FITCHBURG, Mass. — It may not be the “longest” day in golf, but it sure is close.
The third day of competition at the 107th Massachusetts Amateur Championship featured two rounds of match play at Oak Hill Country Club.
A total of 32 competitors completed 411 holes over a period of 10 hours. In the end, only eight remain alive in the #MassMadness bracket and will return on Thursday to compete in the quarterfinal matches set to begin at 8:00 a.m. in Fitchburg.
The semifinal matches will be contested during the afternoon. The two finalists will then meet in a 36-hole final match on Friday morning to determine the champion.
The first to advance to the quarterfinals was No. 1 seed Nick McLaughlin, who is looking to become the first medalist to go on to win The Commonwealth Cup since 2012.
The road to the quarterfinals is one that is a welcome surprise to McLaughlin who has yet to find his rhythm off the tee. Thankfully, his long iron game as sharp as it has ever been.
“I keep saying that I have to hit more fairways and so far I haven’t,” said McLaughlin. “Fortunately everything else has been really good. My iron play has maybe been the best it has been all year which is important out here because you need to control distance into the greens.”
McLaughlin will face 23-year-old Burak who defeated last year’s runner-up – Doug Clapp (Old Sandwich GC) – by a score of 2 up in the round of 32.
It will be student verses professor in the second quarterfinal match of the day. John McNeill, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, will take on Peter French who is looking forward to his senior season at Johnson & Wales (FL).
McNeill drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the 19th hole to defeat two-time champion of this event John Hadges (Thorny Lea GC) in the round of 32.
“I knew that it was going to be the kind of match with someone making a putt and not missing a putt,” said McNeill. “I was right on the same line as he was and was fortunate enough to roll it in.”
He then made five straight pars to begin his round of 16 match against 19-year-old Taylor Kay-Green (Charles River CC) to build up an early 3-up advantage and an eventual 4 and 3 win.
“He missed a couple of putts that just went by the edge,” said McNeill. “They were good putts that just didn’t go in, but that is how the game is and why I don’t do this for a living. So overall it was a great day.”
McNeill has experienced to match play before, but this marks the longest he has advanced in the championship.
It was like another college tournament for Frodigh who took on fellow 20-year-old Billy Walthouse (Longmeadow CC) in the round of 32 and then 21-year-old Patrick O’Leary (Wollaston GC) during the afternoon hours.
During his match against Walthouse, Frodigh gained a 3-up lead midway through the match and held on for a 3 and 2 victory. During his afternoon tilt, he battled O’Leary shot for shot until the 10th hole where he made eagle to take a 1-up lead.
Although O’Leary would even the match on the 15th hole, Frodigh responded by making two pars and then a birdie on the 18th hole to win by a score of 2 up.
While Frodigh was on his way out of Fitchburg, his quarterfinal opponent – Rodriguez – was grinding out another tough match.
Facing off against Ben Spitz (George Wright GC) – the last champion in the bracket – Rodriguez battled back from a 1-up deficit and made a clutch birdie on the 17th hole to go 1 up.
On that hole, Rodriguez – from 149 yards – sent his 9-iron to five feet. Nearly five hours earlier, Rodriguez had drained a 27-foot birdie putt on that same green to close out his round of 32 match against another past champion of this event, Frank Vana, Jr. (Andover CC).
“I do like that hole,” said Rodriguez with a laugh.
The final match on the course was perhaps the most dramatic.
After al back-and-forth match, Hills and Jonathan Stoddard (Marshfield CC) found themselves deadlocked on the 18th green and all square after matching each other shot for shot from the 12th hole on.
Hills was in a perfect position to close out the match with his birdie attempt on the 18th green. Instead of celebrating his victory, he watched his putt horse-shoe out.
“I thought that I hit a great putt on 18 but it just didn’t want to drop,” said Hills. “It was tough to go into extra holes after that. I should have finished it, but I got it done.”
Both players made par and then birdie on the first two playoff holes. It was then – on the 353-yard, par 4 3rd hole – where Hills could finally enjoy the feeling of victory after making a clinching par.
“That was just the best golf match I have ever played,” said Hills. “John really hung in there, and I think that he may have made two bogies all day. The only way that I could beat him was with birdies.”
Hills will now take on Naumec, the reigning Massachusetts Junior Amateur Champion who defeated Lucas Hicks (Thorny Lea GC) in the morning and then Jonathan Stoddard (Marshfield CC) in the round of 16.
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