Massachusetts Mid-Amateur: Rick Stimets maintains the lead heading into final round
Rick Stimets (Massachusetts Golf Association Photo)
Rick Stimets (Massachusetts Golf Association Photo)

The winds were dialed back a bit for Wednesday’s Round two,, but Willowbend showed its teeth much more as players in the 40th Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship got their second shot at the venerable Cape Cod layout.

Despite running into a bit more of the course’s ever-present hazards in the middle round, Ricky Stimets and Kevin Gately remain firmly at the front of the back heading into the third and final round Thursday as each will try to chase down their first Mass Golf championship title.

The odds are still looking promising for Stimets, who carded two eagles Wednesday including on the course’s signature closing hole with an island green surrounded by a cranberry bog. With a 1-over 71, he’s 4-under total with a three-stroke lead over Gately and a seven-stroke edge over the next closest player. If he were to capture victory Thursday, Stimets would clinch enough points to earn the Richard D. Haskell Player of the Year Award and earn the title exactly 30 years after his grandfather won it at Country Club of New Seabury and Willowbend.

A total of 31 players made the cut for the final round, with any scores 12-over or better making the mark.

Stimets managed just one bogey on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, he gave back six strokes, including a 3-over stretch on Holes No. 13-15, where he lost a ball and made a double bogey on No. 13. But as good players do, they find a way to bounce back.

“I just gave myself a pep talk and said let’s finish strong,” said Stimets, a former playing professional. “We’ve got some birdie holes coming in, and you’re still in the lead even though you’re playing poorly.”

After a birdie on No. 16 to get back on track, Stimets took a more aggressive line off the tee on No. 18, playing more toward the middle. He then placed his approach to four feet and made the eagle putt to earn some breathing room over the final group.

Stimets’ other major highlight came early in the round when he drove the green on the 300-yard, par-4 3rd, and made a nearly 40-footer back up the hill.

“Long is not bad, [because] there’s that little back slope right there,” Stimets said of the 3rd hole. “I just hammered a driver. The only thing I didn’t want is to go was left, so I just hung it out in the right and wind just took it back in, landed on the green, and banged a 40-footer.”

After two days of playing ahead of Stimets, Gately will now be paired up with his good friend in the final round. Gately also went 3-over on Holes No. 13-15 but managed a birdie on the 17th with a solid wedge inside 5 feet. Aside from birdies on holes 1 and 3, Gately said the pins were the biggest test. One example was the par-4 No. 10, which plays over water and had the pin tucked in the front of a heavily sloped green from back to front.

“It was a big grind day,” said Gately, who played in U.S. Open Final Qualifying back in June. “The pins got me in some pretty bad spots, but I just grinded it out. I was a little little tight today, but I’ll be loose tomorrow [and] ready to go.”

Gately said Tuesday that winning his first Mass Golf event would mean the world. A day later, he’s among the top two and the closest he’s been to winning this event.

“I like where I’m at,” Gately said. “I just have to go out there and get it. I don’t have to hold on to anything. I know Ricky is going to be thinking the same thing. He’s a machine out there, but we’ll try and hang with him tomorrow.”

Among those chasing the back will be former Georgetown University standout Brad Cadigan. The lefty has had some adventure playing the closing holes over the past two days.

After a triple-bogey on No. 18 derailed what would’ve been a stellar under-par round Tuesday, Cadigan got some revenge Wednesday with an eagle to get to 1-over total. On the final hole, he pulled his drive wide right and decided to play up the neighboring 1st fairway. His third shot managed to clear the trees and land on the front of the green, and he was able to two-putt to escape with only a bogey.

“Yesterday was a bit of a mental error after nothing really went wrong all day,” Cadigan said of Tuesday’s round. “I hit it probably as well as I’ve ever had in my life and tried to force a layup. And then today, I had a couple of quick tugs, and I was down well to the right. I could chip it out to about 190 or play down the fairway. I just figured if I get a wedge in my hand, and I get a clear look over there, I would try and mitigate the damage a little bit.”

Cadigan missed the cut for this event in 2019 and 2020, but this year entered with a new-found confidence. He said the biggest difference in his game this year is playing a fade as opposed to the draw he’d been accustomed to most of his life. “It’s really helped a lot with the driving,” Cadigan said. “I pretty much know where my misses are going, and it makes it a lot easier to score.”

With those thoughts in mind, Cadigan will do his best to stay with the leaders in the final round.

“I think it’ll be fun,” he said. “Obviously, the course is setting up pretty tough. I’ve got to hit fairways and hit greens to get around here. Today, it was a little bit of a mixed bag, but the game feels pretty good. I haven’t had much success in some of these in the past, so it’s good to have a go at it tomorrow.”

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ABOUT THE Massachusetts Mid-Amateur

Entries are open to amateur golfers who have reached their 25th birthday by the first day of the tournament, who hold membership in an MGA member club and have an up-to-date MGA/USGA GHIN Handicap Index not exceeding 5.4, or who have completed their handicap certification as defined on the Entry Form. Competition will be in two (2) stages at Stroke Play: 18 hole qualifier; Championship Proper - 54 Holes.

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