Pictured Above: Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame Members in attendance. Back row (L to R): Bruce Berlet (2009), Reverend William T. Lee (2008), Dave Szewczul (2010), Bill Hermanson (2012), Dennis Coscina (1996), Walter Lowell (1979, Gary Reynolds (2011). Front row (L to R): Ted May (2014), Tom Gleeton (2016), Jeff Hedden (2016), Richard J. Zanini (2015)
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The Heddens of New London Country Club were a talented lot, and winning the CSGA’s Father-Son Championship had become a family tradition. Jeff Hedden’s father Richard won it with Jeff’s grandfather, Graham before Richard won it on separate occasions with both Jeff and Jeff’s brother, Chris. On his own, Jeff displayed an early aptitude for state-wide competitive golf in winning Connecticut Junior Amateur titles in 1980 and 1981.
But after a long hiatus from both championship golf and the winner’s circle, Jeff began competing again at the urging of his wife, Nicole. It was the year 2000, and Nicole, a past Connecticut Women’s Golf Association champion recognized Jeff’s natural talent and told him, “You know, you’re really good. You should try the CSGA stuff again.”
Two years later Jeff won the Connecticut Amateur championship at the Country Club of Farmington, with Nicole as his caddie.
“That was like an out-of-body experience,” Jeff said. “I still didn’t have the maturity or experience.” Later in 2002, he won his second CSGA major, the Mid-Amateur championship at Wee Burn Country Club. He also reached the national stage, qualifying for both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
The 2002 Connecticut Mid-Amateur would be the first of four Mid-Am titles as Jeff went on to win in 2005, 2006 and 2009. When he wasn’t winning he was always in the hunt, finishing as runner up in 2010, and in third place in 2007 and 2008.
Jeff’s game and expanding list of accomplishments grew more impressive with each passing year throughout the 2000s. He qualified again for both the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur in 2003, as he was steadily establishing himself as a fixture at national championships. From 2002 through 2009 he qualified for the US Mid-Am seven times, and reached match play on three of those occasions. He finished second in the Connecticut Player of the Year standings in 2006 and 2007 before earning the title outright in 2008 and 2009.
His biggest victory was the 2008 Connecticut Open at Round Hill Club. With wife Nicole caddying throughout the Championship, Jeff forced a playoff with three-time past champion Kyle Gallo after a spectacular up and down on the final hole, then claimed the title with a birdie on the first extra hole. He remains the only amateur to have won the Open in the 21st century, the last to do so since Jay Rice of Wee Burn in 1999.
Rick Odermatt, longtime writer and producer of The Connecticut Golfer declared Jeff the “Player of the Decade” after the 2009 season for his extraordinary ten-year record.
“It was an unofficial accolade,” recalls Odermatt, “but it did seem to put in perspective how Jeff really dominated the decade. A compilation of Player of the Year points showed that Jeff amassed 4,100 points to runner up Mark Farrell’s 2,916 from 2000-2009.”
Odermatt wrote at the time, “Add to that an arthritic shoulder, a sometimes painful foot condition and the natural aging process, and it’s surprising that Hedden’s game improved through the 2000s with the speed of a youngster. He has gotten a little gray at the temples over the decade, but the biggest change is what goes on now between them.”
Reflecting on the decade, Jeff acknowledged his growth in the mental game, “In the first three years, I’d have a great round, then mentally break down,” he said. “Over the last three or four years, I’ve come the farthest in terms of maturity and experience. Having some success helps you to have more success. Instead of wondering if you can win, you know you can win.”
As dominant as he was over the first ten years of the new century, Jeff wasn’t about to tap the brakes. He won his third CSGA Player of the Year title in 2010, and in 2011 claimed his biggest prize outside the state of Connecticut when he won the New England Amateur Championship.
An outstanding partner and teammate as well, Jeff won the CSGA Four Ball Championship four straight years, 2007 through 2009 with Ryan Leahy, and in 2010 with Jim Gentile. The Hedden-Gentile duo also claimed the CSGA Two Man Championship in 2008, 2009, and 2011. A seven-time member of the CSGA’s Tri-State team, Jeff also represented Connecticut three times in the USGA State Team Championship.
Nicole’s encouragement of her husband in 2000 led to enormous success and the two were an outstanding tandem.
“She was always a great caddie, and terrific at reading greens,” Jeff said. “When she wasn’t on the bag, I would wonder if I would be doing better if she were. She had a calming influence on me. ”
For her part Nicole recalls Jeff as the calm one. “He may think I was calm, but really I get really nervous and I think he has nerves of steel. I look at him sometimes and I know he’s in one of his zones.”
One of the greatest amateur golfers in Connecticut history and the most dominant player for more than ten years at the start of the 21st century, Jeff Hedden enters the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame as a unanimous selection in the category of Distinguished Golf Achievement.
The Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame recognizes two categories when considering nominees, “Distinguished Achievement in Golf” for an individual’s competitive accomplishments, and “Distinguished Service to Golf” for exemplary dedication to growing and supporting the game. Tom Gleeton could be considered for induction into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in either category, such is the breadth of his accomplishments in golf.
Tom grew up in Cheshire playing golf at the Country Club of Waterbury where he became one of Connecticut’s best amateurs during the 1970s. He won the New England Junior, qualified for the U.S. Amateur, reached the semifinals of the Connecticut Amateur and became a three-time All American at Florida Southern College.
In 1979 Tom became the first player from Connecticut to capture an NCAA Individual Title in golf while leading Florida Southern to their first NCAA Team Championship. Longtime Florida Southern Head Coach, Charley Matlock often credited Tom with jumpstarting what would become one of the nation’s most successful college golf programs, a program that to date has won twelve national championships and produced players such as Lee Janzen, Rocco Mediate and Marco Dawson. Tom was the first golfer to be inducted into the Florida Southern Sports Hall of Fame.
“Tom was the one who really got us started,” said Matlock. “He proved that we could be a program that could attract and develop great players, and win NCAA individual and team championships. He helped create a recruiting pipeline for us in the Northeast that led to bringing in players like Tom Patri and Steve Sokol and many more. We are a small school, but what Tom did for us can’t be overstated. He was to Florida Southern what Arnold Palmer was to Wake Forest.”
Tom turned professional after college and earned full PGA Tour status in 1986. In a playing career that has spanned more than three decades Tom has won more than 70 professional events, including the CT Section PGA Stroke Play Championship five times. He has won the PGA Section Match Play, Club Pro Championship and Section Championship, finished runner-up in the Connecticut Open, and been named CT Section Player of the Year.
CSGA Executive Director, Mike Moraghan describes Tom as “a great competitor and an idea man, always thinking of ways to improve and ways of helping others improve.”
“For many years I’ve been in the habit of calling on Tom just to find out what he is thinking and what he’s working on,” recalls Moraghan. “He has a wonderful nature about him, a calmness and reflectiveness with real world knowledge and experience. He is a ‘still waters run deep’ type of guy.”
Tom’s service to golf as a club professional is as impressive as his competitive record. A past president of the Connecticut Section PGA, Tom served eight years on regional and national boards including the PGA’s Scholarship, Education and Employment Boards. He has spent many years directing mentor programs for assistant golf professionals, and has developed and personally supported golf programs for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Waterbury.
Tom is currently in his 25th consecutive year serving as Head Professional at the Country Club of Waterbury. He is widely credited with leading a rebuilding effort when the club’s membership declined after the 2008 recession, establishing a model since adopted by other private clubs.
“It is very satisfying to bring new people in and show them what we have here,” says Tom. “We walk out onto our first tee and just look around and it has a real effect on people. Of course, we think our place is special, but really every club and every golf course has so much to offer people. That’s the message we want to share with everyone in the golf business, take pride in what you are doing and be enthusiastic and willing to work hard to grow your operation.”
Sharing, whether it be his time, his ideas, or the golf course that has been his home for so many years, has always come naturally to Tom. It is primarily because of Tom that so many Connecticut state championships, including the CSGA’s annual Russell C. Palmer Cup continue to be held at Waterbury.
The entrance wall at the Connecticut Section PGA office in Glastonbury is adorned with four large wooden plaques bearing the names of Connecticut’s most accomplished professionals who have earned their place in state history. Every member of the Section Hall of Fame, every Section Player of the Year, every Past President, and every Section Champion is listed chronologically. When Tom Gleeton was inducted into the CT Section PGA Hall of Fame in 2014, he became the only person in Connecticut history to have his name inscribed on each of the four PGA plaques. In 2016 Tom adds yet another life achievement, as a unanimous selection into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame.