FRAMINGHAM, Mass. (Sept. 6, 2012) -- It took him six years and two surgeries, but Frank Vana, Jr. (Marlborough CC) finally captured his record eighth Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship title.
After two straight days of persistent rain, the skies finally cleared and set the stage for a record-setting performance by the perennial amateur standout.
Vana, who has been the MGA Richard D. Haskell MGA Player of the Year a record nine times over the course of his career, rolled in a three-foot par putt on the 18th hole at Framingham Country Club to seal his one-stroke victory and recapture a title he last won in 2007.
No golfer has ever won as many Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championships.
"It feels great," said Vana, who underwent shoulder and knee surgery this past winter. "It has been a long time since I won this, but I was happy that I was able to stay calm and remain focused through the rain delays and then today when I knew that it was going to be close."
To say that it has been a long road back to the podium for Vana would be an understatement.
Over the course of his career, he had captured 12 MGA Championships with his last coming in 2007 when he won this title. Although seemingly always in contention (he has advanced to the finals of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship in six of the past 10 years), he was wondering when that 13th title would come... until today.
"I was wondering when it would come because I have been hitting the ball well and coming up short," said Vana. "I have tried to remain positive, and I think that it finally paid off this week."
Vana capped off his victorious performance with an even par 72 on Thursday to edge Mike Dunham (Concord CC) and Brian Higgins (Franklin CC) by one stroke. Heading into that final round, Vana held a slim one-stroke lead after posting a 1-under par 71 on Tuesday under challenging conditions.
In fact, the heavy rainfall on both Tuesday and Wednesday forced championship officials to reduce the event to 36 holes. The change in format worked out just fine for Vana, who had a slew of talented golfers nipping at his heels from start to finish.
"It turned it into a little bit of a horse race with today being the final round and it added some extra pressure," said Vana, who won the Massachusetts Amateur Championship in 2004 and 2005. "I am happy with how I played. I was focused and didn't have too many bad shots. I saw the lines on most of my putts, and I posted as high of a score as I could have posted."
Through his first nine holes on Thursday, Vana was solid until he suffered back-to-back bogies on the 8th and 9th holes. His advantage had disappeared and he found himself trailing Dunham - who earlier in the day posted a two-day score of even par 144 - by one stroke.
"It was very frustrating," said Vana who missed the green on the 8th hole and then was in between clubs on the 9th and came up short of the green. "I hit every fairway and green on the front until those two holes, so I was a little hot making the turn."
Vana righted the ship on the back nine where he came through with critical birdies on the 10th and 12th holes. On the 378-yard, par 4 10th hole, Vana hit a gap wedge to six inches. He then chipped to a foot of the hole on the 510-yard, par 5 12th hole. He was unflappable from that point on as he hit every fairway and green in regulation.
"I didn't know where I stood, but I knew that it was going to be close," said Vana. "I was focused on hitting quality shots and I did that."
While his history in MGA Championships is unmatched, Vana is quick to thank those around him. He first talked about his surgeon Brian McKeon, who was instrumental in Vana's recovery from his two surgeries. McKeon - who is also the Boston Celtics team physician - and his team performed the knee and shoulder surgeries on Vana in January.
"I wouldn't be pain free and playing at this level if it wasn't for Brian and his team," said Vana.
Along for the ride today once again was Vana's longtime friend Dick Premerlani who has served as Vana's caddy since 2008.
"I have not won with Dick on my bag and it is something that I felt bad about," said Vana, who met Premerlani during his practice round for the 2005 Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship when it was held at Premerlani's home course of Berkshire Hills Country Club. "I am so happy to have won this championship with him. It was a special moment for both of us."
Special... and record breaking. With his 13 MGA Championship titles, Vana ties Jim Ruschioni for the most in history.
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