New Haven Country Club in Hamden, Conn., has a mighty special meaning to the
VanDerLaan family of Southbury.
Twenty years ago, father John VanDerLaan and guest Jerry Pepe won a flight in the
member-guest tournament at one of the best and most prestigious courses in Connecticut.
VanDerlaan took his pro shop credit and invested in a set of U.S. Kids Golf clubs for his
“John started hitting plastic balls when he was 2, so I thought getting some regular clubs
might be good,” the elder VanDerLaan said after he and wife Maria watched their son
finish another step up the career ladder.
U.S. Kids Golf allows youngsters to swap for more advanced clubs as they grow, and the
younger John has used them to catapult to a memorable trend this summer.
Young John was back at New Haven CC after finishing in a tie for 31 st in the PGA Tour’s
Barbasol Championship. Buoyed by the confidence gained from knowing he could beat
some of the top players in the world, VanDerLaan put together a record-shattering
performance for a 54-hole total of 16-under-par 194 and a two-stroke victory over C.J.
Swift, who also broke the previous three-day record but didn’t win.
“I had a really good week, and C.J. played really well, too, so it made for a good
competition,” VanDerLaan, 22, said after playing the final round in the final group with
Swift and 2016 champion Adam Rainaud. “We were so close the entire way that you
couldn’t let up for a single shot.
“It’s kind of ridiculous to get my first pro win here, on a course I really like, in front of
the guys I grew up playing with. It’s really hard to put into words. It’s amazing. It’s
pretty cool that this is where it all started and has special meaning to me. I probably
didn’t hit it as well the final round as I did the first two days, but I made some good putts
and some that I didn’t really expect to. Sometimes when it’s going to happen it’s going to
happen. It was the third start of my pro career, so it’s nice to get a win early on.”
VanDerLaan’s 194 total shattered the record 200 that former PGA Tour and PGA Tour
Champions player Ken Green shot in 1992 at Ridgewood CC in Danbury and matched by
four-time champion Kyle Gallo in 2010 at the Country Club of Fairfield. VanDerLaan’s
record included a second-round, 8-under 62 that included six birdies and an eagle 3, was
a personal low and tied the tournament record shot by Mike Gilmore in 2014 at Rolling
Hills CC in Wilton.
VanDerLaan’s best run of his golfing life began with a victory in the NCAA Division II
Championship in his senior year at Florida Southern, where he and younger brother
Mike, who tied for 28 th in the State Open, led the Moccasins to the national team title in
2017. That qualified John for the Barbasol Shootout among all national champions,
which VanDerLaan also won at famed Scioto CC in Upper Arlington, Ohio, a suburb of
Columbus. That earned VanDerLaan an exemption in the Barbasol Championship in
Nicholasville, Ky., where he shot 14-under 274 and won $21,700 after beating PGA Tour
players such as Davis Love III, Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, 2013 Travelers
Championship winner Ken Duke, 1998 Greater Hartford Open champion Olin Browne
and 2003 PGA Championship winner Shaun Micheel.
“The thing that I learned most from that experience is that my game is good enough to
play with those guys,” said VanDerLaan, who won $12,500. “It’s a little crazy to think
about winning (the Connecticut Open). I played New Haven Country Club twice in high
school, but this is the biggest (local) event in the state, so it means a lot to win this.”
VanDerLaan began the final round with a one-stroke lead that he never lost after making
a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 3 after hooking his drive into fescue. But he and Swift were
never separated by more than two strokes thanks to some clutch putts. The final margin
of two came after Swift’s second shot on the par-5 18 th ended up in long fescue, leading
to a three-putt bogey from 40 feet.
“I kept telling myself to play the course, but I was kind of playing him at the same time
so it felt like match play from the start,” said Swift, of Great Neck Golf Club in Milford,
whose closing 67 earned him $6,250. “I didn’t hit it as well as I would have liked the last
few holes, but I drove it really well and my putting was rock solid. Starting the day, I
thought 16 under was the number (needed to win), and it was. Hats off to John. He played
well, beat me, beat the rest of the field, too. I’m disappointed, but I will come back next
year and give it another run (at Torrington Country Club).”
Rainaud, the first-year head pro at the Country Club of New Canaan, closed with 71 to
finish third at 202, two ahead of Blake Morris, CC of Waterbury (68), Mike Ballo,
Stamford (66) and Max Theodorakis, Ridgewood CC (66), who was the low amateur
after losing a playoff to Evan Grenier in 2017. Grenier (Clinton CC) shot 70 for 210 and
tie for 16 th .
RAINAUD WINS AGAIN
Rainaud survived two days of the temperature index in the low 100s to shoot 8-under 132
for 36 holes and win his third Connecticut PGA Championship at Keney Park GC in
Rainaud birdied the first two holes and then made a career-best six consecutive birdies
starting at No. 9 in an opening 8-under 62 that was his low career score and tied the
course record. That gave Rainaud a three-stroke lead that he never relinquished in the
final round, finishing three ahead of Marc Bayram (Timberlin GC-Berlin), whose 65 was
the low score the second day.
Bayram got within a stroke of Rainaud, but the first-year head pro at New Canaan CC hit
a drive, 2 iron from 230 yards to 14 feet and made the putt for eagle 3 at No. 14 to right
his listing ship. Four routine pars finished off a closing 70 that earned Rainaud $5,000
and an invitation to the 2019 Connecticut Open.
“I wanted to come out strong, but I didn’t and that added some stress,” Rainaud, 32, said
of bogeys on the third and fourth holes. “When I three-putted the 12 th hole (to stay only a
stroke ahead), my anxiety level hit an all-time high. But after I made the eagle putt, I felt
a whole lot better. There was a lot less weight on my shoulders.”
The much-decorated Rainaud was Connecticut Section PGA Player of the Year in 2014-
2016 and Assistant of the Year in 2010-2011 and 2013-2016 while at the Black Hall Club
in Old Lyme. His other major victories include the PGA of America Match Play
Championship in 2015 and 2016, and he twice qualified for the PGA Tour’s Travelers
Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
Though he came up three shots short, Bayram was quite satisfied with his runner-up
finish after a memorable start to the final day. Bayram arose at 6 a.m. and was at the pro
shop at Timberlin GC in Berlin a half-hour later with his 5-year-old son Marc, who was
starting kindergarten. When the school bus picked up young Marc at Timberlin, dad did
some work before heading to Keney Park.
Bayram’s hot stretch midway through the round got him thinking he just might be able to
overtake Rainaud, but too many miscues ended those dreams.
“I just kept plugging along trying to play my game and finish up strong,” said Bayram,
35, who is in his eighth year at Timberlin. “I like the course and played really good for
two days for me, so that’s good.”
Bayram earned $3,000 for his second best showing in Connecticut Section PGA major
event. A year ago, Bayham lost a late lead and then lost a playoff to Billy Downes in the
Spring Stroke Play Championship, missing a chance to play in his first Travelers
Chris Tallman began the final round in second place, three strokes behind Rainaud. The
two grew up together in South Hadley, Mass., attended South Hadley High School and
had the same golf coach, Via Wightman. They rode in the same cart, and Tallman
realized he couldn’t afford many mistakes, but bogeys on the first two holes proved it
wouldn’t be his day.
“It was a tough start, a couple of squirrely shots left me fighting for pars,” said Tallman,
of Cold Spring CC in Belchertown, Mass. “I had a lot of good holes but made too many
Still, Tallman shot 71 for 136 and his best finish in his third tournament start, a tie for
third with Geno Giancola, the son of longtime collegiate and Section standout Kevin
Giancola. Geno, Bayram’s assistant at Timberlin, drove three par-4s and narrowly missed
eagle 2s on his way to 65, the day’s low round. He and Tallman each won $1,800. It was
the seventh top-10 finish this year for Tallman, the leader in the Player of the Year race.
Michael Jezierski (Raceway GC-Thompson, 69), making his pro debut, and Nick
Calabrese (Wampanoag CC-West Hartford, 69) tied for fifth at 137.
… In his second Section start, Jezierski shot 3-over 145 for 36 holes to win the National
Car Rental Connecticut Section Assistant PGA Championship at the Black Hall Club in
Old Lyme. Jezierski and Kyle Bilodeau (Tumble Brook CC-Bloomfield) advanced to the
national championship Nov. 15-18 at the Wanamaker Course in PGA Golf Club in Port
St. Lucie, Fla. Bilodeau earned the spot when he won a three-hole playoff with Geno
Giancola after each shot 148.
COX ON A ROLL
Kyra Cox headed to her freshman year at Furman University on a full scholarship and
one of the hottest streaks in Connecticut golf annuals.
The 18-year-old Cox won her fourth consecutive title in dominating fashion, shooting 5-
under 211 for 54 holes to beat Sarah Houle by eight strokes in the Connecticut State
Women’s Amateur Golf Championship at Hartford Golf Club.
“My mindset was to have fun, enjoy myself and keep my momentum,” said Cox, a
member of the Eclub of Connecticut who practices and plays at Sterling Farms GC in
Stamford. “I started off pretty solid, but coming in, I kind of was all over the place. I got
a little nervous thinking about the fact that this was my last tournament of the summer
and was going to school in three weeks and all of that.
“But I’m proud to have stayed consistent with my game. I’m known for hitting it far, but
my short game, where I spend 80 percent of my time, was good and my putting improved
the last two days. But what I wanted most was to win my last start before going to
Furman because it was so important. To win here, it’s really special.”
Before becoming the tournament’s first African-American champion, Cox was the
youngest winner of the New York State Women’s Amateur by seven strokes, the Liberty
National Invitational and the Northern Junior Championship at Great River GC in
Milford. She also was among the leaders after shooting an opening 71 in the Connecticut
Women’s Open before finishing in a tie for 12 th .
Cox, a resident of Ridgefield and South Salem, N.Y., began playing golf at 9 and almost
immediately started competing in tournaments because her father/caddie Keith and coach
thought she was good because she “made good impact right away.” Cox, who graduated
from John Jay High School in June, has played in 25 American Junior Golf Association
tournaments the past five years, winning and finishing second twice each. It was during
the AJGA Girls Championship at Furman in 2015 that she first saw the campus in
“It was such a lovely place that I knew right away that that’s where I wanted to go,” Cox
said. “I committed on my third day there.”
Houle, of Rock Ridge CC in Newtown, also has had a memorable summer, capped by a
closing bogey-free 68 that was the low round of the tournament and enabled her to finish
second at 219.
“I just kept hitting fairways and greens and my long putting was definitely better,” Houle
said in explaining the difference between her 77-74 start and the 68. “I was really relaxed
and finally got to play with no school pressure.”
Houle, 18, who is a freshman at William & Mary, led Newtown High School to the
South-West Conference Championship this spring and then won the CIAC Girls
Championship and Connecticut Section PGA Junior Championship, finished fourth in the
Hartford Women’s Open and qualified for the U.S. Girls Junior Championship and PGA
of America Girls Junior Championship.
Houle’s fast finish enabled her to break out of a second-place tie with Alexandra Sazhin,
whose closing 79 put her third at 230. Sazhin, 20, a junior at Quinnipiac University, was
the 2017 Metro Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
In the Senior Division, Debbie Johnson of Oronoque Village CC in Stratford edged Jen
Holland of Lyman Orchards GC-Middlefield, 241 to 242. The Junior Division ended in a
tie, with Elizabeth Garfield of Tashua Knolls GC-Trumbull and Meghan Mitchell of New
Canaan CC each shooting 241. Garfield, who tied for seventh, also was part of the
winning team for Tashua Knolls. She and Alexa Brown, who finished fourth, shot 475 for
the week to outdistance Jean Sennett and Mercedes Large of Wampanoag CC-West
Hartford. But Sennett won the Super Senior Division by 10 strokes over Donna Harris of
Farmington Woods CC and Nancy Walker of Wethersfield.
CONNECTICUT N.E. CHAMPS
Ben James of Milford shot 2-under 138 for 36 holes to earn medalist honors and lead
Connecticut to victory in the rain-shortened New England Golf Association Junior
Invitational at Longmeadow (Mass.) CC. James finished two ahead of Chris Fosdick of
Middlefield, while Jackson Fretty of Greenwich tied for third at 141. Other team
members were Connor Belcastro of Rowayton (145, tied for 10 th ), Matt Doyle of Madison
(147, 14 th ) and Alexander Gu of Darien (152, 23 rd ).
Connecticut had a team total of 11 over, 17 better than Massachusetts, in winning its first
title since 2012 and 16 th overall. The event was reduced from 54 to 36 holes because the
scheduled final round was rained out.
… Matthew Chorches of West Hartford and Alexander Fox of Ellington captured the
Connecticut Section PGA Jack Kelly Connecticut PGA Tournament of Champions titles
at Shennecossett GC in Groton. Chorches shot 1-over 143 for 36 holes to finish one
stroke ahead of Bryan McLennan of Windsor Locks and three in front of Jared Walter of
South Windsor. Fox shot 13-over 155 to finish one ahead of Alexsandra Lapple of
Ridgefield and four better than Sophia Sarrazin of Westport. McLennan and Lapple
earned Section Junior Player of the Year honors. McLennan, who is at St. Lawrence
University, had one win and finished in the top 5 in every event that he played. Lapple,
who is only 13, had two wins, tied for 16 th in the Hartford Women’s Open and qualified
for the U.S. Junior Girls Amateur Championship.
MARTIN COPS SENIOR TITLE
Mike Martin (Tashua Knolls) shot a pair of even-par 69s to win the Senior Connecticut
PGA Championship at the Country Club of Waterbury and lead three players into the
Senior PGA Professional Championship on Oct. 25-28 at PGA Golf Club in Port St.
Martin, who celebrated his 54 th birthday on the first day of the event, finished three
strokes ahead of Bob Mucha (Edgewood GC-Southwick, Mass.) and Billy Downes
(GreatHorse GC-Hampden, Mass.). It was 12 years ago that Martin last won the second
of his two Section Match Play Championship. He also has won the 2001 Assistant
Championship and 1998 Connecticut PGA Championship.
CONROY, ABBOTT TRIUMPH
Ben Conroy had two eagles and a birdie in the first eight holes of the final round in
shooting a closing 5-under 67, the only sub-70 score in the tournament, for a 54-hole total
of 210 and a seven-stroke victory in the Connecticut State Golf Association Mid-Amateur
Championship at Richter Park GC in Darien. Conroy (New Haven CC) easily
outdistanced runner-up James Sheltman (Alling Memorial GC-New Haven) a year after
making a triple bogey on the final round and then losing in a playoff.
… John Abbott of the host club shot 5-under 139 for 36 holes to win the CSGA Public
Links Championship at Timberlin GC in Berlin. Abbott finished three strokes ahead of
Kyle Nolin (Tallwood CC-Hebron) and four in front of Sheltman and Josh Cameron
… Lapple and Max Theodorakis birdied the first playoff hole to win the CSGA Mixed
Team Championship at Torrington CC. The Ridgewood CC in Danbury duo had shot 3-
under 69 to tie Josh and Sarah Houle (Rock Ridge CC). They finished two strokes ahead
of Brent Dietz (Cedar Knob GC-Somers) and Holland, winner of the first CSGA Liz
Janangelo Caron Women’s Player of the Year in 2017.
GALLO NAMED WNE COACH
Gallo was named coach the Western New England University men’s golf team. Gallo
spent the previous three seasons as coach at his alma mater, Central Connecticut State
University. Last year, Gallo was named the Northeast Conference Coach of the Year after
leading the Blue Devils to their first NEC title in more than a decade. Central
discontinued its men’s and women’s golf teams after last season while phasing in the
elimination of 351/2 athletic scholarships among its other 16 Division teams to try to save
money at the state-funded school amid a $4.5 million budget cut.