East Providence, RI – Jeff Hedden (Black Hall Club) arrived at Metacomet Country Club on Monday morning without a caddy but still determined to capture the 2011 New England Amateur Championship, an event that he finished third at just three years ago.
Through the first 36 holes, the 47-year-old from Old Lyme carried his own bag (for the first time in years) in 90-degree heat and kept pace with players half his age. He entered the final day of competition two strokes back of the leader, but he was not to be denied this year.
Spearheaded by a 6-under par 64 during his morning round, Hedden took over the overall lead by four strokes. He maintained that advantage through the final 18 holes to capture his first-ever NEGA title. He finished with a four-round score of 13-under par 267, six strokes ahead of Georgia Tech star Richy Werenski (Orchards GC).
"I felt confident coming in and felt that I had a chance if I putted well," said Hedden. "I started putting well off the bat and that got my confidence going."
From the start, Hedden was like a sleeping giant. He made five straight pars on Monday morning before going on a tear - thanks in great part to a hot putter - that would see him make five birdies and just one bogey for a 4-under par 66. He continued his stellar play on Tuesday. Once again, he limited the errors and rode his putter to a 3-under par 67 heading into the final day which included 36 holes.
Competing against Werenski and first- and second-round leader Peter Williamson (Hanover CC) - two collegiate standouts - most would have thought that Hedden would be the first to wilt under the hot July sun.
That was not the case. It did help that - after carrying his bag for two days - Hedden enlisted assistance from a club caddy for Wednesday's 36-hole grind.
"I am a pull-cart guy," said Hedden with a laugh. "I carried my bag the first two days grumbling, but I wasn't going to carry my bag the last 36 holes... CJ did a wonderful job. He helped me read the greens all day."
Hedden exploded out of the gates on Wednesday morning and quickly turned the leaderboard upside down. He entered the morning round two strokes back and enjoyed the lunch break with a four-shot advantage.
"It drives me," said Hedden about competing against the younger generation. "They have made me a better player. They don't understand it quite yet, but I tell them that they have made the older players better."
That first 18 holes was one that he won't soon forget. Beginning on the 10th hole, he made the turn at 1-under par 33 but had played 1-over par golf through the final five holes of that back nine.
The front nine was an entirely different story. Hedden made up four strokes in three holes courtesy of a birdie on the 386-yard, par 4 1st hole, an eagle on the 472-yard, par 5 2nd hole and a birdie on the 359-yard, par 4 3rd hole. He made one miscue on the 180-yard, par 3 5th hole, but he more than made up for that by finishing his morning round with birdies on the 8th and 9th holes.
With a four-stroke lead in hand, Hedden maintained his composure as the afternoon wore on despite a stiff wind that developed over the course of the afternoon and a final push by Werenski, who made birdies on the 6th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 13th holes to pull within three strokes with fives holes to play.
Costly bogies down the stretch, however, ended Werenski's chances of a title. It marks the second straight second-place finish for Werenski, who was runner-up at last week's Southern Amateur Championship.
"It was one of the more grinding days I have had," said Hedden, whose performance this week included 19 birdies and one eagle through 72 holes. "I am not a great wind player, but I had a few good things happen early on and that got my confidence going. That is what happened all week long. I putted lights out."
Williamson, who had a stranglehold on the lead for the first 36 holes, struggled on the final day which allowed Brad Valois (Metacomet CC), the 2011 RIGA Amateur Champion, to claim third place with a score of 4-under par 276.
Hedden's latest accomplish simply adds to his already impressive resume. Over the course of his amateur golf career, Hedden stands as the only Connecticut golfer to have won the state's four major titles (Amateur, Open, Junior and Mid-Amateur), and he is a three-time CSGA Player of the Year.