BIRMINGHAM, AL (September 29, 2016) -- Thanks to a second consecutive under-par round from Geoff Vartelas the team from Connecticut broke free of a four-way first round tie to sit atop the USGA State Team Championship leaderboard. Connecticut is one of two teams in red figures and at 3-under they lead Pennsylvania, 1-under, by two-strokes at the Country Club of Birmingham.
On Thursday Vartelas, a recent Penn State graduate, moved to 4-under as he followed up his first round bogey-free 3-under 68 with a 1-under 70. Vartelas, the individual leader, birdied three holes on the front nine to reach 6-under but gave a pair of shots back with bogeys on the closing nine. Until Vartelas bogeyed 12th hole he had played 29 flawless holes to begin his week.
For the second straight day John Flaherty was the second score recored for the Nutmeg State. Flaherty, 1-over for the weekend, shot a second round even-par 71. Flaherty was 2-over through 10 holes before battling his was back to even-par with consecutive birdies on the 12th and 13th holes.
“Geoff and I play at the same club, so we’ve been talking about it for a couple weeks. We’ve always said we had a good shot of playing well and competing if we both play our games," University of Connecticut graduate John Flaherty said. "[On Wednesday] after a good start we knew we were going to be here all week if we just kept playing well.”
Second place Pennsylvania, the 2009 champions, have been led by Christopher Crawford thus far. Crawford, after rounds of 69-70 is presently 3-under and tied for second individually. In the second round the 2016 U.S. Open participant began his day with the first of his four birdies to go along with three bogeys.
2015 U.S. Senior Amateur winner Chip Lutz registered the second team score by shooting an even-par 71. Lutz started his round with consecutive birdies, however a bogey, double-bogey stretch on Nos. 7 and 8 pushed him to 1-over for the day. Lutz scratched back even-par with a birdie on the 10th.
“I played steady and hit some great shots, so I was pleased with that part of my day, but my score didn’t really reflect what I was hoping to get out of it,” said Lutz.
Arizona is even-par and in third place thanks to 1-under 70 rounds from Cory Bacon and Ken Tanigawa. Bacon carded four birdies and three bogeys Thursday while for Tanigawa it was three birdie, two bogey day. Tanigawa was 2-over during his round until he rallied late with 13th, 15th and 16th hole birdies.
A trio of teams are tied for fourth at 1-over. The group includes North Carolina, Michigan and Missouri. Defending champion Texas was part of the first round but fell back into a tie for ninth and a 3-over tally.
The cut was set at the top 21 and ties and as a result 23 teams will take part in Friday's final round beginning at 8:00 a.m. local time.
-The USGA contributed to this story