Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. A phrase which originated from UCLA coach Henry Russell Sanders in 1953. As you read of tales of triumph in this year’s CSGA championships, you might notice one peculiar omission from the list of champions - John Flaherty of TPC River Highlands.
While Flaherty, the 2011 Connecticut Junior Amateur Champion, didn’t win a championship, he recorded one of the most consistent years in CSGA history, contending in virtually every championship this summer. Although Flaherty didn’t win an individual tournament, his remarkable play throughout the year earned him the biggest honor an amateur golfer in Connecticut can attain - the Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year award.
In 2014, Flaherty had the best year of his young amateur career, finishing fourth in last year’s Player of the Year standings. He nearly won the Russell C. Palmer Cup, losing in a playoff on the third extra hole, he was a semi-finalist at the Connecticut Amateur, and he finished tied for eleventh at the Connecticut Open. Going into the 2015 season, Flaherty’s main goal was simple – improve upon his success from the previous season and try to do better in each tournament in 2015.
“Last year, I was fourth in the Player of the Year points standings and was in contention in every major tournament. I knew that I did well in the Palmer Cup, Amateur and Open the previous year, so my main goal was just to finish better in each tournament from the previous one.”
Indeed, Flaherty did just that. In the first major tournament of the season, the Russell C. Palmer Cup, Flaherty started off slow with an opening round 73 that left him seven strokes behind the lead. Paired with Ben Day for the 36-hole finale, Flaherty charged up the leaderboard, using a final round 65 that included an eagle putt on the final hole to catapult him into a playoff. Although Day would win the playoff with a birdie on the first extra hole (see page 14), the experience of coming through in the clutch was a memorable one for Flaherty.
“With four holes to go in the final round, I noticed that the staff started following our group, so I knew we were close,” said Flaherty. “When I made the 35 foot eagle putt on the last hole to tie Ben, I wasn’t sure what it meant, but when I came in and realized that it put me in a playoff, that was just a great moment.”
After nearly winning the Palmer Cup, Flaherty went on to the Connecticut Amateur Championship at Black Hall Club, where he shot rounds of 74-66—140 to claim the R.M. Grant Medalist honors by two strokes. His round of 66 was three clear of the next lowest score recorded in either stroke play round. Unfortunately for Flaherty, he would face Philip Perry of Black Hall Club, who earned the final spot in match play in a playoff. After a close match where the pair made a total of ten birdies, Perry knocked off Flaherty on the 19th hole.
Heading into the 81st Connecticut Open Championship at The Patterson Club, Flaherty was locked in the middle of a tight race for Player of the Year. Evan Grenus, who captured the Connecticut Amateur, held a slim lead but Flaherty knew a good week could put him in control.
For the second consecutive year, Flaherty began the Open in contention, shooting a round of six under-par 65 to share the lead with fellow UCONN teammate Corey Birch of Silver Spring Country Club. Although a 76 in round two sidetracked his hopes of becoming the first amateur since Jeff Hedden in 2008 to win the historic championship, Flaherty charged up the leaderboard in the final round. His final round 67 included five birdies and just one bogey, good enough for a runner-up finish and low amateur honors.
“I really enjoyed playing in the Open this year, the atmosphere of the tournament was great,” said Flaherty. “There are a lot of guys you don’t see normally throughout the year, so playing against them is really fun. The amount of work that goes into the event with the scoreboards and the online scoring makes it special, and the Patterson Club was just an awesome venue.”
Flaherty’s second place finish earned him a total of 400 points, putting him ahead for good in the Player of the Year race. His finish at the Open might not have been a win, but when you consider that he beat the likes of Bensel, Gallo and Gaffney, just to name a few, it makes it that much more impressive.
A rising senior at the University of Connecticut, Flaherty is an integral part of a team that fielded four players in the top 20 of this year’s standings. Zach Zaback (6th), Chris Wiatr (10th), and Michael Masso (16th) all had their share of success in 2015. Although Wiatr graduated this past spring, incoming freshman Nick Harrington already proved that he will be a sound contributor to a team that features some of the best amateur golfers from New England. There isn’t much doubt that the competitive atmosphere has helped Flaherty elevate his game to the next level.
“Whether it’s just practicing or qualifying for the next tournament, it’s definitely a competitive atmosphere,” said Flaherty. “We do a long qualifying tournament at the beginning of the school year, and that’s extremely competitive because everyone wants to play in the lineup. Even when we are just practicing, we always like to play matches against each other and everyone wants to beat everyone.”
In an age where virtually every competitive golfer has a swing instructor, Flaherty has been his own coach. “This year, I just worked on being mentally stronger on the course and forgetting bad holes,” said Flaherty. “I tried to practice what I did poorly at the previous tournament over the next few days in order to get ready for the next event.”
Like a true competitor, Flaherty is already looking ahead to 2016 and setting his sights on qualifying for the USGA State Team Championship, an event that Connecticut finished tenth in 2014. Players accumulate points in CSGA, regional and national events over a two-year cycle, with the top three point getters earning a coveted spot on the team.
“I would really love to play in the USGA State Team Championship…that is honestly the event I am most looking forward to. To represent the state of Connecticut, playing in a USGA event in a team atmosphere…I feel like that would be awesome to play in.”
|Rank||Player||Club Name||Total Points|
|1||Flaherty, John||TPC River Highlands||815.00|
|2||Szewczul, Dave||Tunxis Plantation CC||596.00|
|3||Hrostek, Chet||GC at Oxford Greens||578.00|
|4||Day, Ben||New Haven CC||575.00|
|5||Grenus, Evan||TPC River Highlands||425.00|
|6||Zaback, Zach||TPC River Highlands||394.67|
|7||Robinson, Clark||Ellington Ridge CC||342.00|
|8||Reilly, Greg||CC of Darien||341.00|
|9||Hallisey, Patrick||TPC River Highlands||334.00|
|10||Wiatr, Chris||CC of Waterbury||317.67|
|11||Vartelas, Geoff||Lyman Orchards GC||252.50|
|12||Cameron, Josh||Shennecossett GC||244.29|
|13||Dietz, Brent||Cedar Knob GC||219.67|
|14||Swift, CJ||Great River GC||215.00|
|15||Ahern, Brian||Wampanoag Country Club||212.50|
|16||Masso, Michael||Lake of Isles GC||208.00|
|17||Pastore, Paul||eClub of Fairfield County||207.00|
|18||Thompson, Michael||Glastonbury Hills CC||201.00|
|19||Perry, Philip||Black Hall Club||195.00|
|20||Torrance, Nick||Lake of Isles GC||171.00|