FITCHBURG, Mass. — A total of 544 holes have been played at Oak Hill Country Club over the past four days. For Nick McLaughlin (Far Corner GC) and Patrick Frodigh (Dedham C&PC), however, the next 36 could not be any more important.
McLaughlin and Frodigh - both former Massachusetts Junior Amateur champions - are the last two standing in the battle for the 107th Massachusets Amateur Championship which began on Monday morning. The starting field of 144 has been methodically trimmed to just two following four days of stroke and then match play. Now, only those two players have earned the right to return to Fitchburg on Friday to take part in the 36-hole finale.
"I think that my first Mass Junior was in Duxbury and that had to have been 15 years ago when I was 7 or 8," said McLaughlin, who won his MGA title in 2011. "From playing in all of these events for so long it would definitely be special to get the biggest amateur tournament of the summer."
McLaughlin and Frodigh advanced following victories in their quarterfinal and semifinal matches held on Thursday. McLaughlin defeated Steven Burak (Thorny Lea GC) and Peter French (Maplegate CC), while Frodigh outlasted both Nick Rodriguez (Cyprian Keyes GC) and Matthew Naumec (GreatHorse).
"I have no expectations at all," said Frodigh, the 2013 Massachusetts Junior Amateur champion, who had to survive a five-for-eight playoff on Tuesday to secure a spot in match play. "I am going to go and approach it like I have every other match this week and just try to get up early. It is a long day with 36 holes so a lot can happen."
Both competitors will be making their finals debut and only one will become the 74rd individual to have won this title which dates back to 1903. The final 36-hole match will be contested on Friday morning beginning at 8:00 a.m. at Oak Hill Country Club.
Here is a summary of the play that earned those two competitors the chance to continue on to Friday's final.
Nick McLaughlin def. Peter French, 2 and 1McLaughlin advanced to the final round after defeating French in a neck-and-neck battle.
The University of Virginia golf team member overcame a bogie on the first hole but still found himself behind French two times through the first five holes.
On the 6th hole, however, McLaughlin positioned his shot excellently as he landed his ball in front of the front rightside bunker. He chipped his second shot to within two feet and sunk the putt for birdie. French, on the other hand, came within 25 feet of the flagstick on the 2nd hole but couldn’t find similar success as he two-putted for par and fell behind for the first time that day.
McLaughlin would fall no more than all square for the remainder of the match as his three birdies on the back nine were too much to overcome for the Bellingham native.
French battled back to even the score on the 12th hole as his drive landed 170 yards from the hole in the middle of the fairway. A beautiful second shot landed French within five feet while McLaughlin bounced from the rough to the right of the fairway to the rough off the green. French made par as the duo went to all square with seven holes remaining.
The match would remain all square until the 15th hole, when McLaughlin’s birdie gave him a 1-up lead. After McLaughlin found the rough with his drive, he knocked his second shot from 150 yards out to within 10 feet right of the hole. He would sink the putt to go 1 up.
By making par on the following hole, the result of his second shot that landed 25 feet in front of the hole, McLaughlin was able to two-putt his way to his largest lead of the day.
“Fortunately on 15, I had the same exact putt as I did this morning. I missed it left this morning and fortunately, I was able to remember it [this afternoon].” McLaughlin said, “That putt was huge for me because it got me 1 up with three to go and that allowed me to put some pressure on [Peter French].”
French struggled in the high grass to the left of the green on the 414-yard par-four 16th hole and made bogie, forcing him into the difficult challenge of winning each of the next two holes that would have forced extra holes.
McLaughlin finished the match on the 17th hole as both he and French made par.
“I am looking forward to tomorrow and [to be able] to keep plugging away," said McLaughlin. “Thirty six more tomorrow will be a long day, so I have to just continue with the same approach.”
Patrick Frodigh def. Matthew Naumec, 2 and 1For the second straight match, Frodigh took advantage of his opponent’s slow start and jumped out to an early lead. Naumec made bogie on four of his first five holes to give Frodigh a 3-up cushion.
“My goal is to get up early in the match,” said Frodigh. “I am trying to get off to a hot start and provide myself a little bit of a cushion and not have such a stressful back nine.”
His plan worked to perfection, although he did encounter trouble midway through the front nine. Frodigh gave two back on the next two holes after missing the green over (on the 5th) and short left (on the 6th).
A key moment in the match, however, came on the 8th hole where Frodigh sank a 13-foot birdie putt to win the hole. Naumec burned the edge with his birdie attempt. He backed up that putt by sticking it close to the back hole location on the 9th green to win that hole and take a 3-up lead into the back nine.
“That was huge,” said Frodigh. “I missed a short putt on five to go 4 up and he won 6 and 7, and I let him back in it. I had to keep the pedal down and win a few more holes before the back nine. That momentum was huge going into 10.”
Similar to the Rodriguez match in the morning, Frodigh had to fend off a come-back attempt on that always-dangerous back nine.
Naumec drew within two on the 11th hole when his strategy of using the 10th fairway to obtain a better angle into the 11th green worked perfectly. He was able to find the green in two shots, while Frodigh left his approach short left and then struggled to find the green.
Frodigh made a critical birdie putt on the 12th hole after Naumec landed his approach to two feet.
“I have had no expectations,” said Frodigh. “My goal has been to just grind away hole by hole in match play.”
Naumec would press on, however, and draw within one on the very next hole when Frodigh’s par putt found every edge of the hole but stayed out. Naumec was 1 down with five holes to play.
That would be as close as the match would get. Naumec three putted on the 14th hole and then sailed his approach over the green on the 15th hole. Naumec would win the 16th hole with another solid approach, but Frodigh closed out the match with a par on the 17th hole.
He will now have to face McLaughlin for 36 holes.
“I will definitely have to bring everything I have because he has played unbelievable this week,” said Frodigh, who recently transferred to . “He has in the stroke play and he has really wiped out the rest of the field in match play. I have to come at him with everything I have.”
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