Wellesley, MA - The first call that James Hazen (Miller Place, NY) made after tapping in his par on the 625-yard, par 5 18th hole for a final score of 6-under par 204 was to his father back home. At first the elder James Hazen was skeptical about the news that his son had just won his second career title since there were still golfers on the course.
However, minutes later the 28-year-old Hazen called his "Pop" back again to give him the news that he was indeed the 2010 Massachusetts Open Champion. Hazen captured the title with a one-stroke victory on the grounds of historic Wellesley Country Club. (story continued below)
"He didn't sound too excited at the beginning," said Hazen, who had to wait by the 18th green to see if Hawley could make birdie on the final hole to match his score of 6-under par. "When I called him back he was really excited. Like I said, he is my number one fan and my biggest supporter."
A career mini-tour player who captured the New York State Open in 2006, Hazen entered this week's tournament looking to gain some momentum heading into the heart of the summer season. After disappointing results over the past few weeks, Hazen looked to swing coach Matt Denzer from the David Leadbetter Academy in Florida for some guidance and swing adjustments. The training has paid off. In the past month, Hazen qualified for U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying and has now captured his second career title.
"My big thing is that I was geared up to get to U.S. Sectionals for a second year in a row and to do well in these tournaments," said Hazen, who also took home a winner's check for $15,000. "I was working hard with my coach and it filtered into this week."
Three strokes off the lead heading into the final round, Hazen methodically made his way around Wellesley's Centennial Course, took advantage of birdie opportunities and made few mistakes on the 6,903-yard layout. He made the turn at 1-under par 34 and then made his move by carding back-to-back birdies on the 471-yard, par 4 11th and 461-yard, par 4 12th holes. Although he dropped a stroke two holes later, he made up for the miscue by making his fifth birdie of the day on the 541-yard, par 5 15th hole.
"When I turned at 1 under and then birdied 11 and 12 and got to 6 under, I knew that I was at the meat of the golf course so I figured that I had a chance," explained Hazen. "I bogeyed 14 and needed a good swing on 15 down the fairway to right the ship which I made."
His poise was undeniable through his final three holes. In fact, while other players were losing their tee shots off the 18th tee, Hazen left himself an uphill 15-foot birdie putt on that hole which came inches from dropping in. At that point, Hazen had to sign his scorecard, catch up with friends and wait for the final two groups to finish. When it was all said and done, Hazen was simply relieved.
"When I showed up at the beginning of the week I saw that it was a tee shot golf course and that is usually the strength of my game because I am pretty straight off the tee," said Hazen. "The reason I am sitting here now is that I cleaned up extremely well this week. From five or six feet in, I can count on one hand how many I missed this week."
One person waiting anxiously for Hazen is a name familiar to Bay State golfers - Ryan Reilly, the 2009 Massachusetts Amateur Public Links and two-time Massachusetts Four-Ball Champion. Former teammates and roommates at Sacred Heart University, Reilly was on hand in Wellesley with his two young children and was one of the first to congratulate his longtime friend. After all, Hazen was the best man in Reilly's wedding and is godfather to Reilly's daughter Brianna. Now both men can say that they have yet another thing in common - they are both MGA Champions.
"Anytime you can get a win under your belt against a field like this - it's a great feeling," said Hazen. "After the Vermont Open, I'm going to go back down to Florida to work with my coach and celebrate a little bit."
And Low Amateur Honors Go To...
Capturing low amateur honors this year was a seasoned veteran and an up-and-comer from Georgia Tech. Former professional player Mike Calef (Brockton CC) and 18-year-old Richy Werenski (The Orchards GC) both posted final scores of 1-over par 211 to finish in a tie for 11th-place overall.
For Calef this marks the second time in his career that he finished as low amateur. The first such honor came back in 2008.
"That was one of my first events back as an amateur," said Calef, who represented Team Massachusetts at the 2009 Tri-State Team Matches. "I didn't know what to expect (back then), and I just went out there and played and that kind of happened. Once you do it once, you know what to expect."
Consistency was the key to Calef's game all week long. Following identical scores of even par 70 on Monday and Tuesday, Calef found himself 2-under par on Wednesday and threatening the top 10 overall. Unfortunately for the 32-year-old from West Bridgewater, he suffered a bogey on the 211-yard, par 3 13th hole and then a double bogey - his first and only of the tournament - on the 226-yard, par 3 17th hole to post a final score of 1-over par 71.
Despite the rocky finish, Calef couldn't help but be pleased with his finish against a field of professional golfers who have much more time to hone their skills.
"I definitely had my sights set on low amateur," said Calef. "If I could do that then it's fantastic."
Werenski, meanwhile, has a summer packed full of amateur golf events and he was thrilled to come through with a strong finish at this marquee Bay State championship.
"This was a big tournament for me and I wanted to do well," said Werenski, who was 4-under par and just two strokes off the overall lead heading into the third and final round. "Being from Massachusetts, it was an opportunity to finally get my name out there a little bit more than it already is. I am happy with low amateur. I didn't have my best round today, but it's kind of tough when you're in contention. I was two shots back and they call us amateurs for a reason. We still have a lot of stuff to work on."
Following impressive under-par rounds on Monday and Tuesday, Werenski struggled a bit with the tougher course conditions and the pressure of battling for a title and capped off his week with a 5-over par 75. Still, there are many positives to take away from this event as he looks forward to competing in next month's Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
"I felt really relaxed in the first two rounds and today obviously it was hard," said Werenski, who began his freshman campaign at Georgia Tech in January. "Once you make a bogey or two, you try and force a birdie and you don't play the golf course. The positive is that I played relaxed the first two days... I had a couple of bad breaks out there today, but I didn't play terrible. I don't feel like I blew up or that the pressure got to me."
The Shot of the Day
Jon Curran (Framingham, MA) may not have won the title, but he delivered the shot of the day by making a hole in one on the 211-yard, par 3 13th hole. Heading into that hole, Curran was 1-under par for the day and looking to make a move up the leaderboard for a strong finish. His wish came through on that par 3 hole as his hybrid shot off the tee rolled into the cup for a magical "1". Regardless of his finish today, it has been a memorable week for the Hopkinton native who was the only Bay State golfer to advance to the 2010 U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links (CA).
Second-Round Leader Curse
It was not the finish that the two second-round leaders were looking for. After battling their way to first place following the first 36 holes, second-round co-leaders Jim Renner and Scott Hawley struggled on day three and lost their delicate grip on first place.
Renner, who captured this title in 2008 and was looking for his third title in 2010 (he was victorious at two NGA Hooters Tour events this year), appeared to be focused as he made a difficult up-and-down save for par on the 1st hole and then drained a birdie putt from the fringe on the 364-yard, par 4 2nd hole. He then entered a disappointing stretch where he made bogey on six of his next 11 holes to fall out of contention. He battled back admirably, however, and played 3-under par golf through his final five holes. That stretch included an eagle - on the 541-yard, par 5 15th hole - and a birdie.
The difficulties started early for Hawley who was seeking his first-ever MGA Championship title. The Shrewsbury native and current Canadian Tour player dropped four shots through his first three holes to dig a hole that he could not recover from on Wednesday. Following a strong drive down the middle of the fairway on the 412-yard, par 4 1st hole, Hawley watched his approach sail over the green and suffered a double bogey. He went on to leave his birdie putt on the next hole - the 364-yard, par 4 2nd hole - short and then succumbed to another double bogey on the 3rd hole.
Much like his playing partner Renner, grit and determination defined his final few holes. Following that second double bogey, Hawley carded four birdies and two bogies to find himself just one stroke off the lead heading into the final hole. To get to that critical point, Hawley drained a 65-foot birdie putt on the 226-yard, par 3 17th hole. Although an errant drive ended his chances for a title, his performance did earn him his best career finish at this event.
The Big Break Comes to the Bay State
Two former participants in the Golf Channel's The Big Break - David Gunas (Amston, CT) and Eugene Smith (Glen Ridge, NJ) - show traveled to Massachusetts this week to take part in the Massachusetts Open Championship.
Smith, one of the Big Break Prince Edward Island contestants, advanced to the final round of this year's championship by posting a two-round total of 2-over par 142 to make the cut.
After a first-round score of 4-over par 74, he came through with a 2-under par 68 to secure his spot in the final round. It marked the second time that Smith narrowly missed the cut. One month ago at the Country Club of Pittsfield, Smith survived an eight-hole playoff to secure one of the final qualifying spots and earn the right to compete at Wellesley Country Club this week.
An accomplished collegiate player, Smith was victorious at the 2000 NCAA Big East Championship and was the Seton Hall Athlete of the Year in 2001. A Canadian Tour veteran also once shot 59 at his home course in New Jersey in a round that included a hole in one. In 2009, Smith competed on The Big Break and advanced to the show's eighth episode where he was eliminated in a challenge that featured each competitor holing out from three short-game locations surrounding the fourth green at Mill River Golf Resort in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
Another player who enjoyed the same experience was Gunas who was a two-time The Big Break competitor. He participated in The Big Break II and was then welcomed back to take part in The Big Break VII Reunion Show.
Prior to his national fame, Gunas - who was not recruited out of high school - played his way to a full scholarship at the University of Hartford where he not only won his first tournament but he also roomed with current PGA Tour stars Jerry Kelly and Tim Petrovic. Over the course of his professional career, Gunas won 28 professional tournaments and has shot 9-under-par for 18 holes on two occasions.
Massachusetts Open Championship Fun Facts
* More than 400 golfers (404) competed for 92 spots at six MGA Open qualifying sites. A total of 150 advanced to Championship Proper.
* This year's starting field was comprised of 151 professional and 49 amateur competitors.
* The first Massachusetts Open Championship was contested in 1905 at Vesper Country Club and won by Donald Ross.
* This year's event marked the third Massachusetts Open Championship held at Wellesley Country Club (1985, 1999, 2010).
* Since its debut in 1905, there have been 63 Champions crowned and 38 sites used to host this championship.
* To this day, Oyster Harbors Club has hosted the most Open Championships - seven in 11 years (1932, 1934, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942)
* A total of 17 clubs have hosted three or more Massachusetts Open Championships
* Alex Ross and Geoffrey Sisk have won the most Championships (six each!). Alex Ross captured the title a record five years in a row from 1906 through 1910.
* The longest any champion has ever gone between winning two Massachusetts Open Championships is nine years (Jesse P. Guilford: 1919, 1929).
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