Plymouth, MA (Sept. 14, 2010) -- Jack Kearney of Elmcrest Country Club knows all about pressure.
An Air Force veteran who flew A-10 Warthogs for 20 years put his poise and experience to work this afternoon at Plymouth Country Club as he sent his approach on the 386-yard, par 4 18th hole to three feet to set up a birdie putt that would secure his first career Massachusetts Senior Amateur Championship title.
Heading into that final hole, Kearney found himself deadlocked with Alistair Catto (The Orchards GC). With the pressure on, both players found the fairway off the tee. Catto was first up, landed his approach short of the flagstick and then watched as his ball trickled off the back of the green. Kearney then stepped up and hit the shot of the round.
"We both hit our best drives of the day and I actually had a 9 iron in my hand which was a little too much," said Kearney. "My caddy Bob Coates said to me that I should probably hit the wedge, so from 110 I hit it full. I knew that with a wedge I couldn't hit it off the back, and I was pretty sure it was good when I hit it."
The 55 year old entered today's round with a slim one-shot lead and - despite a difficult course setup and a strong challenge by Catto - Kearney prevailed to cap off a senior season debut which has seen the Western Massachusetts native win the senior title at the Francis Ouimet Memorial Invitational and qualify for the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship.
Interestingly, despite years of victories on the golf course and his reign as the 1992 Richard D. Haskell MGA Player of the Year, this marks the first MGA title for Kearney.
"I don't dwell on it but I always said that I would like to win an MGA event before I die," said Kearney, who finished in second place at the 2010 Massachusett Senior Four-Ball Championship. "I thought that I had a good chance two weeks ago at the Senior Four Ball and that got snatched away, so this is a good feeling."
Even though he has enjoyed a string of success on the senior amateur circuit, Kearney entered today's round with guarded confidence knowing that anything can happen, especially on the penal layout here in Plymouth. On the 349-yard, par 4 1st hole, Kearney drained a four-foot birdie putt and was on his way. He went on to make one more birdie on that front nine - on the 412-yard, par 4 9th hole - which helped to dull the pain from making bogey on the previous two holes.
"That was a two-shot swing right there because Alistair made bogey on that hole," explained Kearney. "Then I made an uphill curler on 10 for birdie which put me two up at the time, and I was feeling good."
While Bob Linn (Berkshire Hill CC), who stood in second place following Monday's first round, struggled through his first nine holes and fell back of the leaders, Catto - another wily veteran who just three years ago advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship - was surging and putting pressure squarely on Kearney.
Similar to his front nine experience, Kearney kicked off the back nine with that birdie on the 178-yard, par 3 10th hole. He went on to play 2-over par golf through his next seven holes before he made that incredible shot on the finishing hole to claim victory.
"That was up there with the best because everyone was watching," said Kearney. "I could not have had an easier putt, but I told myself that it was time to man up and knock in a putt."
Today's victory also continues what has been a love affair between Kearney and Plymouth Country Club. Since 1991, Kearney has made the trek to Plymouth every May to take part in the Hornblower Memorial Invitational. After years of battling for the top spot, Kearney finally broke through with his first title in 2005.
"This is one of my favorite spots in the world, and I wish that I was a member here," said Kearney. "The membership welcomes and embraces outsiders... that, along with a great golf course, is what makes this club so great."
While many would have been rattled by today's battle, Kearney - who spends his time serving as a pilot for Delta Airlines - remained unfazed, was quick to recognize the play of his fellow competitors and enjoyed catching up with old friends with a beer after the round.
After all, it's hard to rattle someone who back in 1996 advanced to Match Play at the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship and then departed for a combat tour of Bosnia.
"It depends on what your state of mind is... the game comes and goes and you never know," said Kearney. "But in the end it's just golf. In fact, it's just amateur golf."
Said like a true Air Force veteran... and now MGA Champion.
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Spearheaded by a score of 5-over par 74 on Tuesday, Jim Deveney, Jr. (Essex CC) captured the Super Senior Division title with a two-day score of 14-over par 152.
Deveney finished three strokes ahead of the next Super Senior division competitor, James Irving (Segregansett CC). This marks the first such title for Deveney, who turned 68 in February.
This latest victory marks a year of success for the veteran who was recently featured in an issue of North Shore Golf & Tennis Magazine.
Golf historian Gary Larrabee reported that nearly two decades after winning his last club championship at Essex County Club, Deveney won his first career club championship at his winter retreat in Palm Beach (FL), Old Palm Golf Club. It marked the 12th career club championship for the former Pingree School athletic director, who at one point won six Essex titles in 11 years. Previously, Deveney had won four at his former club, Tedesco, his first in 1964, his last in 1971.
Is It May in Plymouth?
Those who competed at Plymouth Country Club this week may have felt like it was May and they were playing in the Hornblower Memorial Invitational. After all, the weather was cool and breezy and the course was playing hard and fast.
Although some players fell victim to the difficult course setup with higher than usual scores, the Plymouth Country Club staff and membership wanted to give this week's competitors a feel for the challenge that the region's top players encounter in mid May at the Hornblower Memorial Invitational.
Many of the competitors in today's field have not only competed in that prestigious Hornblower event but also find their name on the list of past champions. Included in that list are Ray Richard (1989), Jim Ruschioni (1992), Alistair Catto (1997) and Jack Kearney (2005).
View results for Massachusetts Senior Amateur Golf Championship