South Kent (September 8, 2020) Chris Fosdick, who won the Connecticut Amateur in a thrilling final against Cody Paladino in June, birdied the final hole of the 2020 Tournament of Champions at Bull’s Bridge Golf Club, to overtake Paladino again and win by a shot, with a bogey-free 66.
Everything seemed to come down to 18 Tuesday at Bull’s Bridge, which finishes on a narrow but reachable par-5 that decides many tournaments and matches.
A couple of hours after Fosdick finished, Dave Szewczul of TPC River Highlands birdied the 18th, the first extra hole of his playoff with Frank Geiger of H. Smith Richardson Golf Course, to win the Dick Siderowf (senior) division of the TOC, after both finished with 70 (-2). Szewczul’s failure to get up and down for birdie the first time around precipitated the playoff.
“I was solid tee to green, solid all day, but I missed that putt and one on 17 from about three-and-a half feet and one on 16,” said Szewczul, who said 70 was about as high as he might have scored. He made up for the misses with a beautiful second to 12 feet in the playoff, by which time a simple two-putt sealed the win over Geiger, who was on in four after an errant drive. “I played well, solid, I know that sounds boring, but that really describes it.” Szewczul hit 14 greens, he said.
If their finishes were orthodox, their starts were not. At Bull’s Bridge, a dramatic hill and ridge track designed by Tom Fazio, the idea is to strike early, and no matter what else to birdie the reachable, 534-yard, downhill par-5 first. Neither Szewczul nor Fosdick did. But they made up for it quickly.
“I kind of went on a tear after the first,” said Fosdick, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, who birdied five of the next seven holes, including the short (328) par-4 second, the 407-yard third and the 165-yard fourth. “Because it was a one-day tournament, I decided I needed to be aggressive from the start.”
After the opening par, he drove the par-4 second, and two-putted for birdie from 40 feet, leading to 31 on the front nine, which was ultimately the clincher. Paladino, who made three birdies on the opening nine, but also two bogeys, shot 35 and was forced to play catch up from there. His “tear” came on the second nine, when he made four birdies, including on the final par-5, but could only get to 67 (-5).
(Most of us will remember 2020 as the season of COVID. Paladino may remember it as the season of seconds. After his loss to Fosdick in the Amateur, in which both shot nine under par over the 36-holes, he was T2 with Fosdick at the Palmer Cup and lost in a playoff to Ben Conroy in the Mid-Amateur at Madison Country Club two weeks ago. What Paladino has done, with his consistent and exceptional play, is put himself in the running for Player of the Year.)
Though he lost over the weekend in the finals of the Wallingford Country Club club championship, Fosdick will remember 2020 as a breakthrough season. "I drove the ball well today, that was key," he said, giving credit to coach Tom Rosati at Great River Golf Club for a swing with better temp and for a short game that is both improved and savvier. His up and in on the final hole to win is one example, he said. "I might have chipped that in the past, but that would have been much more unpredictable. I decided to putt it up to the green and let it trickle down to the hole." It worked. Fosdick made a left-to-right, four-and-a-half footer to get to six under and win.
Just behind Fosdick and Paladino in the Dick Tettelbach (under 55) division on Tuesday was Defending Champion Peter Tomlinson, who shot 31 on the front nine with consecutive birdies on the second through fifth holes, but slipped to 38 on the back, with no birdies, including at the 18th.
Behind Tomlinson was Glen Boggini of Manchester Country Club at 70 (-2). He finished fourth.
Among those at 71 (-1) were Patrick Griffin, the 2018 TOC Champion, and Chet Hrostek of Richter Park Golf Club, who won the 2015 Mid-Amateur Championship here. Hrostek, who eagled the par-5 sixth and made two birdies, said Bull's Bridge's greens ran true, both holding approaches and running at the perfect speed. “I wouldn’t say they were fast, but they were the speed where you could be aggressive without worrying about the ball rolling out too far.” It was grain on the greens at Bull’s Bridge, Hrostek said, produced by the hillsides, that made them tricky and hard to read. (Only 10 players in total, four in the regular division and six in the senior, broke par.)
In the Siderowf senior division, the leaderboard was also crowded at the top. Several perennially strong players— Szewczul’s longtime Two-Ball partner Bill Hermanson (71) among them—rued missed putts in rounds that might have been. Hermanson missed a short putt for birdie at the par-4 17th and then failed to get up and down from the left side of the 18th green, having to settle for par and 71. Also at 71 was Ralph Giansanti of the Country Club of Farmington. Rick Malafronte of Indian Hill Country Club and Richard Stevens of the eClub of Connecticut both finished with 72.