Ryan Downes (Mass. Golf Association photo)
Every year the Ouimet Memorial Tournament finishes at Woodland Golf Club, and without fail there’s always some excitement down the stretch. Simply put, if you’re playing at Woodland on the last Friday of July you’re playing some good golf.
With her clutch short game on the final five holes, Shannon Johnson (Thorny Lea Golf Club) held off a late charge to add a Ouimet title to her extraordinary amateur golf accolades. Scott Copeland, a summer resident and member of Old Sandwich Golf Club, also played the best of all the seniors over three days to earn his biggest victory to date.
Perhaps nobody in the state has been playing better golf as of late as 17-year-old Longmeadow native Ryan Downes (GreatHorse), who separated himself down the stretch en route to his second consecutive Ouimet Tournament title. With the win, Downes became the fourth person to win the Mass Amateur and Ouimet titles in the same year and first since Matt Parziale (2017). (Also Jim Salinetti, 1999 & Bruce Douglass, 1976).
It wasn’t how she was intending to hit the putt. There certainly wasn’t a high-percentage chance of it being made. But if anybody has shown the ability to play under pressure, it’s former U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Shannon Johnson.
Leading by two strokes on the 17th hole and playing alongside college standouts Molly Smith (UCF) and Morgan Smith (Georgetown), both of Vesper Country Club, Johnson found herself in a greenside bunker, while Molly was waiting on a birdie putt from about 5 feet. Johnson kept her bunker shot onto the upper tier. With about 20 feet left, her putt had a ton of speed, but when it dropped into the cup Johnson pumped her right fist twice.
“Absolutely not,” said Johnson when asked if she meant to hit the put the way she did. “It went in with authority. If it didn’t go in, it probably would’ve been 8 feet by. Those are the pressure situations you want to be in. This is why we play amateur golf to get those feelings and butterflies and see what you can do.”
Though Molly’s birdie bid checked up short, the battle wasn’t over yet. Though everyone was in the fairway on the 18th, Johnson missed the green left again. However, she was able to chip it down inside 10 feet, and two putts later was able to hoist the Ouimet trophy for the first time. Her three-day total was 74-69-71–214, with her incredible 2-under 69 at a windy Oakley on Thursday being the biggest difference maker.
“It feels awesome to get this one that has eluded me,” said Johnson, who notched her 11th individual Mass Golf women’s championship victory. Those victories are the Women’s Stroke Play Championship five times, Women’s Mid-Amateur four times, and the 2018 Women’s Amateur.
“I got squirrely on that last shot, pulled it way left, that’s my miss under pressure,” Johnson said of her approach on the 18th. “Luckily having a two-shot cushion is awesome.”
“It’s fun to finish at Woodland, it’s kind of like the Masters, our own version,” she added. “Oakley was a challenging test of golf, too.”
Johnson was also quick to praise both Smith sisters, who are playing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles next month.
“That whole family has amazing golfers,” Johnson said. “It was back and forth, Morgan put a good charge in early. I missed some short birdie putts. Molly hit some good ones, a lot of her putts just weren’t rolling in. They’ve been playing awesome.”
With the win Johnson hopes her game will be in good shape for the Mass Women’s Amateur at Dedham Country & Polo Club beginning August 14 and the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur later this year at Stonewall (PA).
The summer of great success continued for Ryan Downes. At just 17, the Vanderbilt University verbal commit has already won two of Mass Golf’s most prestigious championship, with the moment never seeming too big for him. Even when things weren’t exactly going his way, he turned things on in crunch time, going 4-under over the final eight holes to shoot 10-under-par 201. Chris Francoeur, the 2020 and 2021 winner, also shot 10-under in his first victory.
“I feel like it’s better the second time,” said Downes following the victory. “I’ve played really well here at Woodland both times. Today I battled through a little adversity the first 10 holes. I wasn’t striking it well, but I feel like I trusted myself a lot better and it definitely helped me fight through some adversity. I feel like my knowledge of the golf course definitely helped me this week.”
Downes nearly shot the course record at Oakley by opening with a 6-under 64. The swirling winds Thursday made it difficult to take it deep, but on Friday, Downes was able to unleash the driver more. He was able to two-putt for birdie on the opening hole and with birdies on 11 and 12 he was finally able to pull away from the field.
He put an exclamation point on the victory with a beautiful 60-degree wedge in from 92 yards on the 17th and knocked down the put to get to double-digits under par.
“I aimed a little further left of the pin than I hit it, pushed it a little, but I tend to do that with my wedges,” Downes said. “It was a perfect number, even if I flushed it, it wasn’t going over the green, and I happened to catch it perfect, and it was about 4 or 5 feet to the hole.”
Christian Emmerich (Kernwood Country Club), a Boston College transfer a former Holy Cross standout, was the only other player under par with a 2-under 69 to finish runner-up at 5-under for the championship. Though Downes lead got down to one, Emmerich found just one birdie on the back nine (16th) and had too much ground to make up.
Now Downes will go for a triple crown, of sorts, when he plays in the 105th Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship at his home course next week. No player has won a state amateur, Ouimet title and a junior amateur all in the same year. But for the youngest winner of both the Ouimet and Mass Amateur, don’t be surprised if more history is on the horizon.
“That would be pretty sweet,” Downes said. “I’ve got to play a practice round from the tees that we’re going to play because it’s going to be a little shorter than I normally play it so might not be as many drivers, but we’ll figure it out.”
Scott Copeland is also playing some of the best golf of his life. Qualifying for last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur Championship was a huge accomplishment, but winning the Ouimet Tournament on his first try certainly supersedes that.
“It’s just personal and it’s an honor to be a part of this tournament and history,” said Copeland, an Ohio native who also resides in Miami, Florida. “It’ll sink in as time goes on.”
Copeland said starting the day with a birdie helped ease the nerves, and by the 11th hole was 2-under for the day and six strokes ahead. But like Johnson, the nerves crept in a bit with bogeys on holes 12, 14, and 15. However, he was able to shut the door by finishing with pars on 16 and 18, holding off a rally by past champion Frank Vana, Jr., who shot 3-under 68 at Woodland for the third time in six years to finish two off the winning margin.
“I certainly haven’t been in that position in a long time, and I just tried to play par golf,” said Copeland, who scores were 70-71-72–213 over three days. “I just really tried to keep it in front of me and read the greens and play it one hole at a time.”
Copeland hadn’t played either course entering the week, but got some important tips from his clubmate.
“Doug Clapp drew up some incredible notes for me, and I owe a lot to him,” Copeland said. “He gets a piece of this trophy for sure.”View results for Francis Ouimet Memorial