Guthrie & Wilson lead Massachusetts Mid-Amateur

POCASSET, MA (Sept 13, 2011) — He wasn't supposed to be in the field, but John McNeill (BAGS)  is sure happy that he forgot to make an important call earlier this season.

The 50-year-old veteran carded an even par 72 at Pocasset Golf Club on Tuesday during day one of the 2011 Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship.

He currently sits just one stroke back of day-one leaders J.C. Guthrie  (Shaker Hills GC) and Joe Wilson (Orchards GC)and in a five-way tie with John Gilmartin (Indian Ridge CC), Billy Van Stratum(Dennis Pines GC) , Ryan Riley (Norton CC) and Mike Calef  (Brockton CC).

It was a welcome turn of events for McNeill, who does not always have a chance to compete in this event due to his responsibilities as an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). When he originally registered for the event back in February he thought that he would be teaching a night course during the fall semester. He found out months later, however, that his schedule had changed and thus he would need to withdraw from this week's event. The problem is that he forgot to make that call.

"When I saw my name on the starting times list I realized that I had forgotten to call to withdraw," said McNeill. "At that point, I didn't want to withdraw and leave two guys without someone to play with at Concord."

McNeill went on to perform well at that Concord Country Club qualifier and earned a spot at Championship Proper. When he arrived here at Pocasset Golf Club this morning, he put his academic thoughts to the side... at least for five hours while he carded one of the day's best rounds.

"I love Donald Ross courses and I tend to play well on them," said McNeill, who played another Donald Ross gem - Andover Country Club - at an MGA Member Day event held in May. "The greens are tricky, but I have learned where not to hit on them."

That knowledge of Ross designs came in handy on many occasion today, especially on the 423-yard, par 4 18th hole where he sent his approach to 10 feet above the hole. Realizing that he was facing a treacherous downhill putt that could easily turn a par into a bogey or something worse, McNeill gingerly rolled his birdie attempt to inches to secure his even par round.

And then there were moments during his round when he didn't need to tap into his greens knowledge. On the 518-yard, par 4 9th hole, for example, McNeill chipped in from off the green for eagle. That phenomenal shot stopped what had been a downward spiral of play where he had made bogey on four of his previous five holes.

"I parred in from there except for a birdie on 14," said McNeill. "I was like two different golfers out there. For the first eight holes I couldn't hit a drive in the fairway and then for the last 10 holes I was right down the middle."

On that 395-yard, par 4 14th hole, McNeill "crushed" his drive off the tee, sent his wedge to 12 feet and then drained an uphill curler for birdie. During those final 10 holes, McNeill played 3-under par golf.

"Even though I am an engineer I think more in terms of visual flow and not numbers," said McNeill. "I am more of a feel player... on the days I play good I can be very good but on my bad days I can be really bad."

Playing well in these types of events is nothing new for McNeill who finds himself in contention more often than not. In 2003, he finished second at the Massachusetts Mid- Amateur Championship and then in 2007 was a quarterfinalist at the Massachusetts Amateur Championship.

This time around, he is hoping that he will continue the type of play he started on the 9th hole and deliver a performance worthy of an "A".

"I am juggling my schedule and I have someone covering for me later this week," said McNeill. "I'll figure out a way to make it through."

The only other players who were able to best McNeill and the rest of the field today were Guthrie and Wilson, who both posted scores of 1-under par 71.

Guthrie began his round on the 1st tee and found his rhythm early. He made birdie on the 1st, 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th and 13th holes and was 4-under par through 13 holes (he made bogie on the 2nd and 11th holes).

"It is a great course," said Guthrie. "All of the holes are fair so there is nothing to get scared about. It's all right in front of you."

Although Guthrie was unable to keep up that sizzling pace through his final five holes (he made three straight bogies on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes) he was still able to hold his round together and break par.

"There were a lot of ups and down out there," said Guthrie. "There were a couple of bad shots that cost me, but I hit some shots in close and made some putts. I have been hitting the ball well, but scoring wise this is the best for me so far."

Hours after Guthrie turned in his scorecard, Wilson came through with the only other under-par round of the day during the afternoon wave of play.

"I putted very well and was able to get up and down a lot," said Wilson. "There were a lot of putts between six to eight feet that could have gone either way."

The 36 year old from Holyoke indeed rode a hot putter all day long and finished with three birdies (on the 7th, 14th and 18th holes) and two bogies.

"As soon as I came here I immediately loved the course," said Wilson. "The greens are rolling superbly."

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