WORCESTER, MA (June 14, 2016) -- It was a text that Matt Hutchins (Falmouth, ME) may keep forever.
On Sunday morning, the rising Chico State sophomore received a message on his phone saying that a spot had opened up and he was next in line as Alternate No. 17 to play in the 107th Massachusetts Open Championship at Worcester Country Club.
“I got a text on Sunday at 7am that a last-minute withdrawal had happened and it said if I wanted to play I could,” said Hutchins. “I was like ‘yeah, sure’. I had never seen the course before, but I just wanted the opportunity.”
Playing alongside two veteran pros – one of whom was Kevin Johnson (CC of Halifax) who spent much of his career on the PGA and Web.com Tours – Hutchins took full advantage of the opportunity.
As a 19-year-old amateur, Hutchins currently stands T2 and just one stroke back of leader Jason Thresher (West Suffield, CT) heading into the third and final round of one of the region’s most prestigious professional events in the region.
“I just tried to look at it [as a chance to] get better as an individual and get better every day and improve my game,” said Hutchins. “If I can do that, hopefully I can play well.”
Thresher leads the way with a two-round score of 4-under par 136. Hutchins and Patrick Frodigh (Dedham C&PC) are in second place, while Matt Parziale (Thorny Lea GC) is in fourth place.
All three of those competitors are amateurs, and fellow amateur Billy Walthouse (Longmeadow CC) is part of a group of three who are T5. In total, nine amateurs advanced to the third and final day of competition.
Thresher and Hutchins will be paired together in the final round set for Wednesday in Worcester.
“I have never been in a position having a lead going into the final round,” said Thresher, who finished T3 at the 2015 MGA Open. “It will be completely new to me. The most experience I had was being in the second to last group last year at the Open.”
New experiences will be abound in that final group, especially for Hutchins.
Yet despite his age (he just finished his freshman year of college), lack of event experience (it’s his first time in Championship Proper), status (he was an alternate) and knowledge of the course (he had never played Worcester CC until Monday), Hutchins has the confidence of a veteran.
“I just tried to have fun,” said Hutchins, a graduate of Lincoln-Sudbury High School whose family recently relocated to Maine. “I had a good friend on the bag so I tried to go out there and play my best and the score was what it was.”
For the past two days, he has competed on the Worcester layout like it was his home course. He posted a first-round score of 1-under par 69 on Monday and then backed that up with a 2-under par 68 on Tuesday.
“I have played a lot of Donald Ross courses and this is definitely my favorite one,” said Hutchins. “It is a really cool layout, and you can hit a lot of different shots. It is just a really cool course.”
His day-two round in Worcester was highlighted by a 25-foot eagle putt made on the 483-yard, par 5 5th hole. He finished with one eagle, one bogey and 16 pars.
“I only missed one green today,” said Hutchins. “It helped that I was on a lot of greens today and just two putted my way around the course. I made a lot of pars and fortunately got a couple of putts to drop.”
As a junior golfer in the Bay State, Hutchins was a two-year captain of his high school golf team and finished as high as sixth at the MGA Junior Amateur Championship. He also represented Team Massachusetts at the 2014 New England Junior Amateur Championship.
“It was steady golf,” said Hutchins of his Tuesday round. “I just tried to make a lot of pars because there are a lot of tough holes out there.”
Lots of (Amateur) Company at the Top
Hutchins will have plenty of amateur company on the third and final day.
While Hutchins was finishing up on the back nine, Frodigh was signing his scorecard for a 2-under par 68. Frodigh and Hutchins posted identical scores on Monday and Tuesday.
“Me and my caddie had a fun time out there and there was no pressure really,” said Frodigh. “We went out and played pretty similar to yesterday. We got off to a slow start but made a couple of birdies and eagles coming in. We had a lot of fun.”
Frodigh was joined the first two days with Nick McLaughlin (Far Corner GC). The recently turned pro grew up playing junior golf with Frodigh and also bested him in the final match of the 2015 MGA Amateur Championship last July.
“It means everything,” said Frodigh about being paired with McLaughlin this week. “Last summer I had a chance to win the Mass Amateur against Nick in the finals. I am in a similar position now. Last year was a learning experience, and I took a lot away from it. Tomorrow I am going to go out like I have the past two days and just have a good mindset and hopefully roll in a few putts.”
Frodigh finished his second round with three birdies and an eagle – his second straight this week – on the 483-yard, par 5 5th hole.
Perhaps his biggest shot, however, came on the 165-yard, par 3 13th hole – his fourth hole of the day – which changed the complexion of his round.
“I was 2 over through four and then made a nice birdie on that par 3,” said Frodigh. “ That jumpstarted me I think … I made a nice putt; a really fast putt coming down the hill. I was lucky to hit the hole.”
Frodigh went on to play 5-under par golf through his next 12 holes including that eagle on the 5th hole.
“By teeing off in the morning the greens were faster and smoother than yesterday,” said Frodigh. “I blew my first putt from 20 feet 15 feet past. It was downwind and it was a bit of an adjustment for the first four or five holes but after that I was good.”
Déjà vu For Parziale
On Tuesday morning, Parziale was seen darting from the golf course to his car and speeding off along Rice Street. He didn’t have time to stop for a snack or even a glass of water for the road. He was just hoping to be on time for work.
Parziale works for the Brockton Fire Department, and he was scheduled to work on Tuesday afternoon.
The scene was similar to that of two years ago.
Upon learning that he finished T1 through 54 holes at the MGA Open Championship in Weston, Parziale asked to use his father’s cell phone so that he could call his colleagues and hopefully find someone to cover his shift at the station until the playoff concluded.
Such is the life of an amateur golfer.
After firing a 1-under par 69 on Monday, Parziale found himself 3-over par through his first nine holes on Tuesday. Although frustrated by three early bogies, Parziale was also thinking about the fact that his shift would not end until 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday and a less-than-stellar round-two score might result in an earlier-than-wanted tee time on day three.
“That concerned me,” said Parziale. “When I was making bogies I knew that it was going to be a problem, but I was lucky to make some birdies.”
Parziale responded to the call and played 4-under par golf through his final 10 holes to finish with a score of 1-under par 69 and a two-round total that assured him of a late morning starting time. “I made a couple of mistakes early,” said Parziale, who began his second round on the 9th hole. “I had a bad shot on 17 and then on 18 hit it close in there to about a foot and a half for an easy birdie. That got me going.”
He went on to make eagle on the par-5 5th hole and then drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the 7th hole. He also just missed another birdie putt on his finishing 8th hole.
“I hit it well coming in,” said Parziale. “I actually hit well all day and just made those early mistakes, but overall I was happy with the round.”
Despite the fact that Parziale will be serving his community all night while his fellow competitors will be enjoying a good night’s rest, he understands exactly how to balance those two important facets of his life.
“If you are a pro you have to play well and if you are an amateur you have to play well,” said Parziale. “Tomorrow is a new day, and you have to keep it going, stay out of trouble and hopefully down the stretch it’s there and you have a chance.”
No Pressure For Thresher
Despite chasing after his first major professional title, Thresher has played with the confidence of a champion all week long. He has held the lead through two days.
“It was pretty much the same round as yesterday as far as ball striking,” said Thresher. “I didn’t hit as many irons as close today as yesterday, but the par 3s were playing really tough today.”
So tough were those holes that Thresher was 3-over par on the five par 3s and 4-under par on the rest of the course.
“I have been putting really well inside of 10 feet the last two days,” said Thresher. “I struggled on the longer putts … yesterday was pretty much stress free and today was the same because the holes I bogeyed were three puts. I controlled the ball well.”
Despite his lack of experience being in a final group in a major championship, Thresher is feeling little pressure this week on a course that he has come to love over the past two days.
“I don’t have one nine that is more favored than the other,” said Thresher. “There are a few holes on each side that I can score on. I have been able to do it so far. My game is control fairways and greens and two putt.”
Not Just A Individual's Game
It doesn't take a golf extraordinaire to know that stroke play makes the game an individual sport. Each player is responsible for his or her own play and unlike many team sports like baseball or basketball, there is no one to bail them out if he or she isn't on their 'A' game.
In fact, the closest stroke-play golf gets to a team sport is the bond that is shared between a caddie and his golfer, an extra set of eyes who can provide advice on how to approach both the course and the competition.
No one knows that better than Allan Belden, the Worcester CC golf professional whose course is hosting this week's event for a record seventh time, and the first since 1976.
His daughter Maddy, who for the first time was caddying her father in a competitive event, joined him for the first two days of competition.
"It's a lot of fun. She's going off to college in the fall so [the timing] is especially good," said the elder Belden. "She is a good golfer and she obviously knows the golf course. She was helpful. It was a lot of fun and even a little emotional."
Before she leaves home to start her freshmen year at Holy Cross in September, where she will play play golf after captaining the boys team as a high school senior at Worcester Academy, Allan said that she was especially helpful in confirming what he saw on the course or providing advice on what the best club to use would be.
On Tuesday however, his daughter's assistance was even greater.
"She read the putt correctly on 18," said Allan. "I disagreed with her and she was right."
In the midst of competition, the father/daughter duo is not the only blood relationship that a player has to his caddie. In fact, three other golfers of note in the MGA Open field also share a family relationship to the person walking alongside them.
Colin Brennan (Indian Ridge CC) and Matt Parziale (Thorny Lea GC) both brought their fathers as caddies to Worcester, while Fran Quinn (Wachusett CC), fresh off an appearance in the final round of the Constellation Senior Players Championship, was assisted by his son, Owen, who will play collegiate golf at Lehigh University when he attends his freshman year this fall.
For Brennan, whose father Peter has been his wingman for the past two days, the opportunity to share in the experience is something he is thankful for.
"It's great," said Colin. "He used to do the Mass Amateur. Once a year, he would come out and caddie for me. Usually, it would be my biggest event of the year. It has really become a yearly bonding experience for us."
While Colin considers himself a pretty laid back individual, he says dad's golf experience is particularly helpful once the younger Brennan is in the midst of competition.
"He has watched me play a ton of golf, especially at the tournament level," said the Andover native. "He usually has a pretty good indication if I'm swinging well, if I'm nervous, if I feel good or if I'm putting well. He's way more into details and he introduces a lot of facts so that I make proper decisions myself."
That sentiment is one that Fran Quinn echoes.
Speaking about his 17-year old son, Owen, a member at Wachusett CC himself, being able to play while his son caddies is a great experience.
The elder Quinn, playing in the MGA Open for the first time in 20 years, said of his son, "He has caddied for me quite a bit and I love it. He is a great kid. He is a great caddie and a great player. We've always had fun doing it."
Owen, who also caddied for his father as most recent as this past weekend at the Senior Players Championship, where he finished 12th, said there was no added pressure caddying for someone who has had as much success as his father.
He said, "It's still the same game of golf and I expect the same things from him."
Regardless of their final scores this week, one thing remains the same. For all the MGA Open golfers who have a family member caddying, they are extremely grateful to be able to spend the time with their family member.
And it doesn't get better than that.
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