Arthur Zelmati (MassGolf photo)
In one of the most incredible comebacks in the history of Mass Golf Championship events, Arthur Zelmati (Cranberry Valley GC) erased a seven-stroke deficit to win the 37th Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship on Thursday at GreatHorse.
Making his debut in the event, Zelmati shot a 4-under 68 in the final round before outlasting two-time champion Matt Parziale (Thorny Lea) in three holes of a sudden-death playoff. Zelmati pulled even with Parziale on the 17th hole, after the pair tied the 18th and first two playoff holes (18 and 1) he finally won the battle.
**See video the final two playoff holes below.
On the 127-yard, par-3 15th, Zelmati hit a pitching wedge, and his tee shot almost rolled into the hole but settled two feet above the pin. Parziale, who shot a 3-over 75, two-putted for par, allowing Zelmati to tap in for the victory.
“It’s more than I even hoped for,” said Zelmati, 32, of Boston, after capturing his first Mass Golf Championship victory. “I think it’s a great achievement after working so hard on my game and feeling like I was probably playing a little bit better in practice then getting nervous in tournaments.”
If the ball rolled a couple more inches, Arthur Zelmati would have pulled off perhaps the most epic finish to a playoff in any Mass Golf event.
After making back-to-back pars on the first two playoff holes against Matt Parziale, he stepped up to the 15th tee for the third playoff hole. His shot was right on line, and it spun back perfectly for a near ace. Earlier this week, Zelmati said he was surprised just to be in contention, but that shot put him on the verge of a spectacular victory.
“I thought it was going in,” Zelmati said. “It was like a dream, so you know I tried to get nervous over the putt, but it was only a foot so it was easy to make, and I’m happy that it was that close.”
Just like his final hole, Zelmati completed flipped the script in the final round Thursday. Sitting at 2-under, he was paired with Matt Parziale, who shot 9-under through two days, and defending champion Nick Maccario (Bradford CC), who was 4-under total.
“I definitely felt like the underdog with Nick and Matt,” Zelmati said. “I think that helped me a little bit just you know only focus on my game.”
The mindset worked as Zelmati went 2-under on the front nine, picked up four strokes on Parziale and pulled even with Maccario. Zelmati kept the pressure on with a birdie on the 11th and moving within a stroke after Parziale three-putted for bogey on the 13th.
Zelmati and Parziale finally separated from Maccario on the 14th, when Maccario’s second shot settled left on the cart path, and he went on to three-putt for bogey. The other two made birdie, setting up an epic showdown the rest of the way.
Parziale almost fell back to second place on the 16th but pulled off an incredible par save. His first shot landed on the lip of the left bunker on the edge of the fescue, and he popped his second into the air but rolled it into another bunker. After hitting out to the far edge of the green, he sank the 20-foot putt, while Zelmati also made par.
Zelmati finally caught Parziale with a birdie on the 17th, but it appeared all for naught after Zelmati’s tee shot landed far right into the rough, forcing him to punch out to about 100 yards ahead of the hole. Parziale hit the middle of the fairway and then hit a draw with his onto the left ridge of the green. Zelmati’s approach hit the green but was way short of the pin, giving Parziale the chance to two-putt for the win. However, Parziale left his first putt short and then pushed his 6-footer to win wide right. Zelmati then forced the playoff by making a 3-footer for bogey.
“He played a great round today,” Parziale said of Zelmati. “I thought it was a little tougher conditions today. The tees were back a little bit. He was bogey-free until 18, so other than that, he played really well.”
After signing their cards, Zelmati and Parziale went back to the 18th for the first playoff hole and tied again with two-putt pars.
Zelmati hit his tee shot on the 1st hole to the right and onto the parallel 10th fairway. Parziale reached the front of the green in two, but Zelmati chunked his second shot, which landed on the 10th green about 50 yards from the pin. Needing to take automatic relief and drop within one club length, not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief, Zelmati decided to drop on the first cut of rough just outside the 10th green. He then hit a perfectly-placed shot over the green slope that bounced on the edge of the front edge of the green and rolled within three feet.
“I just wanted to make really solid contact and hit the ball hard,” said Zelmati, who then tapped in for par to force another playoff. “I needed to land on the upslope so I just gave it my best and crossed my fingers.”
Despite relinquishing his lead, Parziale said he played his best stretch on the playoff holes. But overall he said his putting just wasn’t up to the same level it was when he shot 67-68 for the first two days.
“There were some good putts and some bad ones,” he said. “I just wish the bad ones could have been just a little bit better, maybe made one or two more.”
Zelmati’s seven-stroke comeback victory coincidentally happened on the birthday of the late Arnold Palmer. In 1960, Palmer staged the greatest comeback in U.S. Open history when he erased a seven-stroke deficit during the final round to win his only U.S. Open title. While Zelmati is a long way off from becoming a golf legend like Palmer, it’s always cool to pull off your first major victory, regardless of level, in a similar fashion to “The King”.
Well before Thursday’s comeback, Zelmati’s path to this victory has been a wild ride. Born in France, he moved to the U.S. when he was 13 and lived in New York City with his mother. He had played golf occasionally as a young child, but never competed frequently. Still, he had one specific goal in mind: “I wanted to play college golf my whole life,” he said.
Zelmati attended William & Mary University, a Division I school in Williamsburg, Virginia, but said his options were limited. “I never got to try out or anything, so I had to play and practice on my own,” Zelmati said.
He practiced well enough where he was able to make a few U.S. Amateurs (2009 & 2013), but “I didn’t play well once I got there, because I don’t think I have the game for tough courses.”
But Zelmati kept practicing and eventually moved to Florida to take a shot at pro golf. He played in the 2016 New York State Open, but after seeing the chasm between his game and other pros, decided to regain his amateur status and focus on competing at a more sustainable level.
Since then, Zelmati has moved to Boston with his wife and frequently plays George Wright Golf Course, where he won the club championship this year. Last year he qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur for the first time, and earlier this year made the match-play portion of the Mass Amateur Championship.
“I was kind of a late bloomer at every stage so for me now my 30s, competing at this level, I’m really happy,” he said.
Zelmati especially has his sights set on 2021 when the U.S. Mid-Amateur comes to Sankaty Head Golf Club on Nantucket. “I think I’ll feel confident and ready to play in it,” he said.
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