NORTH SCITUATE, Mass. -- If ever there was a tale of slaying the dragon, the team of Mike Dunham (Concord CC) and Cato Anderson (Concord CC) was the hero on this day.
Under windy and bitter cold conditions at Hatherly Country Club, the Concord duo used their golf clubs as swords and found a way to separate themselves from the rest of the field during the first round of the 2011 Massachusetts Four-Ball Championship.
Dunham and Anderson chipped in twice en route to a day-one low score of 5-under par 65. Two teams - Alex Stimpson (Woods Hole GC) and James Kroeger (CC of New Bedford) and Robert Butler (Norton CC) and Bill White (Norton CC) - stand one shot back with scores of 4-under par 66.
"You can see everything; there is nothing quirky about it," said Dunham, who like Anderson had never played the course until today. "With it being a shorter course, you can see the green and see where you are hitting it which was important. Nothing out there could confuse you. It was just a matter of trying to get the ball on the green with the wind."
It didn't always look so rosey for Dunham and Anderson who found themselves 1-over par through their first five holes. With the wind still whipping and temperatures dropping, the pair did not relent as they made birdie on three of their next four holes to make the turn at 1-under par 34.
"We hadn't seen the course so we just played away," said Anderson, who plays in limited MGA events during the season. "[On the front nine], we were getting a lot of up and downs for pars."
That scrappy play set them up for a stretch of nine holes that was unmatched by any other team. The back nine - considered the harder of the nines at Hatherly - was pure perfection as they finished their round with six pars, two birdies and one eagle! Anderson chipped in for eagle on the 265-yard, par 4 13th hole and then for birdie on the 182-yard, par 3 18th hole.
"Not for two 2s," said Anderson when asked if he could recall another tournament where he chipped in twice in one round. "It is so much fun to play with Mike because he is so consistent and fun to watch. That allows me to relax and not really worry about what I am doing and play my own game which is great."
As is usually the key to four-ball competition, the duo admitted that they played solid partner golf which enabled them to take chances and go for the big shots.
"When one of us is on the green on each hole it gives you a chance to make a par and that's what we did today," said Dunham. "At the beginning, we just couldn't get anything to fall... we were fortunate that we had chances that we capitalized on and then had a couple of chips ins. That goes a long way when you don't have to pull the putter out of the bag."
Sitting in first place at a golf event is a welcome change for Dunham, a former NHL standout who now serves as goaltending coach for the New York Islanders. Last year he finished second at the Francis Ouimet Memorial Tournament, was the first alternate at U.S. Amateur Qualifying and missed out on the final match play spot at the Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
"It was fun to be that close," said Dunham, whose father was a golf professional. "Golf has been in my family since I was born. It is fun to play in golf tournaments because I enjoy the competition. This is a great tournament to start off the year. With a partner, you can make mistakes and get the rust off. You also get to play two great courses and catch up with friends."
Sitting just one stroke back are two teams which include Stimpson and Kroeger, two young guns who perform customized club fittings at Acushnet Company's Manchester Lane Test Facility when not playing golf.
"You just have to grind it out," said Stimpson, who met Kroeger two years ago when they started working for the Acushnet Company. "You can't get frustrated because everyone is playing the same conditions. You have to try to stay in the hole and make some putts."
Similar to Dunham and Anderson, Stimpson and Kroeger began their round on the 10th tee and dominated the back nine by carding four birdies and just two bogies to make the turn at 2-under par 33. They were 2-under par through their first four holes before suffering back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes. It was then when the tide turned. Stimpson made birdie on two of the next three holes and then Kroeger drained an 11-foot birdie putt on the 347-yard, par 4 1st hole.
"We made fours 3s in a row," said Kroeger, who watched his partner make a 6-foot birdie putt on Hole 16 and then a 15-footer on Hole 17. "After the two bogies we had just made, that was the most important stretch. We then had some easy pars after that and then Alex made a 35 footer on [Hole 7]."
And to think it could have been even better.
On their final hole of the day - the 405-yard, par 4 9th hole - Kroeger's second shot from 55 feet came to a stop on the lip of the hole. For a few long seconds, all players in the group thought that the gusting wind would knock it in for birdie. Although they didn't get that lucky roll, they were still flying high given that they hold a two-stroke lead heading into Wednesday's round.
"We are happy to be in contention given all of the talented teams that are in the field," said Stimpson. "This is where you want to be. Nothing is going to change for us tomorrow. We are going to keep playing the way we did today."
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