WATERBURY, Conn. (May 22, 2014) -- Blake Morris of the Country Club of Waterbury completed an improbable comeback Wednesday, winning the 11th Russell C. Palmer at his home club on the fourth playoff hole. Morris shot rounds of 76-67-68—211 (+4) and bested Monte Mullen and John Flaherty, both of TPC River Highlands, in a playoff.
Conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association, the Russell C. Palmer Cup is a 54-hole stroke play competition being played at the Country Club of Waterbury on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 20th and 21st. Named for former Executive Director of the CSGA and Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame Member Russell C. Palmer, the event features Connecticut's top amateur golfers who are vying for the state's amateur stroke play title. The par-69 Donald Ross layout was originally founded in 1899 and is set up to play at a total of 6,558 yards for the competitors.
After opening with a seven over-par 76, Morris, a rising senior at the University of Mississipii, stood a total of nine shots back heading into the second round. Even after charging up the leaderboard with a two under-par 67 in the morning round, he only picked up a single stroke on the overnight leader Raymond Floyd, Jr. of Innis Arden Golf Club. Trailing by eight strokes with only 18-holes to play, Morris’ chances of winning seemed slim, and even slimmer after making a bogey on #7 to fall to +1 on his final round.
However, Morris held strong and put together a string of four straight birdies that saw him jump from 12th place to a tie for the lead. With US Open-type rough and fast greens, birdies were at a premium and bogies were a dime-a-dozen. Even as he made a pair of bogey's on the 13th and 15th holes, he held steady with the lead. Starting a full hour in front of the leaders, Morris finished with pars on #16, 17 and 18 to post a four over-par total and the clubhouse lead.
“The key today was that I missed in the right spots, which I failed to do the first round. Donald Ross courses are all about position and today, I felt like I was in position all round, and that was the difference.”
However, Morris was not without chasers. Playing in the penultimate group, John Flaherty played steady all week and stood in second place, four shots back, heading into the final round. A rising junior at the University of Connecticut, Flaherty struggled out of the gate with a pair of bogey’s on Holes #2 and #3. However, he held steady on the difficult back nine and made one of the most crucial birdies in his career. Knowing he needed three to get into the playoff, he hit his approach to within ten feet and drained the birdie putt.
The third member of the playoff was Monte Mullen, also strung together a series of clutch shots to earn his shot at victory. A rising senior at Central Connecticut State University, his charge up the leaderboard included three birdies in the final ten holes, and featured a birdie on the difficult par-4 16th that gave him a share of the lead.
All three players made their move on the final round, but it wasn’t without some help that they arrived in the playoff. Two-round leader Raymond Floyd, Jr. of Innis Arden Golf Club, began the final round with a four-shot lead, but an early stumble brought the field back into the picture. Floyd, who shot rounds of 67-68, made an opening double-bogey and never recovered. After making eight birdies in the first two round, he would go birdie-less in the final round, and went on to shoot a round of 78 and finish in 4th place.
After both Flaherty and Morris both made birdie on the first playoff hole, followed by par saves on the second and third playoff holes, they headed back down the first hole. Both players hit their approach shots to within fifteen feet, with Morris’ shot just outside of Flaherty’s. First to play, Morris hit one of the best putt's of his life, a right-to-left slider that fell in the center of the cup. When Flaherty’s putt slid by, Morris had finally realized his first CSGA victory on his home course.
“It’s not so much the fact that I won, but how I won that’s so special,” said a smiling Morris. “John and Monte really made me earn it in the playoff. I came back from a horrific first round and more than anything, I proved to myself that I can come back from a bad start and rise to the top.”
Firing the low round of the day was Tom McCarthy of Twin Hills Country Club, the 2009 Russell C. Palmer Cup Champion. McCarthy shot a three under-par 66, which featured a string of four consecutive birdies from Holes #4-7 to catapult into 8th place. Phil Perry of Black Hall Club, the 2008 Russell C. Palmer Cup Champion, also had a strong showing, shooting 72-70 over the final two rounds to finish in a tie for 13th.
This year's Russell C. Palmer Cup marked the sixth time that the Country Club of Waterbury has hosted this championship. Unquestionably one of Connecticut's most stories clubs, it has previously hosted a total of ten Connecticut Amateur Championships and the 2005 Connecticut Open.
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