MARBLEHEAD, Mass. (July 13, 2012) -- It took him 136 holes and 1,800 miles to get here, but Mike Calef (Brockton CC) can now call himself a Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
Under hot and breezy conditions at Tedesco Country Club, the 33-year-old West Bridgewater native outlasted Mark Souliotis (Haverhill CC) in 35 holes to win the The Massachusetts Cup by a score of 3 and 1.
As a result of his victory today, his name will now be etched on the same trophy as golfing legends such as Francis Ouimet, Frederick J. Wright, Jr., Eddie Lowery and Jesse Guilford.
"I am 33 years old and I feel all of 33 and plus a bunch today," said Calef. "I don't know what else to say, it was a fantastic week and was completely unexpected... I don't know how it happened to me, but here I am."
The journey to this triumphant moment for Calef has been a long one that began one year ago when he was eliminated in the round of 32 at the 2011 Massachusetts Amateur Championship. On the ride home, Calef's wife Alicia received a call about a new job opportunity. Within days, the Calef family was making plans to relocate to Texas.
Calef stayed back home long enough to win the 2011 Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship in September and serve out his final days as director of golf at Brockton Country Club.
Since that time, Calef has maintained close ties to his home club and was looking forward to returning to the Bay State to compete in the Massachusetts Amateur Championship. What has transpired over the past five days went well beyond his expectations.
"It started off as a homecoming and a chance to play a little bit of golf with my buddies," said Calef. "I would have never thought that I would have a trophy at the end of the week."
Beginning on Wednesday and after finishing as one of four medalists from the stroke-play portion of the event, Calef methodically made his way through the bottom half of the match play bracket. He defeated formidable foes in John Hogan (Ferncroft CC), Doug Clapp (Old Sandwich GC), Josh Salah (Bass Rocks GC) and then Jack Whelan (Myopia Hunt) in the semifinals.
On Friday morning, Calef did not start off the way he had hoped for against Souliotis as he found himself 2 down through 2 holes after a bogey on the 1st hole and a par on the 2nd hole. He took advantage of a Souliotis bogey on the 368-yard, par 4 5th hole and then chipped to 18 inches for his first birdie of the day - on the 277-yard, par 4 6th hole - to draw even.
His lead would be short lived, however, as Calef would block his 3-iron shot wide right of the green on the 7th hole for bogey. He took back control by making birdie-eagle on the back-to-back par 5s (9th and 10th holes). By the time the first 18 holes was completed, Calef held a slim 1-up lead.
"In match play you try to react to whatever is going on," said Calef. "There were times where I hit great shots and I hit great putts. And there were times where I was a little shaky. And it was tough to play against Mark like that because he is so steady. He is every fairway and every green and every ball is rolling right up to the edge if it doesn't go in."
It was deja vue for Calef when the afternoon round started as he played 1-over-par golf through his first two holes and was once again 1 down to Souliotis.
"I knew that I was lucky to escape the first 18 holes 1 up and then don't I go out and give him the first two holes to start the second," said Calef. "It was definitely a roller coaster. A roller coaster of emotions in my head too."
It wasn't until the 26th hole when Calef made his first long putt - a 9 footer for birdie to square the match.
"It was total confidence," said Calef. "I had that exact same putt the first time around and we read the break and played the break and it didn't break and we missed it on the edge' as soon as it left the putter and when it went in I was like 'here we go, let's build on that' and I was able to do that."
He went on to make birdie on the 27th hole to regain a 1-up advantage. It marked the fifth time that Calef had made birdie on that hole. In fact, Calef credits that stretch of holes - 5 through 10 - for his success this week and it's no wonder since he played those holes at 22-under par. He finished with 22 birdies, 21 pars, 2 eagles, two bogies and one double bogey.
"That stretch right there for me was where I had to get going and in each of my matches.' said Calef. "I played that stretch 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 from stroke play to match play way under par. I struggled on the back nine on those tighter holes where the wind is swirling."
With the wind picking up as the afternoon wore on, Calef entered that more challenging stretch but his putter came alive when he needed it to, especially on the 32nd hole where he made a critical 4-foot par putt to win the hole and gain a 2-up advantage with just four holes to play.
On the very next hole, Souliotis chipped to inches and Calef responded by chipping to three feet and draining a par putt to halve the hole and preserve his 2-up lead.
In fitting fashion, Calef - from a difficult spot between two bunkers on the 34th hole - hit a chip that landed three feet from the hole and set up yet another par putt save that put the final touches on this victory. He closed out the match with a two-putt par on the 35th hole.
"It's my number one," said Calef about this event. "Every year you look at what tournaments you play and everything surrounds the Amateur. What do I have to do to get my game to be at the best it can be when the amateur comes."
And there is no question now that Calef was most certainly at his very best this week.
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