Connecticut Players of the Year
Men: (pro) Billy Downes, GreatHorse, Hampden, Mass.; (amateur) Dave Szewczul, Tunxis Plantation CC, Farmington; Women: Jen Holland, Lyman Orchards GC, Middlefield; Boys: Noah Straub, Shennecossett GC, Groton; Girls (tie): Mia Grzywinski, CC of Farmington, and Angela Garvin, The Ranch GC, Southwick, Mass.
Travelers Win Helped Spieth at The Open
By Bruce Berlet
Jordan Spieth might not become another Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods, but golf’s newest wonderkid has already shown their mental toughness/fortitude/mettle and accomplished a few things even those legends didn’t.
When Spieth holed a 61-foot bunker shot on the first playoff hole to beat Daniel Berger, win the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell and cause one of the most enthusiastic celebrations in golf history with caddie Michael Greller, he became the first person to capture a PGA Tour title from the sand in overtime. In fact, the only players to win via a bunker shot on the final hole of regulation are Bob Tway (1986 PGA Championship) and David Frost (1990 USF&G Classic), with Greg Norman the victim on each occasion.
Three weeks later, Spieth righted the ship perhaps better than anyone in major championship history when he flipped the switch and went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie after losing the British Open lead for the first time to Matt Kuchar. And Spieth, who started the final round with a three-stroke lead that he lost when he bogeyed three of the first four holes, accomplished such a feat after a miraculous bogey on the 13th hole at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England.
Spieth blocked his drive 60 yards right of the fairway over the second-highest and steepest dune at Birkdale and into an unplayable lie after it hit a spectator in the head. He took 22 minutes to navigate through the fescue, fans, officials, and raindrops and to discuss options with European Tour chief referee John Paramor before deciding his best bet was to hit his third shot from the practice range after getting temporary immovable obstruction relief from equipment trucks. He then managed to soar that shot over the grassy hill to 25 yards short of the game and get up-and-down, making an 8-foot putt for arguably the best bogey in major championship history.
“That five was massive,” said Spieth, who apologized to Kuchar for the holdup as he tried to escape his bizarre predicament. “I was able to make a 5 when I was staring 6 or 7 in the throat and being out of the tournament. Once I lost my lead and we were tied, I actually felt the nerves go away for a few holes until I got the lead again. And then they were back, and it’s just kind of powering through that. You just don’t know really what your mind is going to do to you sometimes. Today took as much out of me as any day that I’ve ever played golf.”
After his epic/improbable/surreal Houdini act put him 4-over for the day, Spieth nearly holed a 6-iron for an ace at No. 14, made a 48-foot putt for eagle 3 at the 15th and basically clinched joining Nicklaus as the only players to win three legs of the Grand Slam before the age of 24 when he canned a 25-foot birdie putt at No. 16 for a two-stroke lead. A wedge to 8 feet after having to reload because of an ill-timed camera click led to a matching birdie at the 17th hole, and a closing par enabled Spieth to post four rounds in the 60s in a major championship for the first time, finish at 12-under 268 and beat a “crushed” Kuchar by three.
Spieth joined Woods (2000), Stenson (2016), Norman (1983) and Nick Price (1994) as the only players to hold the claret jug after carding four sub-70 rounds. And his 11th career victory clinched a spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team against the International side Sept. 26-Oct. 1 at Liberty National GC in Jersey City, N.J.
“The clubhouse here was designed after a ship, and that ship was sinking,” Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo said. “I’ve always thought a Jordan Spieth win is a roller-coaster ride, but today it was a ship that was sinking. Just a marvelous effort by Jordan and Michael Greller to re-right the ship. … I’ve never seen someone dig out of a hole that deep that he put himself in. (On No. 13) he and Greller took the boat into the middle of the storm, and 20 minutes later, they came out calm. And what happened after that was simply amazing. I’ve never seen a player turn it around in that situation that quick.”
World Golf Hall of Famer and NBC-TV analyst Johnny Miller went even further.
“It was a little ragged for a while, but what a finish, the greatest I’ve seen in championship golf,” said Miller, who won the previous British Open at Birkdale in 1976. “I thought (Phil) Mickelson and (winner Henrik) Stenson last year was as good as it was going to get. This was even better because you had a lot of this and that.”
Just as there was “a lot of this and that” in the Travelers Championship, where Spieth also lost a three-stroke lead before his historic winning bunker shot.
“The Travelers was huge for (the final round of The Open),” said Spieth, whose housemates in Southport were close friends Justin Thomas and 2015 champion, Zach Johnson. “I felt just as uncomfortable on the greens. I didn’t feel great the whole week. I was mentioned as putting well, but I just didn’t feel like I had done that, even though I had some go in. It’s something that I’m still going to be trying to work on. But I was able to win the Travelers without really putting well at all, and that was the first time ever in a PGA Tour event. And that prepared me for the feelings I had on the (Birkdale) greens that I can still win, even if I do have these kinds of feelings.”
The Travelers victory in his tournament debut enabled Spieth to join Woods as the only players in the modern era with 10 or more PGA Tour wins before 24. Woods had 15 before he turned 24, which Spieth did three days after The Open.
Between the Travelers and exorcising the demons and erasing lingering doubts of a colossal back-nine collapse in the 2016 Masters, Spieth celebrated Fourth of July weekend in Cabo with an impressive cast of elite athletes: Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Fred Couples, Russell Wilson and Dwight Freeney, a standout football player at Bloomfield High and a frequent NFL All-Pro selection. Spieth has become especially close with swimming legend Phelps after the all-time Olympic medal winner and fellow Under Armour endorser invited Spieth and Greller to his house during the Phoenix Open in February.
“We talked about our competitive lives, the good, the bad, everything that comes with what we do,” Spieth said. “(In Cabo) I looked around the room and was like, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ These guys, they included me and asked about what I’m doing, and they’re guys I’ve looked up to my entire life. It gives you a nice boost of confidence.”
Spieth’s memorable finish capped an event that tournament director Nathan Grube said was about 30 percent up on all entities that they look at, including merchandise, concessions, the gate, and parking. “By every metric I have, it’s the strongest year we’ve had,” Grube said. “We also raised close to $1.7 million for charity.” That was the highest total generated from the tournament itself, and the second most overall to the $2.8 million generated in 2015, though $1.3 million was from the Bruce Edwards Dinner for ASL, which claimed the life of former Travelers CEO Jay Fishman only 12 days after Russell Knox won the tournament.
Spieth didn’t become the youngest to complete the career Grand Slam when he tied for 28th in the PGA Championship, won by Thomas, the son, and grandson of club pros who called Spieth’s bunker shot on Twitter and then notched his first major title at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. But Spieth nearly won his next start, losing to a Dustin Johnson birdie on the first playoff hole in The Northern Trust Open, the opening event of the FedEx Cup playoffs, and then finished second to Thomas in the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., the 13th runner-up showing of his career.
Spieth’s presence in Cromwell and the early February commitment of former No. 1 Rory McIlroy for the first time helped boost the metrics and allowed Grube & Co. to prepare for larger galleries. Grube also said the state’s biggest sporting event has two new corporate partners, and some sponsorships have already been renewed for next year, which is earlier than in the past. And having Spieth as defending champions already has the 2018 tournament on June 21-24 off to a grand start.
EVANIER WINS CONN. OPEN
After two weeks in Colorado and Iowa, Jeffrey Evanier had only 24 hours to get ready for the 83rd Connecticut Open at Ellington Ridge CC. But Evanier, an assistant pro at Clinton CC, adjusted nicely, having at least a share of the lead for most of his State Open and saving his best for last. Evanier shot a steady, 1-under 71 in the final round for a 54-hole total of 11-under 205 and then won a three-hole aggregate playoff with Jason Thresher and amateur Max Theodorakis to earn the $12,500 first prize in the $50,000 tournament.
“I hadn’t had a great track record at this event, so for me to come out, play well and stick with my game plan feels really great,” said Evanier, 25, the co-leader after each of the first two rounds. “It got a little frustrating on the back nine missing some good birdie chances, but I made a few good saves to get in the playoff. And to come out on top is pretty amazing because there’s really nothing like winning your State Open. This makes me feel like I’ve done something really special with my golf career, and I can’t wait to continue.”
Evanier, a conditional player on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, led throughout the playoff after making a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole, No. 10, where Theodorakis three-putted after making a 90-foot chip that broke 15 feet to the right and trickled into the cup on the final hole of regulation.
“Under the circumstances, that was probably the best shot I’ve ever hit,” said Theodorakis, 19, a sophomore at Campbell College who plays out of Ridgewood CC in Danbury and was trying to become the first amateur winner since Jeff Hedden in 2009. “If I got 200 more of those, I don’t think I could make another one.”
Theodorakis, whose second-round 64 was a personal best and tied the course record, holed a 20-foot birdie putt at the second extra hole, No. 17, where Evanier made a 12-foot putt to save par. Evanier missed a 9-foot par putt on the third playoff hole, No. 18, but Theodorakis and Thresher also made bogey after missing the green.
Thresher made some Houdini-like saves on the back nine to close with 67 and added to a hot streak that started with a victory in the Greater Bangor Open in Maine, an 18th place finish in the Maine Open and third in the New Hampshire. He also won a second straight Massachusetts Open in June after capturing the Rhode Island Open last summer.
“I made a few good up-and-downs and thought my (40-foot birdie) putt at 18 had a chance to go in and then just pulled the second one (from 3 feet),” Thresher said. “It’s definitely disappointing because I’d never done what I did on the 18th.”
Frank Bensel (Century CC-Purchase, N.Y.) had his chance to join Kyle Gallo and John Golden as the event’s only four-time winner and when he missed a 6-foot, par-saving putt on the final hole to close with 71 for 206. It was the fifth time that he bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes. John Flaherty (TPC River Highlands) made a hole-in-one on the 235-yard 17th with a 4-iron in the final round. His second career ace led to a closing 70 for 213 and a tie for 16th.
ELLIOTT WINS SENIOR OPEN
Billy Downes pulled a Jordan Spieth in the final round of the Connecticut Senior Open at Shenecossett GC in Groton, but it still wasn’t good enough to win in his tournament debut.
Downes holed a 50-foot bunker shot for eagle 3 on the final hole of regulation for a 1-under 70, a 36-hole total of 5-under 137 and a tie with former PGA Tour player John Elliott, who grew up about 15 minutes away in Norwich. As he did on the regulation finale, Downes pulled his second shot on the par-5 18th hole into the same bunker and blasted to 10 feet on the first playoff hole. Elliott hit a poor second shot with a 6-iron right of the green but made a brilliant 40-yard pitch that stopped 2 feet from the hole. After Downes missed his birdie try, Elliott converted for his third top-four finish in four tournament starts, including a playoff loss to Jerry Courville in 2014.
“I had it, probably played as good I could tee-to-green, but just couldn’t get a putt in the hole,” said Elliott, 53, a Bristol native who hit all 19 greens in regulation in a closing 70 and won the $4,000 first prize. “But it’s really nice to win because I’m from Connecticut. I feel I was the best player (in the field), but if you don’t make any putts, guys are going to pass you by. I really wanted to win, and I’m really happy I did.”
Elliott, a Central Connecticut State University grad who shared the first-round lead with Downes and Robin Byrd, missed five birdie putts of 12 feet or less to start the back nine before hitting a brilliant 5-iron into a crosswind at the 195-yard 15th to five feet and finally converted for a two-stroke lead over Byrd, of Satellite Beach, Fla., who finished third. Downes holed a 16-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole, and the bunker shot at No. 18 elicited memories of Spieth in the Travelers Championship four weeks earlier. Elliott still had a chance to win in regulation but missed a 6-foot birdie putt.
“I’m never surprised about anything because you always have to expect something to happen,” Elliott said of Downes’ bunker shot. “None of us really did anything until the end, and you have to give him credit that he did what he had to do holing the putt and bunker shot. I knew if I made birdie I had nothing to worry about, and I’m supposed to make that (6-foot) putt but didn’t.”
Downes, still relishing “a wonderful experience” from having played in his first Travelers Championship after winning the Connecticut Section PGA Spring Stroke Play Championship in May, took solace in earning $2,750 in his tournament debut.
“Unfortunately (Spieth’s) bunker shot was for the win and mine was just to get into a playoff, but considering where I was with two holes to go, I have to be satisfied,” said Downes, 51, of Longmeadow, Mass., and Greathorse CC in Hampden, Mass. “I wasn’t really sharp the first 16 holes, but to finish the way I did was really nice.”
Clifford Blanchard of Warwick, R.I., had seven birdies and one bogey in a closing 65, which was a tournament record in the 35th annual event and one off the course record shot by amateur Blake Morris in 2014. Blanchard tied for fourth at 140 with Kirk Hanefeld of South Hamilton, Mass., who shot 71. Each won $1,375.
Dave Szewczul of Farmington closed with 69 for 144 to tie for 12th and shared low amateur honors with Jim Romaniello of Stamford, who shot a second 72. It was the seventh time that Szewczul, the 2010 champion, won or tied for the low amateur title.
But they all ended up being also-rans to Elliott, who has remained competitive despite debilitating Dupetrenz Contractepe, an abnormal thickening and tightening of the normally elastic fascia tissue beneath the skin of the palm and fingers. Elliott contracted the condition eight years ago, has only two straight fingers and has to cut the glove on his left hand so the curved fingers can grip the club.
“It’s getting worse by the day, but I can still hold the club,” said Elliott, who tied for fourth last year. “I’m just happy that I can still play.”
Elliott, who still caddies at Shelter Harbor GC in Charlestown, R.I., and the Dye Reserve in Jupiter, Fla., not far from where Tiger Woods lives, has now won in four New England states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island.
BILODEAU ENDS DROUGHT
After one of the best seasons of his golf career, Kyle Bilodeau had suffered through two years of personal and physical trials and tribulations. But Bilodeau, the first-year assistant pro at Woodway CC in Darien, always had a reminder that better times might not be far away. Wherever Bilodeau traveled, he could look at his iPhone, which had a passage on the face that read, “Every tough setback is a setup for an even greater comeback.”
Bilodeau’s comeback from more than two years without a notable victory was complete when he shot 7-under 133 for 36 holes and a two-stroke victory over Downes in the Connecticut PGA Championship at Keney Park GC in Hartford.
“I went through a lot of dark patches, visited a lot of dark places, in my life and golf game, so this really means a lot,” said Bilodeau, 32, who was followed by wife Stacy for all 36 holes. “It’s the culmination of a hard work and perseverance from all my setbacks.”
Bilodeau’s previous major victory was his second in the Spring Stroke Play Championship in 2015 that qualified him for a second appearance in the Travelers Championship while he was an assistant at Ellington Ridge CC. He won an assistants tournament in the Metropolitan (N.Y.) PGA Section in May that he said is “nothing like this.”
Bilodeau kick-started this victory with a bogey-free 64 in the first round that set the Keney Park course record and gave him a one-stroke lead over Downes. The two separated themselves from the rest of the field midway through the second round before the key stretch of the tournament. Downes failed to get up-and-down from a bunker at the 12th and three-putted No. 13 from 15 feet, missing a 4-foot comebacker. Bilodeau extended his lead to two strokes when he made an 18-foot birdie putt at No. 14 that elicited a fist pump. He iced the victory when he hit his pitching wedge approach to 2 feet at the 17th and closed with a 6-iron to 12 feet on No. 18 that clinched the $5,000 first prize and an invitation to the 2018 Connecticut Open.
“This was a long time coming and really means so much,” Bilodeau said.
Despite the loss, it has been a stellar year for Downes. He rallied to win the Spring Stroke Play Championship in May and qualify for the Travelers Championship for the second time, lost to Elliott in the Connecticut Senior Open and then finished fourth in the Section Senior Connecticut PGA Championship, qualifying for the PGA of America’s Senior Club Professional Championship on Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I wasn’t real sharp with my irons (in the final round), but I hung in there,” said Downes, who won $3,000. “I played well on the front nine but wasn’t as solid on the back, where Kyle played really well, which is usually the difference. I’m never happy to finish second, but it’s been a great year.”
Adam Rinaud, the Section PGA Player of the Year the past three years who won this event in 2014 and 2016, finished third at 137 and won $2,000. Rinaud is in his first year at famed Winged Foot Golf Course in Mamaroneck, N.Y., after six years as the assistant at the Black Hall Club in Old Lyme.
Suzy Whaley (Suzy Whaley Golf), who scored a historic victory 15 years ago at Ellington Ridge CC, shot 143 to finish in a tie for 13th while playing from tees that were 85 percent of the distance for the men. Whaley’s win in 2002 was the first for a PGA of America female member and qualified her for the 2003 Greater Hartford Open, now Travelers Championship. She was the first female to qualify for a PGA Tour event since Babe Zaharias in the 1945 Los Angeles Open, and she, Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie are the only women to play in a PGA Tour tournament. And three years ago, Whaley became the first female PGA of America officer and will begin a two-year term as president in November 2018. In fact, she had to play early in the final round because she had to be part of a PGA of America board conference call.
Marrello Sets Two Records: Fran Marrello (Canaan CC) shot 8-under 136 for 36 holes to win a record sixth Senior Connecticut PGA Championship at Suffield CC. Marrello extended his Section career title total to 18 with a four-stroke victory over Bob Mucha (Edgewood CC-Southwick, Mass.) Kevin Giancola (Golf Quest-Southington) finished third at 141. Marrello, Mucha and Downes advanced to the Senior PGA Championship.
Szewczul Prevails Again: Szewczul (Tunxis Plantation CC-Farmington) shot 1-under 141 for 36 holes to win a record fifth title in the CSGA Public Links Championship at Norwich GC. Szewczul, 63, a seven-time CSGA Senior Player of the Year and 2012 Player of the Year, finished one stroke ahead of Nick Waddington (Manchester CC), who bogeyed the final hole, Hector Gutierrez (Great River GC-Milford) and the host club’s Jeff Delucia to capture his sixth different major state and New England title. “To win another championship means a lot,” Szewczul said. “It means that I’m healthy enough to keep competing and healthy enough to test my game, which is most important. It’s really fun to still be able to compete against the young kids.”
Two weeks later, Szewczul survived a 12-man playoff to gain a match-play spot in the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at the Minikahda Club in Minneapolis, Minn., but lost 3 and 2 in the first round to second-seeded and 2016 runner-up Matt Sughrue, of Arlington, Va. The match was tied after 10 holes, but Sughrue went birdie-eagle-birdie-par-birdie to seize control. Szewczul then returned to Connecticut, birdied three of the first six holes and shot a 2-under 70 to win the Siderowf Division (55 and over) in the CSGA Tournament of Champions at Bull’s Bridge GC in South Kent. Szewczul finished one ahead of defending champion and CSGA executive director Mike Moraghan (CC of Waterbury) to extend his record for major state and New England titles to 20. In the Tettelbach Division, Brent Dietz (Cedar Knob GC-Somers) shot 68 for a three-stroke victory over Shep Stevens (New Haven CC).
10-YEAR-OLD WINS JR. TITLE
Gianna Papa survived 30 mph wind gusts, occasional downpours and her first drive going out of bounds to shoot a 7-over-par 78 and become the youngest winner of the Connecticut Section PGA’s season-ending Jack Kelly Tournament of Champions at Shennecossett GC in Groton.
“Amazing,” said the 10-year-old Papa, who plays out of Connecticut National Golf Club in Putnam and was making her tournament debut. “I wasn’t expecting 78 with all the wind and rain, but I didn’t let the first drive bother me. I love pressure, and I went pin-hunting, and it worked pretty good.”
Papa finished two strokes ahead of Mia Grzywinski of Farmington, who was Girls Player of the Year for the second consecutive year, and three in front of Sydney Hidalgo of Cheshire. Grzywinski’s 80 was first in her age division (13-18) and three ahead of Mia Hidalgo of Cheshire. Grzywinski earned 200 points for winning her age division to finish first in the Player of the Year race with 923, with Angela Fox of Ellington second with 630.
But the story of the event was Papa, who finished three ahead of Sydney Hidalgo in her age division, with Papa’s younger sister, 8-year-old Vinny, taking third at 92. Papa has already won more than 100 tournaments, with the biggest coming in October 2015 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where she captured the New England regional of the PGA of America/United States Golf Association Drive, Chip & Putt Championship to qualify for the 2016 national finals at Augusta National Golf Club.
“It was amazing,” Papa said of her four-day stay at the home of the Masters. And her best memories of her visit to one of the most famous courses in the world? “Putting on the 18th green and Tom Watson signing my shoes,” said a smiling Papa, who finished sixth in the nationals in her age division (7-9) and wore a green Masters hat in the Kelly tournament.
Grzywinski, 16, a junior at Farmington High School, was on the verge of becoming the first player to win the tournament and Player of the Year and receive the Jack Kelly Sportsmanship Award in the same year – until Papa’s historic feat. But she had few complaints.
“I normally wouldn’t be very happy with shooting 80, but I was proud of myself considering the bad weather,” said Grzywinski, who plays out of the Country Club of Farmington and is her fourth year with Suzy Whaley Golf. “And I’ve improved so much this year, so it’s really special to be Player of the Year again, especially since I played in few (Section) tournaments.”
And Grzywinski was especially happy to receive the Sportsmanship Award.
“I’ve been working my butt off to get lower scores, but this means even more,” she said.
Jared Walter of South Windsor parred the second playoff hole to beat Alex Aurora of Hamden in the Boys 13-18 Division after each shot 73. Austin Staub of Mystic didn’t play in the finale of the Connecticut PGA Junior TOUR because he had started his freshman year at Ottawa University in Phoenix, Ariz. But he had clinched the Boys 13-18 Player of the Year Award thanks to seven top-10 finishes in nine starts, including three wins, two seconds and a third and tie for fourth. He amassed 877 points, followed by Justin Mathew of Rocky Hill (575.33).
Bradley Sawka of Ellington shot 74 for a two-stroke victory over Rayan Nabilzadeh of Stamford in the Boys 10-12 Division. Sawak captured Player of the Year with 595 points, while Nabilzadeh was second with 490. The boys Sportsmanship Award winner was Kyle Camello of Coventry, and he and the other award winners will be recognized at the Section’s annual dinner at Lake of Isles Golf Club in North Stonington on Nov. 19.
The 12 players to earn spots on the Connecticut Section PGA team that faced the New England Section PGA squad in the Jim Remy Cup Tournament on Sept. 23 at Tumble Brook CC in Bloomfield were Straub, Matthew, Rupp, Matt Chorches, Jackson Roman, Matt Doyle, Kevin Lynch, Luke Carroll and girls Gryzwinski, Fox, Mia Hidalgo and Emma Beaulier.
Wilson Wins Junior Title: Will Wilson (Wee Burn CC-Darien) won two of the first four holes and never trailed in beating defending champion Andrew Franz (Eclub of Connecticut) 5 and 3 in the final of the CSGA Junior Amateur Championship at Watertown GC. Wilson’s first state title came a year after he shot 85 in qualifying and failed to reach match play. He shot 72 this year and ended a nine-match winning streak for Franz, who was attempting to become the 10th back-to-back winner.
SERRUTA WINS FIRST STATE TITLE
Moments after Autumn Serruta holed out a 2-foot par putt on the final hole of the Connecticut State Women’s Amateur Championship at Manchester CC, someone congratulated the 28-year-old for her wire-to-wire victory, the first at the state level. Serruta quickly did a double-take because she hadn’t been keeping track of what her playing partners had been doing, just focusing on her game despite a three-stroke lead starting the final 18 holes.
“I had no idea where I stood,” Serruta said. “For me personally, it’s huge (not knowing). I’m trying to play each shot, my own game and whatever happens happens. You try to shoot the lowest score you can.”
Serruta won like a champion. After making five straight bogeys at Nos. 9-13 to fall a shot behind 2008 winner Jen Holland, Serruta shot 1-under the final five holes, including a 35-foot birdie putt at No. 15 that gave her a tie for the lead. When Holland missed 6-foot par putts at Nos. 16 and 18, Serruta had a two-stroke victory after closing with a 6-over 78 for a 54-hole total of 12-over 228.
“After the five bogeys in a row, I knew I wasn’t hitting fairways, so I focused on that,” Serruta said. “This is huge, just great, competing for my state title, especially since I don’t play as much as I’d like. I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old, a long time, and this is definitely my biggest win ever.”
And nine days later, Serruta, who played collegiately at Mount St. Mary’s, won a second Golf Club of Avon women’s club championship in as many tries.
Holland (Lyman Orchards GC-Middlefield) closed with 77 and said, “My game got a little wobbly on the back nine, but that’s golf. I thought my swing was pretty good, but the lip-outs (at Nos. 11 and 16) ended up being the difference.”
Julia Kemmling (Timberlin GC-Berlin), whose closing 73 was the low round of the tournament, Sarah Houle (Rock Ridge CC) and Alexandra Sazhin (Golf Performance Center) tied for third at 232.
Holland Notches Two Titles: Holland shot a 1-over 73 to win a record sixth Southern New England Women’s Golf Association Championship at Tumble Brook CC in Bloomfield. Holland, who previously won in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2013 and 2014, finished nine strokes ahead of Debbie Johnson (Sterling Farms GC-Stamford). Four weeks later, Holland shot 5-over 77 for a three-stroke victory over Johnson and Mercedese Large (Wampanoag CC-West Hartford) in the Women’s Tournament of Champions at Silvermine GC in Norwalk. Judy Staknis (Blackledge CC-Hebron) with the net division with a 69. In early September, Holland shot 18-over 162 for 36 holes in qualifying to earn one of 64 spots in match play in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at Waverly CC in Portland, Ore., but lost 6 and 4 to 11th-seeded Judith Kyrinis of Canada in the first round.
Whaley 55th in LPGA Major: Whaley shot 20-over 236 for 54 holes to tie for 55th in the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship at the French Lick Resort in French Lick, Ind. Whaley received a sponsor’s exemption into the 81-women field that included five World Golf Hall of Fame members. Trish Johnson of Bristol, England, led wire-to-wire, finishing at 4-under 212, three ahead of Michele Redman, and earned $90,000.
Eleey, Mom Win N.E. Women’s Amateur: With her mother Aileen caddying for her in the final round, Jacquelyn Eleey of Quincy, Mass., shot a 1-over 74 for a 54-hole total of 6-over 225 to win the New England Women’s Golf Association Amateur Championship at Hop Meadow CC in Simsbury. Aileen, who grew up close to Hop Meadow, helped her daughter avenge a one-stroke loss in the 2015 tournament. Jacquelyn, a member of Georgetown women’s golf team who won the 2016 Massachusetts Women’s Amateur, finished three ahead of Hannah Ghelfi of Falmouth, Mass., and four in front of Kemmling, who led through the first two rounds before closing with 80. Kemmling led Connecticut to the Fanchon Cartin Cup, given to the team champion.
Daniela Lendl Joins USGA: Daniela Lendl, the youngest of three golfing daughters of tennis Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl, was named one of the USGA’s rules of golf associates. Lendl, a member of the 2012 national championship team at the University of Alabama, had done a three-month internship and worked 18 months as the director of women’s golf and member services for the CSGA.
FOURSOME NAMED TO SECTION HALL
John Paesani, Ken Doyle and the late Ed Rubis and George Hunter were named to the Connecticut Section PGA Hall of Fame and will be inducted Nov. 19 at the organization’s annual “Hall of Fame and Champions Tribute” at Lake of Isles in North Stonington.
“Something like entering a Hall of Fame is always an honor,” Doyle said. “If you have a passion for what you do, which is something I’ve had all my life, then this is the greatest final tribute that I could possibly have. I’ve loved what I’ve done and done it from my heart my whole life.”
Doyle, 71, was head pro at Hop Meadow for 30 years and has been pro emeritus the past decade, spending most of his time on the practice range. He is one of the most respected and sought-after instructors in the Section, and his clients have included Ivan Lendl, World Golf Hall of Fame member Gary Player, former PGA Tour and current PGA Tour Champions player Brad Faxon and University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie.
Doyle began his professional career as an assistant at Rockledge GC in West Hartford (1969-73) before becoming an assistant at Hop Meadow (1972-73). His first head job was at Waubeeka Springs CC in Williamstown, Mass. (1974-75), followed by Wyantenuck CC in Great Barrington, Mass. (1976) and a second stint at Hop Meadow (1977-2007 as head pro and 2008 to the present as pro emeritus).
Doyle’s dedicated and persistent work has earned him several Section awards: Professional of the Year (1995), the organization’s most prestigious honor; Teacher of the Year (1993 and 2010) and Horton Smith Award for outstanding and continuing contributions in developing and improving education opportunities (2003). He also has been named the No. 1 teacher in Connecticut by Golf Digest, and his expertise extends from a longtime friendship with Player to helping someone learn how to play the game.
Paesani, 58, has been a PGA member for 31 years. He was the head pro and general manager at Norwich GC for 22 years before moving to the New England Section, where he is currently the head pro at The Bay Club at Mattapoisett in Massachusetts. He was an active member of Connecticut Section governance, serving many years on the Board of Directors and as Tournament Committee chairman, was on the PGA of America Competitions Committee and received the Section’s President’s Award for fundraising in 2010.
Paesani also has had an impressive playing career, winning the 2001 Connecticut Open, the Connecticut PGA Championship (1991, 1993, 1997), the Connecticut PGA Professional Championship (1997, 2001) and Tournament of Champions (2001), was Player of the Year in 1991, 1992, 1997 and 2001 and earned the Section Vardon Trophy for low stroke average for the- year in 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2001.
Paesani, a Quarter Century member of the PGA of America, also worked as an assistant pro at the Golf Club of Avon, Dedham (Mass.) Country & Polo Club and Dorado Beach Golf and Tennis Club in Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico, and a teaching pro at Brae Burn CC in Newton, Mass. He has collegiate coaching experience as the associate men’s head golf coach at UConn (1996-2001) and has played in 14 PGA Tour events, including five major championships, and the Canon Greater Hartford Open, now Travelers Championship, seven times.
“I am honored and humbled to be part of a group that includes both peers and mentors,” Paesani said. “As a young aspiring golfer growing up in Connecticut at Willimantic Country Club, I dreamed of a career in golf. I was fortunate to have parents and a grandfather who supported that dream and helped make it come true. It has been a wonderful ride, one that will hopefully continue for many years to come.”
A PGA Tour player in the mid-1950s and head pro at Oxford CC and Chicopee CC in Massachusetts, Rubis was a member of the PGA of America for 42 years. His major titles included the Section PGA Championship in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1972 and 1974 and the Senior Connecticut PGA Championship in 1983 and 1984. He competed in four PGA Championships and numerous U.S. Opens and was a member of the South Florida Section when he died in 2002 at 77. He was inducted into Western Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame posthumously in 2008.
Hunter, who died in 1966, was the head pro at Meriden Municipal GC for 30 years. He was the club’s first pro from 1929-31, was at Pleasant View CC in Meriden in 1932-37 and returned to Meriden Municipal in 1938 and remained there until he retired in 1965. After his retirement, the name of the course was changed to the George Hunter Memorial Golf Course and remains the only facility in the Section to bear the name of a PGA member. He won the Connecticut PGA Championship in 1934 and played an exhibition match with World Golf Hall of Famer Tony Lema and two club members in 1964.
More than 30 PGA section pros are considered for the Hall of Fame each year. The Hall of Fame committee is comprised of PGA professionals and past inductees Walter Lowell, Frank Selva and John Nowobilski. A total of 35 professionals have been inducted since 2008.
FLOOD NAMED PRO OF THE YEAR
Bill Flood was named the Section PGA Golf Professional of the Year, the highest honor that a section pro can receive. The teaching pro at Ridgewood CC in Danbury was recognized at the Section’s special awards dinner in July.
“I’ve had a great, great life,” Flood said. “I just never thought it would be like this. Once I started in golf, it took over my life. This (award) is pretty special to me because when my dad (Bill Sr.) was alive we would talk about this, that ‘hopefully someday I’d get this award.’ He knew a lot of guys, he really followed the Section. And for me to be on the wall with all those guys before me? It’s the highest award in the Section and I really have to thank my dad.’’
Flood, 55, was originally a tennis enthusiast but started playing golf after becoming a district manager for Oldsmobile in the Syracuse, N.Y., area. Then he “fast-tracked in the golf business” when he returned to Newtown in 1996 after he became the pro at Rock Ridge. He was named Director of Instruction at Ridgewood CC in 2016.
Other award winners were: Teacher of the Year, David Bove, Tashua Knolls GC-Trumbull; Bill Strausbaugh Award, John Korolyshun, PGA Active Member; Horton Smith Award, Ron Beck, Fox Hopyard GC-East Haddam; Player Development Award, Vic Svenberg, PGA Life Member; Youth Player Development Award, Jennifer Barnsley, Race Brook CC-Orange; Merchandiser of the Year (Public), Bill Rosenblum, The Ranch GC-Southwick, Mass.; Merchandiser of the Year (Private), William Wallis, New Haven CC; Assistant Professional of the Year, Josh Detmer, Wethersfield CC; Golf Sales Representative of the Year: John Fagan of Wilson Staff.
MORIARTY REPLACES POLK
David Polk retired as the executive director and president of The First Tee of Connecticut on Aug. 1, though he will help as a consultant with the transition to successor Mark Moriarty until Jan. 1. “I’ve been honored and blessed to have had the position going on 71/2 years,” Polk said. “It has been a great experience and has been very rewarding.” Polk, 66, said there are about 72,000 participants in TFTC and more than 155 schools in the state have programs. He plans to spend more time with his family and grandchildren, travel and play golf.
Moriarty, 34, a native of Waterbury and graduate of Central Connecticut State University, has been TFTC’s program director since March 2011. His major responsibility has been to manage participant programs and facility relations, communicate with parents and participants about national and local opportunities and training and management of staff, including 60 coaches and volunteers. He previously was an assistant pro at Hartford GC for nine years and is a member of the PGA of America with the Connecticut Section PGA, where he serves on the Junior Golf Committee and previously was the education director for the Assistants’ Association. With The First Tee, he is a Recognized First Tee Coach and working toward status as a Recognized Executive Director.
“I am excited and humbled by the opportunity to be the next executive director of The First Tee of Connecticut and to continue the work of (first executive director) Bruce Wilson and David Polk before me,” Moriarty said. “As we assume responsibility for operations in Fairfield County and celebrate The First Tee’s 20th anniversary at the national level, it is an exciting time for our organization. I look forward to continuing to introduce our mission to positively impact the lives of young people to communities throughout Connecticut. Having worked for and with David for over six years, I can’t thank him enough for what I’ve already learned and for what I’ll still be able to learn before December 31.”
KUDOS TO KELLY, CINK
Congratulations to University of Hartford alum Jerry Kelly and two-time Travelers Championship winner Stewart Cink on a notable achievement and special recognition.
Kelly birdied four of the last seven holes to shoot a tournament-record, 19-under 197 and beat Jerry Smith by a stroke in the PGA Tour Champions Boeing Classic in Snoqualmie, Wash. It was Kelly’s first Champions win in his 13th start since turning 50 in November. He had three wins on the PGA Tour, the last in the 2009 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
“It’s definitely my first wire-to-wire win, and, really, it’s because my wife (Carol) started traveling again,” Kelly said. “This is the first really full week that we’re together again after just dropping my son (Cooper) off at Boulder, Colorado, for college. I wanted to do a little something to hopefully ease her mind about what we just went through in dropping off one of the coolest kids I’ve ever met.”
Meanwhile, off the course, Cink received the Payne Stewart Award for his philanthropic endeavors, commitment to growing the game, professionalism and the distinguished manner in which he embraces the values of golf. The award is presented annually to a professional golfer who best exemplifies Stewart’s steadfast values of character, charity and sportsmanship. Stewart, a World Golf Hall of Fame member and 11-time PGA Tour winner, died tragically in a plane mishap in 1999.
“To receive the Payne Stewart Award is one of the greatest honors of my career,” said Cink, a Georgia Tech graduate who has won six times on the PGA Tour, including the 2009 British Open. “Payne Stewart was a player and person whom I admired greatly, both on and off the course. His character, his infectious smile and his dedication to growing the game were all traits that I have always aspired to emulate. I am thankful that PGA Tour and (sponsor) Southern Company have found a way through this award to honor and remember Payne’s legacy.”
“Stewart Cink epitomizes the ideals around which the Payne Stewart Award is built – character, charity and sportsmanship,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. “It’s fitting that we will present the honor to him during the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club, not only is Stewart a member there, but he also passionately supports the East Lake Foundation, which has done incredible community work in that area. When his wife Lisa dug in for her fight against breast cancer (in 2016), Stewart was a pillar of strength and provided an admirable sense of perspective. He had done similarly a few years earlier when he won the British Open, even as many were cheering on the sentimental favorite, Tom Watson. Stewart smiled. He understood. In every sense of the words, he showed character and sportsmanship.”