FITCHBURG, Mass. — Numbers are all the talk at the 107th playing of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship this week.
After all, 144 of the Bay State’s top amateur talent are vying for just one championship trophy that will be awarded in five days here at Oak Hill Country Club.
A magic cut line "number" will be determined on Tuesday to decide which 32 competitors advance to match play.
However, the most popular number on Monday – the first of two days of stroke play – was 66 because that was the best score posted by the field.
Nick McLaughlin (Far Corner GC), a 21-year-old rising senior at the University of Virginia, carded a 4-under par 66 to hold a two-stroke lead heading into Tuesday’s final round of stroke play.
Following the conclusion of the second round of stroke play, the starting field will be reduced to the low 32 scorers who will continue on to match play on Wednesday, weather permitting. In the event of a tie, a sudden-death playoff will be used to determine the final Match Play competitors.
“It is really important just because you want to give yourself a little bit of a cushion especially around here,” said McLaughlin about his solid start. “Ideally you don’t want to have to make birdie on your 36th hole to get in. Obviously I still need to play solidly tomorrow but just to have that little bit of cushion is a nice bonus to have.”
McLaughlin is one of nine competitors were were under par on Monday. He is being chased by an impressive mix of young and veteran talent including the following:
On this day, McLaughlin rebounded from a rough start which saw him 2-over par through three holes following a double bogey on the 356-yard, par 4 3rd hole. He responded by making three straight birdies to make the turn at 1-under par 34.
“It was good to get the momentum going in the right way after a slow start,” said McLaughlin. “I hit wedge into 4 and 5 and on 4 it was to four feet and on five it was to six inches or so. A couple of close birdies there to come back after the six was probably the most important stretch of the day.”
He would finish off his round with a back nine that featured four birdies (on the 10th, 12th, 13th and 16th holes) and one bogey.
“After [the double bogey], I kept the driver in the bag,” said McLaughlin. “I hit mostly 3 woods on the back nine. Once I got that in the fairway it set up a lot of short irons on really the whole back nine. I left a couple out there really. That is the key around here. It isn’t overly long so if you are in the fairway you can really attack the pins. If you are in the rough, that is where you can get above the hole and bad things can happen.”
One year ago, McLaughlin advanced to the round of 16 where he was defeated by John Lazor (Dedham C&PC). It marked McLaughlin’s second straight appearance in the round of 16 at the Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
“I have been struggling with my short irons and that obviously what a lot of shots around here are,” said McLaughlin, the 2011 Massachusetts Junior Amateur champion. “I have been doing a lot of work the past couple of days. And once I was able to get into the fairway, then I was able to attack a little bit more.”
McLaughlin is one of many young talents who are making a statement thus far. The average age of the top nine scorers on day one was 20.4 years old. The average age of this year’s entire 144-player field is 29.6.
However, age is still just a number as Dave Houghton (Captains GC) - the oldest player in the field at 71 - posted a 3-over par 73.
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