(Photo courtesy of the Connecticut State Golf Assoc.)
(Photo courtesy of the Connecticut State Golf Assoc.)
HARWINTON, Conn. — Chet Hrostek of the Golf Club of Oxford Greens shot rounds of 69-70--139 to capture the 30th Connecticut Public Links Championship, defeating Greg Horvath of Manchester Country Club on the first playoff hole.

Conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association, the Connecticut Public Links Championship is a 36-hole stroke play competition that honors the true spirit of public golf in the state. The Public Links Championship is open to Connecticut amateur golfers who have been bona-fide public course players since the start of the calendar year. The championship layout at Fairview Farm Golf Course opened for play in 2000 and was set up to play at a total of 6,566 yards for the competitors.

After play was suspended for the day on Tuesday due to heavy rain and thunderstorms, fourteen groups came back to finish their first round Wednesday morning. Hrostek had the lead in the clubhouse when he left the course Tuesday night after an opening round of three under-par, but he would have company in the final group as both Horvath and Mike Carey of East Hartford Golf Club matched his score. The trio of co-leaders in Hrostek, Horvath and Carey found themselves in the final group, but they weren’t without chasers - in fact, a total of fifteen players began the final round within three shots of the lead.

As the final round progressed and many of the pursuers began to fall back, both Hrostek and Horvath held steady at the top. The two traded blows early and were tied for the lead through six holes, but when Hrostek suffered a disastrous double-bogey at the par-3 seventh, it seemed Horvath was in control of his own destiny. He made the turn at four under-par, two clear of Hrostek and the rest of the field with plenty of birdie opportunities on the back nine.

“I made a few birdies early, but unfortunately I four-putted the seventh hole for a double bogey,” said Hrostek. “The key was I didn’t let it bother me. I was only one over-par on my round after that double-bogey, and I just told myself to stick to my game plan.”

Indeed, he did. After making the double bogey, he refused to let another opportunity at victory slip away. He swiftly rebounded with three birdies in the next eight holes, thrusting himself back into contention for the Public Links title.

“Greg was playing so solid all day and was really in control, so I knew I needed to make some birdies on the back nine,” said Hrostek. “The birdie putt on #11 really got the round going for me, and I was able to make a couple of good birdies on #14 and 15 to catch him.”

After Horvath made a bogey on the par-5 16th, Hrostek found himself one stroke clear of the field, but both players still had the reachable par-5 finishing hole to play. Standing on the tee, Horvath knew he needed to make birdie to have any chance at the title. After hitting his tee shot down the middle of the narrow 18th, he knocked a 3-iron onto the green in two and calmly two-putted for the birdie, moving him to five under-par for the tournament and tied with Hrostek. When Hrostek’s birdie attempt for the win slid by, both players knew there was more golf to be played to determine the champion.

The two headed back to the 18th for the first playoff hole. Both players hit near perfect tee shots, but after Horvath’s attempt to reach the green in two came up short, it seemed the door was open for Hrostek. He hit the shot of the tournament, a high, towering 3-wood from 230 yards that finished a mere thirty feet from the hole. After Horvath chipped his approach to the left and his birdie attempt slid by, two putts by Hrostek was all that was needed to secure his first CSGA major championship.

For Hrostek, the win seemed long overdue after a series of close calls and near misses. He was the overnight leader at the 2013 Connecticut Public Links Championship, but suffered a final round 76 that dropped him into a tie for fourth. He was the medalist in the 2005 Connecticut Amateur before losing on the Round of 16, and also advanced to the semifinals in the 2004 Amateur. But after winning the Danbury Amateur at Richter Park just a few weeks ago, he had a renewed sense of confidence that helped propel him to the title.

“I tried to take the good memories from playing in the final group, and I really drew on my win at the Danbury Amateur today,” said Hrostek. “It means a lot to me, I’ve been close in other events in the past. To win has been a goal of mine since I came back to competitive golf a few years ago. I’m just happy to be in a situation where I can compete, have fun and play some of the best golf of my life.”

For Horvath, it was a close call but no doubt an excellent learning experience for the 24 year-old. He is a recent graduate of Saint Bonaventure University, where he competed on their Division I golf team. Among his many accomplishments on the course includes qualifying for U.S. Open Sectionals last year.

“I didn’t make as many putts as Chet did down the stretch but I was pretty steady,” said Horvath. “I think I only had two bogeys on the day and a good birdie on 18 so that I could get into the playoff. Overall, I’m not going to complain about the performance, despite the outcome. I’ve been swinging it well. I just needed a couple more putts to drop.”

Finishing just one shot out of the lead at four-under par was 2013 Connecticut Mid-Amateur Champion Ben Hunter of Sterling Farms Golf Course, who interestingly enough won his title at Fairview Farms Golf Course. After starting the final round just one shot off the pace, Hunter started his day slow but made four birdies in his final nine holes in an attempt to catch the leaders. Unfortunately for Hunter, his back nine charge would come up short as he hoped to become just the third player in CSGA history to win both the Mid-Amateur and Public Links titles (Dave Szewczul & Brent Dietz).

Joining Hunter in the clubhouse at four under-par was Jacob Henny of Oak Hills Park Golf Course, who much like Hunter, started slow but caught fire toward the end of his round. Henny began the final round with three bogies in his first four holes, but rebounded with birdies on the sixth and seventh holes. He strung together seven consecutive pars before making birdie on his final four holes to catapult up the leaderboard.

“I hit it great in the first round, but didn’t really trust my swing at the start of the second round,” said Henny. “I don’t think I’ve ever made four birdies in a row, so it feels great to put a few good holes together.”

Rounding out the top five was John Dailey of H. Smith Richardson Golf Club, who shot rounds of 70-71—141 for a three under-par total. Defending champion Glen Boggini of Twin Hills Country Club finished in a tie for eight place with rounds of 72-75—147.

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