(Duke Athletics Photo)
Williamstown, MA (July 11, 2016) -- It didn’t take long for memories to be made and records to be broken at the 108th Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
During round one of the MGA’s marquee amateur event that features two rounds of stroke play and five rounds (over three days) of match play, Jake Shuman (Blue Hill CC) fired a competitive course record score of 7-under par 64 to set the pace at Taconic Golf Club.
Shuman, a rising junior at Duke University, carded seven birdies and zero bogeys on Monday to post a score that is three strokes better than the course record previously held by Bill Hadden and set during the 2016 club championship.
“Controlling the trajectory and distance is huge on these greens,” said Shuman, who was named to the 2015-16 All-ACC Academic Team. “There is so much slope in them. I didn’t make a birdie putt over 10 feet today. Everything was inside of that, so it speaks to the ball-striking side of today.”
Shuman found an early rhythm and a clear comfort level on the historic Williamstown layout that was originally designed in 1927 by Wayne Stiles of Stiles & Van Cleek and renovated in 2009 by renowned golf course architect Gil Hanse of Hanse Golf Course Design, Inc.
On his first hole of the day – the 470-yard, par 5 1st hole – Shuman found the green with a mid-iron approach to set up a two-putt birdie. Two solid wedge shots on the 6th and 7th holes led to birdies and allowed Shuman to make the turn at 3-under par 32.
He continued his stellar play on the back nine which featured the three hardest playing holes on this day. Shuman played his final nine holes at 4-under par.
“When I got out of position, I made a couple of good eight-foot par putts which was great,” said Shuman. “I have been working hard with my coach [Brendan Walsh, head golf pro at The Country Club] and it worked out today.”
Shuman was also quick to credit the two competitors he was paired with on Monday, who are very familiar faces to the Needham native. After all, Shuman, Patrick Frodigh (Dedham C&PC) and Peter French (Maplegate CC) grew up playing the New England junior circuit.
“Playing with Peter and Patrick made it a pretty easy going day for us,” said Shuman. “It felt like a tournament but lower key because I know them and don’t have to go through the whole “who are you” kind of thing. It was fun.”
The familiarity clearly fueled a competitive fire in all three as the trio collectively played 10-under par golf on the day.
“I think that we were just feeding off each other a little bit,” said Frodigh, who was runner-up at the 2015 MGA Amateur Championship. “We were trying to catch the rabbit in front of us, whomever was leading the group.”
This year marks the third time Shuman has competed for the MGA Amateur Championship title. He missed the cut in 2015 one year after advancing to the semifinals in 2014.
“Playing well this week would mean a lot to me” said Shuman. “It would mean a lot to me to do something special here. When it comes down to it, it’s the state championship. It’s who is the best amateur in the state.”
The Youth Movement on Display
If you didn’t know that a major MGA Championship was being held, you may have thought that Williams College was hosting another major NCCA Tournament on its campus.
After all, this year’s Championship Proper field features some of the most talented collegiate golfers from the Northeast. The names on the golf bags scattered around the putting green read like a “who’s who” of top collegiate golf programs.
University of Rhode Island, Duke University, University of Louisville, Johnson & Wales University, Elon University, University of Tampa, Tufts University, University of Connecticut, Old Dominion University, Dartmouth University, Sacred Heart University, Wake Forest University, University of Northern Texas, Trinity College, Boston College University, Bryant University… and the list goes on.
Shuman (20), Frodigh (21) and French (22) are perfect examples of the young talent that is coming out of the Bay State. All three competitors grew up playing in U.S. Challenge Cup, NEPGA, AJGA and MGA events and now they find themselves all in contention for the state’s top amateur prize after 18 holes.
“I think that it’s the movement of where golf is going,” said Shuman. “It’s getting younger.”
To Shuman’s point, the average age of this year’s field is 29.5.
On Monday, Shuman, Frodigh and French combined to play 10-under par golf. French was 5-under par through 11 holes and finished at 3-under par 68 for the day, while Frodigh turned in an even par 71. Shuman – of course – broke the course record with his 7-under par 64.
While Frodigh and Shuman are looking forward to another collegiate golf season in the fall, this year marks the final amateur season for French who will be turning pro later this year. It also marks his final chance to capture a title that he has been close to claiming in recent years.
In the past four years, French has advanced to the round of 32 (2012, 2014) and finished as a quarterfinalist (2013) and a semifinalist (2015).
“It’s the last one for me,” said French. “It’s coming down to the final stretch before heading into the professional side of things, but it’s definitely important.”
Frodigh, a rising senior at the University of Louisville and a Westwood native, advanced to last year’s finals where he was defeated by Nick McLaughlin at Oak Hill Country Club. Earlier this year, Frodigh finished T6 at the 2016 Massachusetts Open Championship.
While young in years, the significance of what is at stake this year has not passed them by.
“The chance to be number one in the state is awesome,” said Frodigh
Just Call Him Alternate No. 16
It was a 90-mile drive that Robert Linn (The Ranch GC) may have thought twice about over the past week... but at 7:25 a.m. he was glad that he made the trip.
“I literally walked out of the parking lot and heard them calling someone’s name so I thought ‘somebody probably isn’t here’”, recalled Linn about the moment he was told that he was a part of the 2016 MGA Amateur Championship field. “Sure enough there was a guy going off at 10 and I was the first one out.”
Linn, the 2009 George M. Cohen MGA Senior Player of the Year, failed to qualify for Championship Proper this year but was one of 49 competitors who were part of an alternate pool.
Following sectional qualifying all players in the pool were randomly selected and ranked by number as alternates. Linn was “Alternate No. 16”.
“I figured that it was so far over here that somebody from far away wouldn’t come,” said Linn, who is a member at Berkshire Hills CC. “But actually the spot I got was from a kid from Waubeeka.”
When Linn woke up on Monday morning, all he knew was that No. 14 had been accepted into the field but he was hopeful that being on site in Williamstown during the morning hours would serve him well.
His hopes were realized when Taylor Bellemare (Waubeeka GL) did not arrive at Taconic GC for his tee time and Linn was the only alternate on site at the time.
“I was coming to sit on the first tee,” said Linn. “I had planned to be [at Berkshire Hills CC] yesterday and played with friends and had a place at Jiminy Peak.”
There would be no sitting or even a chance to warm up on Monday with that 7:30 a.m. tee time, but that did not keep Linn from posting a strong 4-over par 75 on day one.
“The only reason I wanted to get in this was because of the golf course,” said Linn, who did manage to secure a pull cart for the day. “I am not expected to win. I would like to make match play, but it’s a pretty long course for a guy my age.”
At the age of 62, Linn is the oldest player in the field (along with Cy Kilgore) and he was playing alongside two competitors – Stephen Hunt (CC of Wilbraham) and Troy Miller (Crumpin-Fox Club) – whose combined ages are 39.
“There are a lot of kids in this field,” said Linn. “These kids were outdriving me by about 50 yards. It was crazy, but I just tried to play my own game and that’s all you can do.”
On this day, Linn delivered highlights that any competitor – young or old – would enjoy. After all, he sent his 8-iron approach on the 402-yard, par 4 13th hole to a foot and then capped off his round on the 167-yard, par 3 9th hole with a tap-in birdie.
“It is probably easier because you just get out there and go,” said Linn of his no-warmup start. “There isn’t that hour or so when you are thinking about what you are going to do and hopefully you are going go out and just do it.”
And that’s exactly what Alternate No. 16 did on Monday.
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