LONGMEADOW, Mass. (July 8, 2013) -- It has always been said that the best golf courses challenge even the toughest of competitors.
That was certainly the case on Monday at the 105th Massachusetts Amateur Championship where a field of more than 140 competitors met a formidable challenge during the first round of play at Longmeadow Country Club.
Following the first of two days of stroke play, only three golfers - Joe Harney (Granite Links GC), Colin Brennan (Indian Ridge CC) and Bram Daly (Miacomet GC) - posted under-par rounds.
While those competitors were fortunate to escape the first round with scores that placed them comfortably atop the leaderboard, others were not so fortunate as the entire field averaged a score of 77.12 on the par-70 layout.
Designed by Donald Ross beginning in 1922, the golf course was restored by renowned architect Ron Prichard in 1999. Its current championship length of 6,735 may not seem long compared to some newer courses, but eight of the course's par 4 holes are nearly 450 yards long and it is playing to a par 70. In addition, one of the two par 5 holes is 601 yards from the back tees.
"You have to drive it well and for me I have to hit a lot of good mid irons," said Brennan, the 2012 Richard D. Haskell MGA Player of the Year, who posted a score of 1-under par 69. "It is probably longer than most Mass Amateur courses I have played, but it rewards good shots and the greens were really good."
One shot ahead of Brennan and leading the way with a first-round score of 2-under par 68 is Harney, who is a former Catholic Memorial High School standout who turned 21 years old this past spring. Harney finished with three birdies and just one bogey on the day.
"I have been playing a lot of golf this summer - almost 36 holes a day," said Harney. "I was really looking forward to this event and have really high expectations. I hope that I can fulfill them."
Harney got off to a great start on Monday on a front nine that he says suits his eye very well. He began the day with three straight pars before making birdie on the 134-yard, par 3 4th hole. He made the turn comfortably at 1-under par 34, and then came inches from carding an eagle on the 483-yard, par 5 10th hole. Following his drive off the tee, Harney had just 195 yards to the green and watched as his approach shot trickled towards the hole. He tapped in that putt for his second birdie of the day.
"The course is nice, and it's not too long for me," said Harney, who has played college golf at Johnson & Wales (FL) and St. Thomas Aquinas College. "I am a long player, and I felt that it is a nice advantage for me. I didn't have to hit too many drivers, and I had short irons into the holes."
While distance control was a non factor for him on this day - he hit 16 out of 18 greens - Harney relied on a hot putter down the stretch. He first drained a 25-foot uphill putt for birdie on the 140-yard, par 4 16th hole. After making bogey on the 17th hole, Harney responded with a remarkable save on the 393-yard, par 4 18th hole.
His drive off the tee found the right bunker and then he "chunked" his second shot to leave him with 50 yards to the green. He managed to get up-and-down by sinking a 20-foot, right-to-left par putt.
"The putter really helped me a lot today," said Harney. "I like this set up because I hit a left to right ball and this course helps with the cut. I thought it suited me well."
It also helped that Harney took a semester off from college this past winter and played and lived alongside two former amateurs who made Bay State headlines earlier this year.
Evan Harmeling and Chris Fitzpatrick finished first and second, respectively, at the 2013 Massachusetts Open Championship. Harney has been friends with both for many years. He played golf with Fitzpatrick first at Catholic Memorial High School and then at St. Thomas Aquinas College.
In fact, it was Harney who carried Fitzpatrick's bag at Woodland Golf Club where he watched Harmeling defeat Fitzpatrick in a three-hole aggregate playoff.
"That was a good experience," said Harney, who plans to turn pro following the 2013 U.S. Amateur Championship. "It really has helped with my competitive game and to get my game fine tuned. They have taught me to stay on track. They were always focused in. I sometimes get a little unfocused and lose it and have a bad stretch of holes. They showed me that you need to stay fine tuned for all 18 holes."
With one solid round under his belt, Harney is hoping to remain focused for another 18 holes on Tuesday and then convince Fitzpatrick to travel to Longmeadow on Wednesday to return the favor during match play.
"I sure hope so," said Harney when asked if he could persuade his friend to carry his bag if he advances to match play for the first time in his career. "He went to Martha's Vineyard, so I hope that he will come back for me."
View results for Massachusetts Amateur Golf Championship