WETHERSFIELD, CT (June 16, 2016) -- Corey Birch, 22, of Silver Spring Country Club and Zach Zaback, 22, of TPC River Highlands each won their semifinal match Thursday afternoon to advance to the 36-hole final of the 114th Connecticut Amateur presented by Kota Solutions. The state’s most prestigious amateur championship is being conducted June 13th - 17th at Wethersfield Country Club in Old Lyme, Conn.
Birch, the #4 seed, made a back-nine charge to edge Monte Mullen of TPC River Highlands by a score of 2 & 1 in his semifinal match. Birch, who knocked off reigning Wethersfield Country Club Champion Jonathan Klein in his morning quarterfinal match, lost the first two holes against Mullen and trailed the entire front nine of the match. Standing on the 9th tee 2-down, Birch proceeded to win five of the next hole, swinging the match in his favor to a 3-up advantage with four holes to play. Mullen, the 2010 Junior Amateur Champion, would not go away quietly, winning holes #15 and 16 to pull within one. However, a costly three-putt by Mullen on the 17th hole coupled with a par by Birch earned him a semifinal victory and a coveted spot in the finals.
“I’ve been 2-down on the front nine in each of my last three matches, and just haven’t been getting off to good starts,” said Birch. “I’ve tried to be patient because I’ve been playing well on the back nine and just tried to give myself chances.”
Birch is making his first appearance in the finals of the Connecticut Amateur and will be looking to capture his first CSGA individual Championship. A win tomorrow would also make him the first player from Silver Spring Country Club (Ridgefield) to win the Connecticut Amateur title. Birch shot rounds of 70-71—141 (-1) in stroke play qualifying and despite his length, has been taking a conservative approach to the 6,573 yard, par-71 layout.
“I’ve been keeping it in play by hitting a lot of irons off the tee, and everything’s been pretty solid so far, so I’ll try to do much of the same for tomorrow’s match,” said Birch.
In the other semifinal match, Zaback, the #6 seed, earned his place in the semifinals by knocking off Brent Dietz of Cedar Knob Golf Course. Zaback, the 2014 Connecticut Amateur Champion, jumped out to a commanding lead early in the match, playing two under-par in his first eleven holes to lead 3-up with just seven holes to play. But Dietz, the #2 seed and two-time CSGA major champion, would not go away quietly, winning three of the next four holes to square the match.
“In match play, you have to ready for a bunch of momentum swings, and you definitely saw that today in our match,” said Zaback. “Unlike stroke play, you only lose one hole, so if you hit a bad shot you just have to move on. Even though I gave a few holes away, I knew I was all-square and just had to keep a good mindset down the stretch. I was three-down in my semifinal match in 2014 and came back to win, so I definitely drew on that experience today.”
With both players halving the remaining holes, the match came down to the par-5 2nd hole, a reachable par-5 that Zaback had eagled earlier in the match. In an attempt to reach the green in two, Dietz flew the putting surface into the fescue behind the green. After nearly a 330-yard drive, Zaback was left with just an 8-iron in his hand. From the middle of the fairway, the 2014 CSGA Player of the Year hit the shot of the match, hitting his approach to within ten feet of the hole and calmly rolled in the putt for a hard-earned victory.
Zaback is fresh off a victory at the 2016 Russell C. Palmer Cup, a tournament he won at the Country Club of Waterbury just a few weeks ago. A win in Friday’s final would make Zaback just the second player to win the Palmer Cup and Connecticut Amateur in the same season.
Both Zaback and Birch are recent graduates of the University of Connecticut and were teammates on their Division I golf team. Zaback edged Birch earlier this year at the Palmer Cup, with Birch finishing in second, and while both are close friends, winning the Connecticut Amateur would be a special accomplishment for either player.
“First things first, I want to win,” said Zaback. “It’s against one of my best friends, my teammate for four years and a guy I lived with for three years. I’m used to playing against him every day, so we know each other’s games really well, and it will definitely be fun tomorrow.”
“To win tomorrow would be very special,” said Birch. “It’ll probably be my last Amateur because I’m turning pro later this summer, but it would be cool.”
View results for Connecticut State Amateur Golf Championship