Williamstown, MA (July 14, 2016) -- The road ro Taconic will come to an end and the 108th champion of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship will be crowned tomorrow at Taconic Golf Club.
Over the past four days in Williamstown, a total of 36 holes of stroke play and four rounds of matches were held.
In the end, only two competitors remain standing.
John Kelly (Twin Hills CC) and Brendan Hunter (Red Tail GC) have earned the right to face off in the 36-hole final match which will be held on Friday.
For Kelly tomorrow represents a chance to regain a title that he first won in 2014, while Hunter is enjoying what has been a memorable first-ever career appearance in MGA Amateur match play.
Here is a summary of how each finalist took that important next step towards having their named carved on The Commonwealth Cup.
Match #1 - Brendan Hunter, Red Tail GC def. Alex Jeffers, Woodland GC, 3 and 2
Twenty-year-old Brendan Hunter (Red Tail GC) is enjoying his first rodeo in match play of the MGA Amateur Championship. But like any new player to the field, there are always a few things to learn.
For the rising senior at St. Thomas Aquinas College though, that new piece of knowledge had nothing to do with the game itself, but rather the conditions. The Groton native arrived with a light suitcase with nothing more than a few essentials and his golf clubs.
“I only brought three outfits to the tournament to be honest.”
And of those outfits, not a single pair of shorts. Not ideal for temperatures that sat in the mid-80s for the duration of the five-day event. But thankfully for a quick phone call to his mother Cindy, that tune quickly changed.
“When I made match play, my mom brought out some shorts and a few more shirts because all I had was pants,” said Hunter. “I don’t want to wear that the rest of the week.”
It’s a good thing that she did because on Thursday afternoon, her son defeated Alex Jeffers (Woodland GC)to earn his spot in the 36-hole final set to begin Friday morning.
“It feels good,” said Hunter. “This is the first time I’ve made match play, and I’m just happy to be here. [Alex Jeffers] was a good player who definitely gave me a run for my money towards the beginning of my match. We both kept missing some shots in the middle of the round, and I just pulled it together a little more than [Alex] did towards the end.”
After Hunter and Jeffers each made par on the first two holes, the younger Hunter took his first lead on the par-4 4th hole by hitting his tee shot above the bunker that borders the left side. With Jeffer’s tee shot in the along a tree on the right side of the rough, Hunter was able to push his second shot up onto the green and two-putted for par, whereas the 30-year old Jeffers needed an extra putt.
After Hunter lost the next hole to push the match back to all square, the two would bounce back and forth until the 6th hole, where Hunter navigated his second shot uphill to within inches of the hole. With Jeffers hitting from the rough beyond the green, Hunter, who advanced to the semifinals after defeating Jackson Lang (Nashawtuc CC)in the morning’s quarterfinal round, regained his lead.
On the subsequent 7th hole, a 402-yard par-4, both opponents buried difficult putts on the green to keep the score within one.
Hunter said, “On seven, we stuck to about 12 feet up the hill. Mine was dead straight. I made a good pass on it to put it in the hole and he stepped up to it. He probably had two inches left to right and he drained in the center.”
Jeffers made par on the 8th hole to send the match to all square, and the score would remain that way until the 12th hole, when Hunter’s second shot bounced onto the green to the right of the cup. He sunk his putt for par and Jeffers was forced to three putt, allowing the match to head back to 1 up in favor of Hunter.
On the following hole, Hunter took advantage of a rare second mistake by his opponent, and despite a Hunter bogey, he went to 2 up in the match, a lead that would remain the rest of the round.
He said, “We both put up the openings for each other, but when he gave me the openings, I took more advantage than he did when I gave him the openings.”
The two made par on Holes 14 and 15, and Hunter pulled away when Jeffers bogeyed 16 to win the match 3 and 2.
“I was just happy to be here,” said Hunter. “I was just going out trying to have fun. Golf is a game. That is all you can do. Go out and enjoy yourself.”
He will do that tomorrow morning when he takes on John Kelly. And thanks to his mom, Hunter will head to the final round a little more comfortable. Only time will tell if that comfort pays off.
Match #2 - John Kelly, Twin Hills CC def. Dan Cappucci, Boston GC, 1 up
After not trailing for a single hole during his morning quarterfinal match against Thomas Henderson (Sterling National) [click here for more details], Kelly found himself in a true battle to the end with Dan Cappucci (Boston GC) during the afternoon semifinal.
It was a match that was all square for 10 holes and didn’t come to a close until the final shot on the 18th hole.
“I gave him a couple of opportunities to pull away,” said Kelly, who won this title in 2014. “He missed a couple, and I was able to make some up and downs, but that is what match play is all about. You have to stay in the hole. He is a great guy and we had a really good match today. It was one of those things that I just beat him by one.”
With the match all square through 17 holes, Kelly sent his tee shot to the back of the perched green. Cappucci was in perfect shape for a two-putt par. Kelly could only make the best of his situation and let his putter do the rest.
“There was no way you are getting that close,” said Kelly. “I just said get it 10 feet by and then I can make an uphiller right center, and thankfully I made a good stroke there. It was just awesome.”
When asked about the momentum gained from that 17th hole, Kelly said:
“It carried until I blew one right. I wasn’t too thrilled with the tee shot, but the second shot was awesome. And then I hit a really good bunker shot.”
That second shot was nothing short of “awesome”. Kelly hit a 3 wood from 270 yards in the right rough into the left greenside bunker. The minute the ball left the clubface, Kelly let out an emotional “come on”.
“I thought that he was going to make birdie so I had be aggressive,” said Kelly. “That bunker shot isn’t too difficult. I was happy when it came off the clubface. I am just fortunate to be playing tomorrow.”
As it turned out, Cappucci left his second shot well short of the 18th green and then watched his third shot sail over the green. Kelly knocked his bunker shot to four feet and it wasn’t long after that he accepted a congratulatory handshake from Cappucci and a hug from his father who tended his bag all day long.
“You just have to take it one hole at a time,” said Kelly. “When I was younger I used to get too down on myself if I made a bogey or something and lost the hole. You just have to realize that it's one hole at a time. You can make some birdies and stay in there.”
Perseverance and patience for Kelly began on Monday when he posted a 7-over par 78 and was well outside the cutline. He then began the difficult road back which included surviving a nine-for-six playoff on Tuesday to advance to match play and then four rounds of match play beginning on Wednesday morning.
Even during the Cappucci match, Kelly found himself battling back from an early 2-down deficit after he found three straight bunkers on holes 3 through 5.
After his father was heard jokingly saying that he was going to refuse to “rake any more bunkers”, Kelly responded by making a 5-foot birdie on the 6th hole and then delivering a highlight reel worthy up-and-down from behind the 7th hole green to square the match.
It appeared that Cappucci would make the turn at 1 up after his tee shot on the par 3 9th hole bounced off the right side and rolled to inches and Kelly was sitting 30 feet from the hole. Kelly made that putt to keep the match all square.
“That got me pretty fired up,” said Kelly. “I have been playing that hole pretty bad so to make that putt there was huge, and I just fought it out on the back. I grinded it out, and here we are.”
And “here we are” is a repeat finals appearance for Kelly, who captured his first MGA Amateur title in 2014 at Kernwood Country Club. He was defeated in the round of 32 last year and appeared poised to miss match play this year after his 78 on Monday.
That all changed when he posted a 3-under par 68 on Tuesday and the rest could become part of MGA Amateur lore if Kelly is victorious on Friday afternoon.
“I didn’t foresee this,” said Kelly. “I am just thrilled to be in another final.”
Quarterfinal Match Summaries
Match #1, Brendan Hunter, Red Tails GC def. Jackson Lang, Nashawtuc CC, 2 up
Thursday’s quarterfinal match between Hunter and Lang was a tale of two halves. Or more accurately put, the tale of five holes. After the first hole between the two ended all square, Lang grabbed hold of the lead and held onto to it through the first 12 holes.
Hunter said, “I came out a little soft. I didn’t have as much as I [should have] had in the tank beginning. I wasn’t focusing as much as I should have.”
Whatever changed in his game on 13th though seemed to be the difference maker as he grabbed his first lead of the day and never let go.
“That hole has always been giving me a little bit of trickiness every time I played it and I decided to take a three iron off the back tee so I could come in with less spin,” said Hunter. “Since it was a back pin, I didn’t want to send it behind the pin and zip it back. I had about 160 yards. [I] put a seven iron to about 12 feet. Luckily made the putt by hitting the lip and dropping in.”
After winning 13, Hunter went 2-up on the 420-yard par-4 15th hole by making par to Lang’s bogey. It was his putting game that helped him take that 2-up lead down the stretch.
“We were both trying to hack the ball around and trying to get it in the hole as much as we could, said the St. Thomas Aquinas senior Hunter. “Luckily, I made a few putts coming down the end. That benefitted me and gave me the lead.”
Like he has been all week, Lang didn’t quit and was able to cut into his competitors lead, winning the hole by shooting even on the 430-yard par-4. However, it was Hunter, having a great back nine, who prevailed on the final two holes in the quarterfinal match.
“On the last three holes, [Lang] came back on 16. [Lang] was solid up and down on the back, but I was able to put a good two-putt on 17 and put a good flop shot on 18 to finish it up.”
Match #2, Alex Jeffers, Woodland GC def. Matthew Naumec, GreatHorse, 2 and 1
On the par-3 150 yard 9th hole, Jeffers nearly became the first player this week to record a hole in one. After teeing off the back tees, his ball landed less than six inches to the right of the cup.
Luckily for Jeffers, he didn’t have to be perfect in order to take his match over his quarterfinal round opponent Naumec, a Boston College golfer who just recently finished his freshman year.
Jeffers birdied the first hole and never trailed again, going as high as 2 up on the front nine and as much as 4 up on the back half of the match.
“There are so many ups and downs in match play, but emotionally if you can get a little bit on a high and you are able to get [your opponent] thinking about it, you can get on top and hit fairways, hit greens and see what happens.”
That was key for Jeffers. He jumped out to that lead of 4-up and forced Naumec into a dormie after 14 holes, causing him the need to win-out in order to advance.
Despite Naumec winning the next two holes to keep his chances alive, Jeffers matched Naumec’s bogey on the par-4 17th hole to win the match by a score of 2 and 1.
“I’m really happy. It’s been an awesome week,” said Jeffers following his morning match. “I’ve played some really good golf. I played some good golfers. You always say its your goal to get to this point at the beginning of the week, but to actually get here is really really nice.”
Match #3 - Dan Cappucci, Boston GC def. Ryan Riley, Thorny Lea GC, 5 and 3
Cappucci matched Riley with a birdie on the opening hole and then made seven straight pars to carve out a 4-up lead through the first nine holes. With the wind picking up, both players kicked off the back nine by making three straight bogies.
Riley drew to 3 down with a par on the 377-yard, par 4 13th hole. On the next hole – the downhill par 3 gem which was playing to about 160 yards on this day – Riley found the right bunker and was unable to get up and down.
The match was dormie after Cappucci was able to two putt for par on that green. The match came to an end on the very next hole when Riley conceded a birdie to Cappucci and the 5 and 3 win.
Match # 4 - John Kelly, Twin Hills CC def. Thomas Henderson, Sterling National, 4 and 2
Henderson missed the fairway on his first four holes which allowed Kelly to jump out to 3-up lead through three holes. Kelly extended his lead to 4 up after Henderson missed the green with his iron shot off the tee and lost the hole after a two-putt bogey.
Henderson won two straight holes with birdie on the 9th and 10th holes. He first made a solid birdie putt on the 9th green and then – after his drive off the tee landed in the 11th fairway – Henderson reached the green with his third shot on the par-5 hole and one putted for birdie.
Kelly would take advantage of a Henderson bogey on the 12th hole (he found the right greenside bunker and could not get up and down) and then Kelly all but sealed a victory with a birdie on the 155-yard, par 3 14th hole where he stuck his tee shot to four feet.
Henderson fended off Kelly for one more hole with a birdie on the 15th hole, but Kelly closed out the 4 and 2 win with a par on the 16th hole.
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