2016 Penn State graduate, Geoff Vartelas of Cromwell and TPC River Highlands fired a bogey-free 68 in the opening round of the USGA Men’s State Team Championship on Wednesday and led Connecticut into a 1st place tie with two rounds to go in the 54-hole championship.
Fifty-two three-man teams, one from each of the fifty states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico are gathered at the Country Club of Birmingham in Birmingham, Alabama for the biennial stroke play event in which the low two scores each round produces a team’s total score.
Combined with Vartelas’ 68, John Flaherty’s first round 72 gave Connecticut a score of 140, two-under par on the 7,162 yard par 71 CC Birmingham layout. Flaherty, a 2016 UConn graduate from Glastonbury also plays out of TPC River Highlands. The third member of the Connecticut squad, Chet Hrostek of New Milford and the Golf Club at Oxford Greens was a non-counter with 81 in the opening round.
Texas, Missouri and Ohio joined Connecticut at the top of the leaderboard at 140, with Pennsylvania alone in 5th place, two strokes back at 142. Connecticut’s neighbor to the north, Massachusetts also cracked the top-10 in the opening round with a 143 total, placing them in a tie for 6th with Minnesota.
Vartelas was remarkably consistent in making relatively easy pars over his first eleven holes. He lipped out for birdie on four occasions including the par three 11th after nearly holing a 6 iron from 180 yards. His shot from the tee box power-lipped the cup leaving him a 5-footer and ultimately another tap-in par. He finally broke through with birdies at 12 and 13, and again at 18 after an outstanding fairway bunker shot from 130 yards left him 15 feet below the hole.
Among the 156 players in the field Vartelas and Joshua Irving of Texas are tied for first in the individual standings.
“It was just a really solid round, and I got on a nice roll on the back nine,” said Vartelas, “this is a tough golf course and everything in your game has to be working pretty well. You have to keep it in play and put it in the right spots on the greens.”
CSGA Executive Director, Mike Moraghan who is serving as Team Captain during the Championship said, “Geoff’s round was really impressive. I think a lot of guys might have gotten impatient just making par after par when having so many birdie opportunities, but he looked very calm out there. To produce a bogey-free round like that in a USGA Championship is a great accomplishment.”
The USGA State Team Championship was first conducted in 1995. Defending champion Texas has claimed the title four times, the most of any state. Connecticut’s best finish is 6th in 2003. In 2014 Connecticut finished tied for 8th with David Pastore finishing as the runner up individual.
Connecticut is paired with Ohio and North Carolina in the second round starting at 12:30pm. The field will be cut to the low 21 teams and ties after Thursday’s second round with the final 18 holes to be played on Friday.