeys on the second nine and shot 73. Also at 73 were Milford teenager Ben James and Bobby Gage, a longtime Connecticut star who has played on both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour. Peter Ballo’s brother Mike, who in February played in his first PGA Tour event, the Puerto Rican Open, shot 74.
But he and Gage had some consolation. Both aced the 167-yard 11th.
“You know what? It was just great to get out and play,” said Ballo. “I haven’t played since Puerto Rico because my dad’s been ill and now he’s doing better, which is the most important thing. We sent him a video about the ace. He loved it."
The 45 Connecticut players who were part of the Lyman Orchards field were among 8602 who played at 110 sites to join 473 players exempted from local qualifying to play at 12 sectional sites. From those roughly 500 players 50 will join the Open field at Pebble Beach Golf Links in June.
The Lyman Orchards qualifiers will compete in the June 3 sectional qualifier at Century Club and Old Oaks Country Club in Westchester. The 119th U.S. Open takes place June 13-16.
U.S. Local Qualifer results here.
Photo: Golf Magazine