Herbie Aikens (MassGolf/Twitter photo)
What started as 144 competitors in the field at the beginning of the day Tuesday quickly narrowed down to the top 33 competitors in the field as the final round of stroke play was held at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Following the completion of Tuesday’s second round of play, the field for the match play portion of the championship proper is set to begin. The match-play portion will begin with the Round of 32 and the Round of 16 on Wednesday, the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds on Thursday and the final 36-hole Championship match slated for Friday.
Due to the forecasted weather for Wednesday, tee times have been moved up one hour with the Round of 32 matches now beginning at 7:00 a.m. off the first tee. A playoff to determine the No. 32 seed will be held starting at 7:00 a.m. Wednesday between Matt Parziale and Mark Turner on the 16th hole.
Kingston’s Herbie Aikens, who entered Tuesday’s second round of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship one spot behind day-one leader Chris Francoeur, fired a day best 4-under 67 in the last round of stroke play to secure the No. 1 seed heading into tomorrow’s first round of match play. The 37-year old Aikens, who has now made the match play portion of the competition in four of the past five years, recorded five birdies en route to his two-day total of 7-under 135, three strokes ahead of Hopkinton’s Jimmy Hervol.
He finished Monday’s first round with a 3-under 68 mark which saw him tied for second with Halifax’s Dillon Brown and with a little shifting among the top leaders following Tuesday’s rounds, he now holds a five-stroke lead over Brown, who shot a 1-over 72. Francoeur shot a 1-over 72 as well, while Walpole’s Jack Boulger shot a 2-under to move into a T3 spot on the leaderboard.
“I just came out today trying to do the same things as yesterday and not get too far ahead of myself and just not try to do anything dumb,” said Aikens following his second round performance. “And make some putts again,” he added.
Starting on The Country Club’s 10th tee to begin his second round, Aikens parred the first hole and quickly went below par by birdying the par-5 11th hole and the succeeding par-3 12th hole. It was that early start that helped him get into a consistent rhythm for the remainder of the day.
“That definitely settled me down quick,” said Aikens of his start, which also included a birdie on the par-5 14th hole. “When you come out of the gate, and I didn’t even hit them that close, that is a good way to get going and it kind of takes the edge off and you just zone in and play golf. That is all it comes down to.”
He added, “From there, you make a couple of putts and you get some confidence. They might not all go in but you make a couple crucial ones and you can relax a little bit and feel like you can make good shots on the green and give yourself attempts and you don’t have to force anything.”
After making the birdie on The Country Club’s 14th hole, his fifth hole of the day, Aikens made par on the remainder of his front nine and made the turn at 3-under 33.
Playing much more consistently than he did on Monday, where he was forced to make birdies to erase three bogeys and stay in contention, Aikens only set back Tuesday came on the par-4 second hole – where he says a poor choice of club selection forced him to take a bogey.
“I tried to hit driver on two and just pulled it a little bit,” explained Aikens. “I think I just played a little bit smarter. I wasn’t firing at pins. You usually don’t make as many birdies but you kind of keep the drama down.”
He registered back-to-back birdies following the bogey on two, then parred out the remainder of the round.
On being able to return to match play, at such a historic venue nonetheless, Aikens says this opportunity is one he is excited for.
“In the first place, this place is special when you come here,” said Aikens of TCC. “The greens are smaller. I tend to be a better ball striker than other parts of my game, so getting on the green isn’t normally as stressful for me. I feel that if I get on the green, I get a putt attempt and I like the speeds of them and I feel like I can read them pretty well. They have been going in. Hopefully it stays like that all week.”
Aikens will look to become only the third competitor since 1999 to win the Amateur Championship as the No. 1 seed. Most recently in 2015 at Oak Hill Country Club, Nick McLaughlin won the championship as the No. 1 seed. Prior to that, John Hadges captured the 2008 Amateur championship at The Kittansett Club as the No. 1 seed. This marks the fourth time in the last five years that Aikens has advanced to the match play round.
ABOUT THE Massachusetts Amateur
Qualifying - 32 Holes at Stroke Play to determine
32 Qualifiers for Match Play. Entries are open to
amateur golfers who have an active MGA/GHIN
Handicap Index at any public, private, semi-private,
municipal or non-real estate MGA member course/club
not exceeding 4.4.
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