SOUTH HAMILTON, MA (July 16, 2010)--For the second time in three years, John Hadges (Thorny Lea GC) can call himself Massachusetts Amateur Champion.
On Friday afternoon, Hadges - who won this event for the first time in 2008 - outlasted Dan Head (Wellesley CC) by a score of 2 and 1 in what was a memorable battle on the grounds of Myopia Hunt Club, a course that has hosted four U.S. Open Championships since its opening back in 1894.
With his latest victory, Hadges, 49, becomes only the 19th golfer to claim two Massachusetts Cup titles since its debut back in 1904. The last player to accomplish that feat was Frank Vana, Jr. (Marlborough CC) whom Hadges defeated in the quarterfinals of this year's event.
"It's great," said a very tired Hadges, who also became the third Thorny Lea Golf Club member to win this prestigious title at Myopia Hunt Club. Ed Connell accomplished that feat first in 1955 and Steve Tasho followed in 1985.
Over the course of the five-day period, the two weary warriors logged a combined 282 holes of golf. The nearly nine-hour, 36-hole final match was a perfect end to an exciting week as it was a battle that saw 11 lead changes and no player gain more than a two-hole advantage from start to finish.
The match came to a close on the 35th hole when Hadges - with a 1 Up lead - made par to seal his victory and his place in Massachusetts golf history. For the 29-year-old Head it was his first-ever appearance in Match Play at this event.
"When we first started this morning I thought that I had the advantage," said Hadges. "I quickly realized after starting off that even though I had never heard of Dan, I had my hands full. He is a great guy and a very good player. After witnessing his game, I know that Dan will be back here."
After taking the lead - for the first time in the match - after 18 holes, Hadges built up a 2 Up advantage with one of his many incredible up-and-downs. This one came on the par-3 24th hole. Before he knew it, Hadges suffered a bogey on the next hole and then watched as Head drained a 50-foot downhill putt on the 26th hole to square the match.
Head would regain the lead for several holes, and it wasn't until the 31st hole when Hadges returned the favor by sinking a 30-foot birdie putt to take the lead for the final time.
"He had an identical putt this morning and it was deceiving because it was quicker than it looked," explained Hadges. "I made that putt and it gave me a second wind. I was a little tired at that point."
For Head, the final match marked the end of an incredible journey from qualifier to finalist. As a result of his performance this week, Head became the first Wellesley Country Club golfer since W.P. Hersey in 1925 to advance to the finals of this championship.
"I am perfectly happy with second place," said Head who was joined on the course by his wife Katherine, his parents and scores of family and friends. "This is my first time in Match Play so the whole week has been surreal. Every single match I played in was a bonus. To make it to the finals and go deep with John is an added bonus."
Interestingly, Head - a former collegiate standout from Hamilton College who doesn't have much time for tournament play these days (he is an insurance broker) - began his quest for this title back on June 16 when he came just one stroke from having to enter a playoff for the final qualifying spot at Needham Golf Club.
Without much fanfare, Head came to Myopia Hunt Club and quietly posted two solid stroke play rounds (including a second-round score of 1-under par 71) to advance to Match Play.
From that point on, Head played like a veteran who seemed unfazed by even the most stressful of situations. Whether he was taking on former New England Amateur and Massachusetts Open Champion Kevin Quinn (Charles River CC) in the first round or sticking his approach on the 18th green to inches to defeat three-time MGA Champion Ryan Riley (Norton CC) in the semifinals, Head was unflappable. In fact, he began today's final match by making birdie on his first two holes.
"I just got confident this week," said Head. "I played the course for the first time last week and felt comfortable and then I got hot in the second round and then in Match Play and gained some momentum."
His only downfall on this day seemed to come on the 17th hole where he twice ended up in trouble. During the morning match, his drive became wedged between two rocks on the left side and he had to take an unplayable. He lost that hole and the 1 Up advantage he had built up to that point in the match.
Then again on 17 (i.e. the 35th hole) with his back against the wall, Head sent his approach over the green and into the thick woods. Although he was able to find the ball, his opponent was safely on the green in two and Head knew that his dreams of winning the title were over.
"It was a magical run, " said Head. "I have been getting emails and phone calls nonstop for the last few days. It was nice to make a run and nice to make something happen."
What You May Have Misssed - Morning Hole Summary
The morning match lived up to its billing as both players matched each other shot for shot. Much like he has done all week long, Head jumped out to a fast start by making two key birdie putts on his first two holes. He held on to that lead despite more heroics - something that is becoming commonplace - from his opponent. Hours after chipping in from 45 feet to defeat Doug Clapp (Old Sandwich GC) on the 21st hole during the semifinals, Hadges chipped in again.
This time it came from 25 feet off the 2nd green where his ball took three bounces and rolled into the cup for a birdie "4". It was especially fortuitous for Hadges since Head - minutes later - drained an eight-foot birdie putt... his second birdie in as many holes. Head continued his strong play and gained his biggest lead of the morning - a 2 Up advantage - first on the 5th hole and then again on the 14th hole where he took advantage of bogies made by Hadges.
It was at that point when Hadges switched into a second gear and took control of the match. Facing a 2 Down deficit, the veteran carded pars on the 16th and 17th hole while Head struggled. On 16, Head missed a 4-foot par putt and then he sailed his drive on the 17th tee to the far left where it became lodged between two rocks. Hadges, meanwhile, was safely on the green in two and forced Head to concede that hole to draw even.
Hadges then put an exclamation point on the morning match by sinking his 15-foot birdie putt. What made the shot even more incredible was the fact that his perfect drive off the tee landed in a divot. He somehow managed to control his approach and find the green to set up his birdie putt to take a 1 Up lead heading into the lunch break.
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