Jackson Lang, Jacquelyn Eleey, Frank Vana Jr. (David Colt photos)
AUBURNDALE, Mass. (July 27, 2018) – After he began this week by making birdie on his first five holes at Concord Country Club, Jackson Lang had a feeling that something good might happen.
What transpired over the next three days, however, probably exceeded any expectations he might have had on day one. On Friday, Lang calmly sank a 2-foot par putt on the 18th green of Woodland Golf Club for a final-round score of 3-under par 69 that earned him the 51st Ouimet Memorial Tournament title. It marks the first major state championship for Lang, who turned 21 last month.
“This is great. I love it,” said Lang, who advanced to the semifinals of the 2018 Massachusetts Amateur Championship. “It’s the last tournament on my summer schedule. I felt like I was moving in a great direction. You don’t win very much, so it’s really special when you do.”
Lang entered the final round two strokes back of day-two leader Timothy Umphrey after following up his day-one score of 4-under par 66 with a 1-over par 71 on Thursday. He knew that he would have to make up ground on Friday, especially with a crowded field including defending champion Matt Parziale also just a few shots back of the lead.
“When you play in tournaments like the Mass Am, the New England Am and this tournament there are a lot of good players and you are going to play well a lot and not win,” said Lang. “It is sort of how it is and how it has been the last couple of years. It is always pretty nice to have something to show for it.”
Lang had much to show for this week and it all began back on Wednesday morning when he enjoyed what might be his best start ever. He made five straight birdies at Concord Country Club and was almost was 6-under through five holes after his approach on the fifth hole nearly holed out from the fairway for eagle.
“When you go five under in the first five holes on the first day you definitely feel like you are going to be at a good spot at the end of the week was basically how I saw it,” said Lang. “So I got the 66 on the first day and was feeling great, but it was the same stuff. This is really cool. I am playing really well, and I am going to have some fun with it and see what happens. I don’t know if I have ever started off with five birdies, so maybe there was a little something special there.”
Lang used his first-round momentum to keep himself in contention through Thursday and into the final 18 holes on Friday. Playing in the second to last group of the day, Lang quickly vaulted up the leaderboard with early birdies on the 2nd and 4th holes in Auburndale. He would make one bogey on the front nine to make the turn at 1-under par.
“I had no idea where I was or what was going on,” said Lang. “I was under the impression that I had to make some birdies. I knew there were those two par 5s on 11 and 12 coming up when I made the turn so I tried to play smart and take advantage of those.”
Despite sending his first shot on the 553-yard, par 5 11th hole into the 14th fairway, Lang was able to strike a perfect second shot to set up a birdie on that hole as well as the 477-yard, par 5 12th hole.
“There was a lot of staying patient and waiting for the opportunities to come and not playing stupid golf,” said Lang, a rising senior at Davidson University who just last year became the first golfer in school history to win an Atlantic 10 Men’s Golf Individual Championship. “I kept the ball in front of me and didn’t make any bogies.”
He took over the lead when he hit his approach on the 403-yard, par 4 14th hole to two feet. He would go on to make bogey on his next hole and finish the round with three straight pars. Unbeknownst to Lang when he tapped in his final putt on 18 that he was a champion.
“It’s not really information that I need,” said Lang when asked why he didn’t keep track of the rest of the field during his round. “I feel like I am not really going to change my strategy a whole lot in response to it. If I do it is going to be so marginal that it’s not really going to matter, so I would rather not burden myself with any extra pressure or any extra knowledge that I don’t need and just go out and play the game that I know and use the formula that I know works.”
Lang’s formula worked just fine on Friday despite a push from Parziale, who after making birdie on two of his first three holes and a third on the 603-yard, par 5 ninth hole, had held the overall lead through most of the front nine.
An even-par back nine, however, proved not enough as Parziale needed to hole out from the fairway on the 365-yard, par 4 18th hole in order to force a playoff.
“I played fine today. I thought that I hit a lot of good shots that I didn’t get rewarded for especially down the stretch,” said Parziale, who finished at 5-under par 207. “I putted well to stay in it. I made a lot of par putts. I am pleased with the way I played but I was just one short.”
Making this week even more special for Lang is the fact that his first major state championship is named after one of his golf idols.
“I take lessons over at The Country Club,” said Lang. “That guy started the whole golf scene up here, so to win Francis Ouimet’s tournament is a little bit extra special.”
Frank Vana, Jr.
entered Friday’s final round of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament with a five-stroke lead after finishing atop the leaderboard in both the first and second rounds, the only competitor with that honor. On Friday at Woodland Golf Club, Vana had his best round of the week – shooting a 4-under 68 – to claim his first Eddie Lowery Division title and becoming only the third person in the 51 years of the tournament to win both a Championship title and a Lowery title in their career.
“It kind of felt like it came together today. I drove it pretty well and then I was hitting it pretty close and then I was making some putts, which was good,” said Vana, after his round – which was highlighted by six birdies on the day. “Even my not-so-good shots worked out pretty well.”
Playing the same course where he had won each of his five previous Ouimet Memorial Tournament titles dating back to 1998 as a member of the Championship Division, the Boxford resident Vana made birdie on each of his first three holes and five of his first nine to extend his lead coming to the home half of the 54-hole tournament.
That start, which helped push him to an eventual 10-stroke lead over second place finisher Keith Smith of Franklin, was one that he says helped set the pace for the rest of the round.
“In your mind, that’s what you kind of draw up and it just worked out that way,” said Vana on his start. “I hit it to three feet on one. Made that. Hit it to 12 feet right below the hole in good shape on two and made that then hit it to about six feet on three and made that.”
After birdies on both the par-4 7th hole and the par-5 9th hole, Vana carded another one on the par-5 12th hole to add to his lead before making par on each of the final six holes. Even the two bogeys he had on the day were near misses that didn’t force him to change too much.
“I was not really ever in trouble,” said Vana. “I missed two greens just on the edge of the green and three-putted those. Those were my two bogeys. I was not really ever in trouble. For the most part, kept it in front of me and made some putts, which was great.”
With his win, Vana joins both Jack Kearney (1992, 2010) and Kevin Carey (2000, 2014-15) as the only competitors to win both titles.
It ended a lot closer than she may have envisioned when she started her final round of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament Friday morning at Woodland Golf Club, but the end result for Quincy’s Jacquelyn Eleey
was a huge save for par on the 18th hole and a one-stroke victory over Shannon Johnson
for the women’s division title.
Playing the course for the first time since winning her first Ouimet title a year ago, the former Georgetown Women’s Golf captain Eleey shot a 3-over 75 Friday to finish the 54-hole tournament at 3-over 219.
Eleey held off Johnson, of Norton, who made birdie on four of her last eight holes in Friday’s final round and had a great look on 18 before missing the birdie putt that would have sent the contest into sudden death.
“Definitely got a little nervous coming down to the end,” said Eleey following her round. “Shannon started playing really well down the end and really put some pressure on me. She birdied 16 and 17 and had a good look here on 18.”
With Johnson on the green in two and needing a birdie to continue the round on the 18th hole, Eleey was down low and to the left of the green looking to save par and build her streak to seven straight pars to finish the round.
While she said her putting was her best on Friday, her chipping came in handy when she needed it to most to set up a momentous putt that sealed the win.
“I ended up having a good lie there on the left side of 18 and hit a great chip,” added Eleey. “I had about a seven footer up the hill and hit it right where I wanted to and it went in.”
With her win, which came in her final Massachusetts event as an amateur, Eleey became the first competitor since Megan Khang (2011-12) to win back-to-back titles. Only Alison Walshe (2004-06) has more wins in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament’s Women’s Division. Both Khang and Walshe have gone on to successful careers on the professional tours and Eleey looks to take a similar path when she enters LPGA Qualifying School in Palm Springs, California beginning August 20.
Starting off in the final group of the day with Johnson and round one leader Hannah Ghelfi, of Falmouth, Eleey parred the first hole, bogeyed the second and then carded pars on the next six holes to make the turn at 2 over. Her only other bogey came on the par-5 11th hole, playing the course the remainder of the round.
While it was a good end to what was an exciting week for Eleey, the 23-year old said this week’s tournament was a good preparation for her next journey.
“Very excited for that opportunity. I think this tournament got me ready for [Qualifying School]. Definitely feeling the pressure coming down the stretch and there’s going to be a lot of pressure there too, so I’m happy I was able to play in this to get me ready for that.”