Williamstown, MA (July 15, 2016) -- Brendan Hunter (Red Tail GC) turned what he thought was an improbable into a reality.
On Friday afternoon, the 20-year-old from Groton scored the biggest win of his career by capturing the 108th Massachusetts Amateur Championship. He capped off what was a magical week of golf at Taconic Golf Club with a 4-and-3 victory over John Kelly (Twin Hills CC).
“I only brought three outfits,” said Hunter with a grin. “I was just happy to be here."
Hunter was referring to the fact that he only packed enough clothes to get him through the first two days of stroke play. After all, he had never before made match play so he assumed it would be a short week.
However, after playing the first two rounds at 2-over par 144, Hunter had to make an emergency call home to his mother because he had earned the 9th seed in match play and needed clothing reinforcements. A trip to the local Target soon became a necessity as Hunter methodically made his way through the match play bracket.
His route to the finals included victories against strong opponents such as Matt Cowgill (Wayland CC), fellow St. Thomas Aquinas College teammates Christopher Gentle (Mount Pleasant GC), Jackson Lang (Nashawtuc CC) and then Alex Jeffers (Woodland GC) in the semifinals.
That hard work earned him a spot in the 36-hole final against Kelly, who had won this event in 2014. Hunter never trailed from start to finish. But it wasn’t until the 27th hole when he was finally able to break away from Kelly.
It came on Taconic GC’s 150-yard, par 3 9th hole. Kelly’s tee shot fell short of the green, but like he had done most of the round, Kelly was able to get up and down for par. With Kelly in with a 3, Hunter stepped up and drained a 15-foot birdie putt to go 2 up.
“I didn’t drop any putts all day long in the first 26 holes,” said Hunter. “On nine, I finally got one to lip in, and it got me on a roll. It gave me a little more confidence on the greens to two putt most of them.”
On the next hole, Kelly struggled with the false-front green and it took multiple attempts to get his ball to settle on the green. On the very next hole, Kelly was in perfect position – 180 yards out from the green in the middle of the fairway – while Hunter sent his drive left and into the rough.
What appeared to be an advantage for Kelly turned into a nightmare. His approach landed in the right greenside bunker and then his third shot sailed into the bunker on the opposite side of the green. Instead of winning that hole, Kelly lost it with a double bogey.
Hunter all but sealed his first major MGA championship victory on Taconic’s 12th hole – the 30th hole of the match – when he stuck his approach to two feet. In a matter of three holes, his lead had ballooned to 5 up with just six holes remaining.
“I thought that it got away from me at 11,” said Kelly. “To make a double bogey from 180 yards in the middle of the fairway is not acceptable… I think that put him 3 up and then it was 5 up like that. I fought as best I could.”
Kelly’s remarkable short-game play kept the match close through the morning 18 holes and then for most of the afternoon tilt. He was able to get up and down from around what are some of the most challenging green complexes in the state.
“I was scrambling like a maniac all day,” said Kelly. “After that many holes, it feels like I played 200 holes… it’s a lot and trying to grind every hole takes its toll. If I had hit the ball better, it would have been a lot more relaxing, but I didn’t. That is why he won.”
Hunter remained steady down the stretch and did not allow Kelly a chance to make a comeback run. The match came to an end on the 33rd hole, which is Taconic’s picturesque par-4 15th hole. Kelly looked to have the advantage with an approach that left him with a 12-foot birdie attempt. Hunter was long and a foot off the back of the green.
Hunter chipped to a foot, while Kelly watched his last attempt burn the edge.
“That is how match play goes. You know he is going to make a little bit of a run. I had to play better, that’s all.”
For Hunter this represents a continuation of what has been the best few months of golf in his young career. This past spring, he captured his first collegiate victory for St. Thomas Aquinas College, and now he can add The Commonwealth Cup to his list of accomplishments.
“I had never made match play before,” said Hunter. “Just being here is just phenomenal.”
Phenomenal for sure and definitely no longer improbable.
View results for Massachusetts Amateur Golf Championship