Walpole, MA — Slow and steady may not have earned him headlines during the first two rounds, but Michael Welch (Furnace Brook GC) saved his best for last and was the only talk of the town on Thursday afternoon when he captured the 103rd Massachusetts Open Championship.
Under the backdrop of picturesque Walpole Country Club, Bay State native Welch carded a sizzling score of 4-under par 67 for a three-round total of 5-under par 208.
It marks his first career MGA Championship title. As a result of his victory on Thursday, he has earned a winner’s check of $15,000.
"This is up there pretty high," said Welch about winning the Clarence G. Cochrane Memorial Trophy. "It's home, and I am around friends and family. They see me travel the world and play online, but it's good to come into my backyard and get a good result."
Heading into the third and final round, Welch found himself five shots behind the leaders. Despite the deficit that needed to be made up through 18 holes, Welch and his good friend Jason Parajeckas (Pleasant Valley CC) – whom he was paired with on Thursday – went about their business and appeared to be in their own personal duel.
Both players matched each other stroke for stroke and were one shot apart through 13 holes. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the leaders had fallen back and Welch and Parjeckas were the two names standing atop the leaderboard.
"It inspired me and kept me going," said Welch about playing with Parajeckas. "I really didn't know what was going on behind us. I knew that me and Jay were playing good and that if [the leaders] were slipping up we had a chance. Then we got to 18 and I found out what was going on."
With Welch one shot ahead of Parajeckas at the turn, both players made birdie on the 11th and 12th holes. Parajeckas pulled even with a birdie on the 14th hole, but Welch countered with a birdie on the 15th hole. He went on to hold steady and make three pars, including one on the 417-yard, par 4 18th hole which was playing as the fourth hardest hole this week.
"I got a little chocked up walking on 18 because I knew that the hard part was over," said Welch. "I hit the two quality shots. It was hard to know because there were guys behind me, but I knew that they were going to have to play good coming in to get me."
First-round leader Michael Ballo (Stamford, CT), who struggled on the final day with a 2-over par 73, had a chance to force a playoff but he missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to join Parajeckas in second place. It was the second straight year that Ballo has finished second at this event.
"I hit a lot of quality shots today," said Welch, who played the back nine at 6-under par this week. "I hit it in the fairway a lot. I played the par 5s good and hit good drives which set up the holes. It's a defensive golf course, so you can never really be aggressive so you have to plot your way around."
Thursday's victory was sweet redemption from 2011 when Welch entered the final round of the Massachusetts Open Championship with a lead but fell back to finish T9 overall.
History was not to repeat itself this time around.
"I've gotten a lot better and I grew up,” said Welch, who won the New England Amateur Championship in 2003 and 2004. "I let my emotions get a little out of check, and I have gotten a lot better at that and that has helped me be a lot more consistent. My game is as good as it has ever been, but I am thinking better. I am not beating myself anymore where I used to do that all of the time. Now I hit a couple of bad shots and try to go from there."
Since turning professional in 2005, the 30-year-old Welch has posted two NGA Hooters Glf Tour wins as well as victories at the Vermont Open (2008), New Hampshire Open (2008) and Cape Cod Open (2010).
And now he can add a Massachusett Open Championship title to that list.
"It’s going to mean a lot to have my name etched on top of that," said Welch staring at the Clarence G. Cochrane Memorial Trophy.
Grillo & Congdon Capture The Commonwealth Cup
For the second straight year, the Commonwealth Cup - awarded to the lowest-scoring amateur competitor - was earned by two players.
Chris Congdon (Foxborough CC) and Antonio Grillo (Farm Neck GC) finished with scores of 1-over par 214. This marks the second straight year that Congdon has claimed this honor and the first such honor for Grillo, who is a two-time Christopher Cutler Rich MGA Junior Player of the Year who graduated from Harvard University this past May.
Shot of the Day
Veteran knowledge goes a long way in this Championship. Two-time winner of this event - Andy Morse (West Roxbury, MA) - scored the shot of the day on Thursday with his second shot on the 368-yard, par 4 13th hole.
Morse hit his 8-iron from 133 yards and watched as it found its way into the bottom of the hole! It marked Morse's second eagle of the tournament. On Tuesday, Morse made an eagle on the 518-yard, par 5 15th hole.
In addition to winning the Massachusetts Open Championship in 1989 and 1992, Morse spent more than 15 years on the Nationwide Tour and played in three U.S. Open Championships. He has also made 16 holes in one during competitive play, so it was no surprise that the current teaching professional at McGolf in Dedham came up with the shot of the day this week!