Two USGA champs from same club earn Mass Golf top player honors
Matt Parziale, Shannon Johnson (Mass Golf photos)
Matt Parziale, Shannon Johnson (Mass Golf photos)

Matt Parziale and Shannon Johnson, members at Thorny Lea Golf Club in Brockton, Mass., have earned Massachusetts Golf Association's Player of the Year honors for 2020-21.

This marks the seventh Player of the Year Award for Parziale, while Johnson has now won four times. It's also the third time Parziale and Johnson have won the award in the same year.

Since 1976, Mass Golf has recognized top performers in Mass Golf Championships as well as select regional and United States Golf Association (USGA) events. The winners are based on the final tallies of the respective Mass Golf Player of the Year point systems.

Richard D. Haskell Men's Player of the Year Matt Parziale

For the early part of 2021, Matt Parziale was taking everything day by day. About a year ago his golf future was in question after he suffered a broken humerus (upper arm bone) during an arm-wrestling match gone wrong.

But the 34-year-old former firefighter was able to rehab effectively and by the time the season rolled around, he took part in some of the most exciting moments throughout the year, now culminating in his seventh Player of the Year Award.

“To win this it means you played well for an extended period of time,” said Parziale, who now only trails Frank Vana, Jr. for the most Player of the Year awards all-time (9). “After the injury, thoughts go through your head about how long it’s going take to get back. I had to do so much work on my arm the night before an event. I didn’t take things for granted, I just gave it my best.”

Parziale collected his first points by qualifying with Herbie Aikens for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, which took place at Chambers Bay and The Home Course in Washington state. The pair also finished runner-up by two strokes in the Massachusetts Four-Ball Championship, shooting 64-69–133. Shortly after, Parziale finished T2 in the Norfolk County Classic.

As championship season kicked into gear, Parziale earned the invite to the prestigious Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett Country Club (RI), where he shot the best round (1-under 68) of the Day 1 morning wave and made the cut (low 55 and ties) for the final day.

Parziale shined in the 113th Massachusetts Amateur Championship at Brae Burn Country Club. After shooting matching 71s to finish T8 in stroke play, he took down past champions Frank Vana, Jr. and Ben Spitz (No. 1 seed), plus Brae Burn member Christopher Bornhorst in match play to earn a spot in a historic 36-hole final match.

Parziale, the 2017 US Mid-Amateur Champion, faced Stanford University sophomore Michael Thorbjornsen, the 2018 US Junior Amateur Champion, in the first final state amateur match featuring two past USGA champions. Though Parziale shot 67 in the first 18, Thorbjornsen made 12 birdies to go 6-up in the morning round en route to an 8&6 win.

“That was a cool day to be a part of, ” Parziale said of the Mass Amateur final. “Even though I didn’t win, that was the best week I’ve had in 3-4 years when it comes to my focus. It wasn’t about the shots I was hitting, my focus was where it needed to be to hit the shot, and I didn’t have to manufacture it.”

Parziale followed up with a fourth-place finish in the New England Amateur, but he finally broke through with a victory when he won his third Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship. Parziale shot consecutive 69s and led wire-to-wire in the rain-shorted, 36-hole event at Weston Golf Club.

Still carrying a 10-year exemption for the US Mid-Amateur, Parziale concluded the competitive season by competing in the Championship Proper at Sankaty Head Golf Club and Miacomet Golf Club on Nantucket Island. Parziale shot 71-73–144, coming up two strokes shy of making the cut. Though 2020 Player of the Year Nick Maccario made the semifinals at Sankaty, Parziale effectively clinched the award with his Mid-Amateur victory.

Parziale said he credits his father and caddie Vic Parziale, swing coach Shawn Hester and orthopedic surgeon Brian McKeon for his success this season. “We don’t try anything different, those are the people in place that we trust,” Parziale said.

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Anne Marie Tobin Women's Player of the Year Shannon Johnson

For Shannon Johnson, 2021 not only marked a decade since making the move from South Dakota to Massachusetts, but it was also a return to her 2018 form in many ways.

With a pair of Mass Golf title defenses, plus two deep runs in highly-esteemed events, Johnson tallied enough points to earn the Anne Marie Tobin Women’s Player of the Year for the second straight year. Johnson and Tara Joy-Connelly, a 2021 Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame inductee, are the only players to win the award four times or more since it was established in 1994.

“I’m honored to be Women’s Player of the Year, and to do it in back-to-back years is nothing that I take for granted,” Johnson said. “There were so many similarities, and my game started to come around towards the back half of the year which made things shape up similarly to 2018. I came up a little bit short of another national championship, but it was a great season nonetheless.”

Johnson tallied her first win of the season when she and Megan Buck successfully defended their title in the Massachusetts Women’s Four-Ball Championship for the Townshend Cup. Johnson made 5 birdies between holes 9 and 17 as the pair split the work evenly with a 10-under 62 at LeBaron Hills Country Club. At the end of July, Johnson finished runner-up in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament.

August and September proved to be the most crucial months for Johnson, as she made it all the way to the final 18-hole match of the 118th Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship, with victories over young standouts Angela Garvin and Molly Smith. Johnson, however, ran into a tough final match with Harvard first-year Catie Schernecker, who made six birdies and closed the match out in 14 holes at Plymouth Country Club.

Johnson also successfully defended the Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship for the Keyes Cup in an epic rainy clash at Berkshire Hills Country Club. Johnson shot 72-75–147, holding off Buck and Pamela Kuong by 1 and 2 strokes, respectively.

Johnson then made the most of her lone USGA Championship appearance of the year, advancing to the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Berkeley Hall in South Carolina. The 2018 champion shot 71-73–144 to earn the No. 2 seed in match play, and in the process defeated fellow Mass Golfer Sue Curtin as well as Tara Joy-Connelly.

In the semifinal match, Johnson rallied from 4-down through 10 against eventual champion Blakesly Brock but wound up tying the match. Johnson converted a 12-foot par putt on the 18th hole to force extra holes, but Brock regained her form on the first playoff hole and made an uphill 15-foot birdie putt.

Despite coming up short of another USGA title, Johnson had gathered plenty of points to once again claim the Women’s Player of the Year Award. Johnson said working with her swing coach Dan Boisvert at KOHR Golf on a more regular basis made a huge difference in her performance.

“I think that was a big help knowing that I was swinging it well for a majority of the season,” Johnson said. “I did put some emphasis on getting better on the short game side. Putting will still be a focus of mine this winter along with getting back into the gym over the off-season.”

* * * * *

Other MGA Awards

Women's Senior Player of the Year: Pamela Kuong
George M. Cohen Men's Senior Player of the Year: Keith Smith
Girls' Junior Player of the Year: Molly Smith
Christopher Cutler Rich Boys' Junior Player of the Year: Weston Jones
Women's Mid-Amateur Award: Megan Buck

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