GREAT BARRINGTON, MA (July 13, 2011) — It was a day filled with record-making performances and a storm that dropped inches of rain in a mere 30 minutes.
At the end of a long day, however, a Massachusetts Amateur Championship field that once numbered 144 was trimmed to the final eight. Only those competitors have earned the right to return to Great Barrington on Thursday to take part in the quarterfinal and then semifinal matches.
One of the last matches to finish on Wednesday evening featured the two-time and defending champion John Hadges (Thorny Lea GC) and four-time MGA Champion Ryan Riley (Norton CC).
In that match, Riley pulled an upset over Hadges with The story of the day, however, began hours earlier.
Riley finished his Round of 32 match against Brenden Beeg (Vineyard GC) in 17 holes and was ready for his next match. He would soon learn that the wait would be longer than normal. Unlike Riley - who defeated his opponent by a score of 3 and 1 - his eventual Round of 16 foe (Hadges) was in the middle of a battle that he won't soon forget.
Taking on Tim Tunstall (Longmeadow CC), Hadges came back from an early 3 Down deficit to force extra holes. The match would wear on for more than six hours until Hadges made a memorable bunker shot on the 26th hole to set up a par putt that secured his victory. The bunker shot landed a foot and a half from the hole.
Thankfully for Hadges, the skies opened up after he returned to the clubhouse and play was suspended for 38 minutes. Once the weather cleared up, the rest of the Round of 16 matches resumed and Hadges once again stepped onto the 1st tee... this time to take on Riley, who had been waiting anxiously in the clubhouse for nearly three hours.
"I know how tolling it is to play 18 and to have Johnny play 26 and then another 18... I knew my legs would be tried and I assumed the same for him," said Riley. "I figured that if I could keep hitting solid shots that eventually good things would happen. He missed a couple of mid-range putts on the back nine and I made a couple of up-and-downs and outlasted him."
Hadges battled valiantly as the afternoon turned into evening and the match was all square through six holes until Hadges suffered back-to-back bogies on the 7th and 8th holes to go 2 Down. Although Riley gave one back on the next hole, he carded a birdie on the 10th hole to halve the hole and then - with Hadges looking at a good birdie opportunity on the 11th green - he got up and down from the right bunker to make par and halve that hole to remain 1 Up.
"I have been steady all week long," said Riley. "I have hit it in play all week and have hit a lot of greens. When I have missed, I have missed in the right spots. I made a couple of good putts and hit it solid all day long. I also took advtnatge of some holes and didn't give away much which is key against a guy like Johnny."
Riley went on to make four straight pars and appeared to outlast Hadges who suffered back-to-back bogies on the 14th and 15th holes. Riley closed out the match on the 17th hole with a par - one of 13 he made during that match.
"I feel free; I could go out an play another 18," said Riley. "I was worried about my conditioning coming into this event, but I feel fantastic. I have a pep in my step and didn't miss too many shot all day and am excited for tomorrow."
Riley will face off against Dan White beginning at 8:18 a.m.
A Veteran Battle... That Went Extra Innings
The final match to finish on Wednesday was an epic battle between two of the top mid-amateur competitors in the state - Brian Higgins (Franklin CC) and Doug Clapp (Old Sandwich GC).
The two warriors continued their Round of 16 match until the 24th hole when Clapp made a par to win and defeat the reigning Richard D. Haskell MGA Player of the Year.
Lucky Day For Grillo
Most golfers are fortunate to chip in once during a tournament. For Antonio Grillo (Farm Neck GC), it was truly a magical day. The former Massachusetts Junior Amateur Champion and now Harvard University standout chipped in for birdie during his morning and afternoon rounds to help secure a spot in the quarterfinals.
During the morning match against Jack Whelan (Myopia Hunt Club), Grillo played from behind until the 17th hole. With Whelan holding a 1 Up lead, Grillo sent his approach shot on that 401-yard, par 4 17th hole into the grassy mound to the left of the green. Unable to see the hole (which was a front-left hole location), Grillo somehow made an incredible chip that hit the flagstick and dropped into the hole. Grillo won that hole and then won the match with a par on the 18th hole.
About that chip
That victory set up a fun matchup against his friend Davis Mullany (Wyantenuck CC), who competed against Grillo while at Dartmouth College. Although Mullany had the advantage of a huge gallery of support, Grillo came back from an early 2 Down deficit to square the match at the turn. Mullany, who made some incredible putts and up-and-downs all afternoon, grabbed a 1 Up lead thanks to a birdie on the 11th hole. He held that lead until the 15th hole when magic struck again.
Grillo, whose ball was sitting in the greenside rough, chipped in from 25 feet for birdie to win the hole and square the match. Mullany proceeded to bogey the next hole to relinquish his control of the match for the first and - what proved to be - last time.
Medalist Colin Brennan Continues to Roll
While everyone else was still on the course, this year's medalist Colin Brennan (Indian Ridge CC) was already relaxing in the clubhouse after defeating Scott Congdon (Foxborough CC) by a score of 4 & 2 in his afternoon match. Brennan was the first player to secure a spot in the quarterfinals.
"I felt some pressure early on," said Brennan, who earlier in the day defeated Noah Walker (Harmon Club) by a score of 1 Up in the Round of 32. "Coming off two great days of stroke play it's tough to regroup and start over in match play. The first days meant nothing except that I qualified for match play. This morning, I was nervous but once you get back into the swing of things in match play you gain some comfort."
While his morning match was a grind (Brennan was never able to gain more than a 1 Up advantage over Walker from start to finish), Brennan eased into his afternoon match and was 1 Up through nine holes against Congdon, who was coming off an impressive 5 & 3 victory over John Gilmartin (Indian Ridge CC).
On what must be Brennan's most favorite hole on the course - the 324-yard, par 4 10th hole - he made his second eagle in two days to take a 2 Up lead. He carded his first birdie of the afternoon match on the 423-yard, par 4 12th hole to extend his lead to 2 Up and then made four straight pars to win by a score of 4 & 2.
"I actually felt more pressure in the morning as a medalist, but after I got that match under my belt it doesn't matter anymore," said Brennan. "Everyone on the board could easily win this thing. The field in match play is phenomenal."
An added bonus for Brennan was that he was done with his two matches before a heavy downpour fell over Wyantenuck Country Club and forced a 38-minute suspension of play. Following that passing storm, the remaining Round of 16 matches resumed. Included in that group was Brennan's quarterfinal opponent - Dan Falcucci (Cyprian Keyes GC) - who outlasted Andy Mai (The Ranch GC) - in 19 Holes in the Round of 16.
"It was a long day of 18 holes this morning and 19 holes this afternoon," said Falcucci. "I feel fortunate to have advanced against two good players in Paul Murphy and Andy Mai."
Admittedly, Falcucci was not as sharp as he has been in recent weeks, but he managed to pull through with two victories - first a 1 Up win over 60-year-old Paul Murphy (Charles River CC) and then an "overtime" victory against Mai, the 2010 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Champion.
Falcucci held a 1 Up lead heading into the 18th hole against Mai, but an errant drive off the tee led to a challenging approach from the right pine trees. Although he managed to make par, Mai sent his wedge approach shot to four feet to send it to extra holes. On that 19th hole, both players found the green in two. While Falcucci was able to roll his 15 footer to inches, Mai had to make a two footer to extend the match but he missed the putt.
"I am really happy to win, but it was bittersweet to see a great player and a good kid like Andy miss a putt like that," said Falcucci. "On the hole before, I wasn't getting down. I was thinking that I made a good par that he had to answer with a great birdie."
This marks the second time in as many months that Falcucci is competing in match play. Last month, Falcucci was defeated in the first round of match play at the 2011 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship by eventual quarterfinalist Daniel Miernicki. The experiences gained from that - as well as from his semifinal run at the 2008 Massachusetts Amateur Championship - have given Falcucci an added lift this week.
"A lot of it is having the confidence by playing a top notch player like Daniel," said Falcucci. "Knowing that I can compete against the best players out there and back here gives me added confidence. Given that, I am going to have to play better than I did today to beat a player like Colin."
Frank Vana, Jr. Still in the Mix - Seeks Third MGA Amateur Title
Vana made the most of his 21st consecutive appearance in match play with two strong victories. During the morning match against Steven Burak (Thorny Lea GC) - an opponent 29 years his junior - Vana fell behind early and was 2 Down through 7 holes after Burak made birdie on three of his six holes. The players made the turn with Burak holding a 1 Up lead, but Vana went on a birdie barrage on the back nine. He carded birdies on the 10th, 12th, 13th and 15th holes to take a 3 Up lead through 15 holes and eventually close out the match on the 17th hole.
"For the most part, I hit the ball solid and putted pretty well," said Vana. "I had a couple of hiccups out there which you always have in match play, but I halved some of those holes and I only lost a few."
Thankfully for Vana, his afternoon match against Matt Bianchini (Mount Pleasant CC) ended early - on the 14th hole - which allowed the 48-year-old veteran to relax and prepare for his quarterfinal match.
"We were both tired and had some tired swings out there," said Vana of his Round of 16 match. "I still felt like I was putting well, and I made some nice up and downs. It was a little more of a struggle out there because I wasn't as sharp."
Facing off against Vana will be Bradford Tufts (Tedesco CC), who posted two comeback victories today to secure his spot in the quarterfinals.
During the morning round, Tufts was 1 Down through nine holes before his opponent - Andy Drohen (Crestview CC) - made a bogey on the 11th hole to square the match. It would remain that way until the 17th hole when Drohen made bogey and then was forced to concede the final hole to give Tufts the 2 Up victory.
It was similar in the afternoon as Tufts came back from a 2 Down deficit to Joe Cunningham (The Country Club) through 11 holes. It was solid play during that stretch - he made six pars and one birdie on the 12th hole - that propelled Tufts to that 1 Up win over Cunningham. This marks the second straight apperance in the quarterfinals for Tufts, who was defeated by Jordan Burke (Needham GC) at the 2010 Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
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