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Headline: East Longmeadow's Noah Peterson Holds One-Stroke Lead Following Day 1 of 98th Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship
For Immediate Release: August 1, 2016
The state's top junior talent took to Kernwood Country Club on Monday during day one of the 98th MGA Junior Amateur Championship.
Michael Thorbjornsen (below) is one of two pre-junior competitors tied for T5 overall.
Salem, MA — Junior golf talent is strong and growing here in the Bay State and it was also on full display on Monday during the first round of the 98th Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship, which is being held at Kernwood Country Club.
Following the first round of competition, Noah Peterson (CC of Wilbraham) is at the top of this class after posting an even par 70.
He is one stroke ahead of a trio of competitors - Brendan Cronin (Pleasant Valley CC), Chris Francoeur (Amesbury G&TC) and Jack Boulger (Walpole CC) - who finished with scores of 1-over par 71.
The entire field of 144 will return to Salem on Tuesday to compete in a second round of 18 holes.
Following that round, the field will be reduced to the low 50 scorers and ties and only those competitors will take part in a third and final round to determine the overall champion.
98th MGA Junior Amateur - Day 1 Quick Links
After arriving in Salem, Peterson took no time getting settled as he made birdie on his first hole of the day – the 490-yard, par 4 1st hole.
“I hit the green in two and thought that the green would be faster than it was,” said Peterson. “I left my eagle putt 10 feet short, but making a 10 footer on your first hole gives you a lot of confidence with your putting. Overall, it was a great start and gave me a lot of confidence for the round.”
He would go on to make two bogeys on that front nine, but solid putting (he made just 30 putts on the round) and a solid game off the tee brought him to 1-under par through 11 holes.
“I hit my driver just really well all day and was never out of play,” said Peterson, who will be a senior at East Longmeadow High School in the fall. “The key to this course is the greens, and I did a good job of keeping myself below the hole.”
On the 115-yard, par 4 9th hole, Peterson hit a solid iron to four feet and then watched his 15-foot birdie putt on the 404-yard, par 4 11th hole hang on the lip before dropping in.
“I have been playing really well this summer,” said Peterson. “I have played in 15 tournaments or so and had 10 or 11 top fives and have been playing steady all year… this would definitely be the biggest one to do well in though.”
As his round wore on, Peterson suffered his biggest miscue of the day – a double bogey on the 413-yard, par 4 16th hole – but he rebounded with a birdie on his very next hole to finish at even par for the day.
“I learned to be below the hole and to keep my composure today,” said Peterson. “If I didn’t keep my composure after the double, I don’t know what would have happened.”
While many of his fellow competitors had already turned in their scorecards from their morning rounds, Francoeur took to the first tee in Salem at 1:25 p.m. and made a statement early.
“Tee to green, I hit it pretty well,” said Francoeur, a rising senior at St. John’s Prep in Danvers. “About 125 yards in, I thought I was pretty confident that I could put it inside of 15 feet and I was able to hit it solid all round.”
He made eagle on the 490-yard, par 5 1st hole. He remained at 2-under par through his first seven holes before carding his first of three bogeys on the day.
And the key to his day?
“Definitely putting,” said Francoeur. “The pin locations were tough today, but my speed wasn’t great on the greens. I had a lot of come-backers that I made for par, so I just have to work on the putting.”
On the day, Francoeur finished with one eagle, three bogeys and 14 pars. Helping Francoeur’s cause along the way was his comfort level with this course, especially the front nine which he played at 1-under par 34.
“I’m very familiar with the front because my high school team, St. John’s Prep, we play here for one of our home courses so I’m familiar with the front,” said Francoeur. “It was only my second time playing the back, so I did better on the front than I did on the back, but overall I’m happy with the score.”
Francoeur also noted room for improvement on day two and beyond, “I didn’t really putt that well. I eagled the first hole and then just kind of made par coming in. I had a couple three putts out there, but overall, I hit it pretty well."
For Cronin, this year marks a chance to advance to the third round of the play for the first time in his young career. He helped his cause on day one by making birdie on two of his first six holes.
“I was hitting fairways and getting on the green today,” said Cronin, a rising senior at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury. “I had wedges into pretty much every single green, and when you have wedge in your hand, you are going to make par or birdie.”
After starting his round on Kernwood CC’s 8th hole, Cronin made his first birdie of the day on the 404-yard, par 4 11th hole. A perfect drive down the middle led to a wedge shot that he landed to 10 feet.
Two holes later, Cronin used a strong drive to set up a short approach. He found the green in three and made the putt.
“It’s kind of a course where you can either hit a draw or a fade off the hole except for eight,” said Cronin. “But if you are hitting your shots it’s going to be good and it fit my eye perfectly.”
Much like Cronin, Boulger had an under-par round for most of his round after carding three birdies and just two bogeys through 15 holes. A late double bogey – on the 413-yard, par 4 16th hole dropped him back a few strokes but not enough to keep him staying just one shot out of the lead.
Sitting T5 overall, however, are two rising stars who are competing as pre-juniors. James Imai (George Wright GC) and Michael Thorbjornsen (Nashawtuc CC) fired first-round scores of 2-over par 72 and are just 15 and 14 years old, respectively.
If successful, it would mark the first time since 2009 that a pre-junior (a competitor aged 14 to 15) has won the overall title. Nick McLaughlin, the 2015 Richard D. Haskell MGA Player of the Year and current professional golfer, was the last to accomplishment that feat.
“The number one goal is to be the overall state champion,” said Imai. “It is nice to get the win as a pre-junior, hopefully, because you are still a state champion but the bigger picture is the overall state championship. That is what we are all trying to play for.”
Both youngsters have enjoyed success beyond their years heading into this week. Imai finished as second alternate at the 2016 U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier held at George Wright GC on July 26.
Thorbjornsen, a 2016 Drive, Chip & Putt divisional champion who has already punched his ticket to the 2017 Drive, Chip & Putt sub-regional round, turned in a T6 finish at last week’s Ouimet Memorial Tournament.
When asked about his expectations this week, Thorbjornsen echoed Imai's sentiments.
“I can’t really put it into better words than that,” said Thorbjornsen, who was the youngest competitor to advance to the third round of the 2016 Massachusetts Open Championship back in May.
“At the beginning of the year it was kind of tough because I was hitting it a lot further than I thought I would,” said Thorbjornsen. “But now the game is getting really dialed down, but on greens like this you can’t expect to go that low even if you are hitting the ball pretty well.”
Despite the challenging greens on display at Kernwood CC, Thorbjornsen was able to battle through four three putts. He finished with three birdies – on the 1st, 13th and 15th holes – on Monday. Two of those birdies he said that he hit to five feet with his approach shots.
“I felt that hitting the greens wasn’t that much of a problem,” said Thorbjornsen. “The greens were really tough. I think that I had four putts or somewhere around there… it felt pretty good sticking those shots to five feet and having five footers instead of 20 footers that break 25 feet.”
Playing alongside Thorbjornsen all day long was Imai, who just last month won the 2016 New England PGA Junior Championship and finished T11 at the 2016 IMG Academy Junior World Championships held at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California.
“I have been playing well and really consistent which has been most helpful,” said Imai. “Eliminating the big mistakes have been key. You are going to make mistakes, but it’s just a matter of trying to limit them and taking advantage of the opportunities when you can and I have been doing that very well this summer and I hope that I can keep it going.”
Imai began his round on Kernwood CC’s 8th hole and made birdie on three of his first six holes. He was 2-under par through 15 holes before carding a bogey and triple bogey on his 16th and 17th holes.
“I can’t really blow it out of proportion because it was only a couple of bad swings,” said Imai of his finish. “I was hitting it close and hit one 18 footer [on hole 11], and I was playing well for the first 15 holes.”
Providing perspective on what it’s like to compete on the state stage as a youngster was the third competitor in that group – Andrew Dipetrillo (Blue Hill CC) – who won the pre-junior division at the 2014 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship.
“When I was a pre junior I wasn’t really paying attention more to that because I still wanted to do well overall,” said Dipetrillo, who is now 16 years old. “Rather than focusing on how I could do well in my division, I tried to focus on the big picture and how I could best compete with everyone else.”
Dipetrillo continues to enjoy success on the links two year later. After all, less than two weeks ago, he captured the 2016 Golfweek New England Junior Invitational title at Indian Pond Country Club.
“My game is really starting to come around,” said Dipetrillo. “I have been trying to limit doubles and with mistakes try to not make another and just make bogies. The wedges and everything is coming together for me.”
On this day, Dipetrillo finished with just one birdie – on the 115-yard, par 3 9th hole.
“For me it was mostly off the tee,” said Dipetrillo of his challenges on day one. “I wasn’t hitting fairways. The greens were tough, but for my practice round I tried to figure out the best places to hit them to help me. Unfortunately, I didn’t hit those places all of the time today, and there were also a lot of three putts out there.”
Despite his struggle off the tee, Dipetrillo carded a score of 5-over par 75 and is just five strokes off the overall lead.
“On the 16th and 17th holes I had some great saves for par," said Dipetrillo. “That really helped keep me in it and allowed me to say that I still got this and can finish strong.”
There are the Manning brothers in football, the Molina brothers in baseball and now the Emmerich brothers in golf, at least at Kernwood Country Club, where the duo are representing their home course in the 98th playing of the MGA Junior Amateur Championship.
17-year-old Max, a rising senior at St. Mary’s High School in Lynn, and his younger brother, Christian, a 15-old year entering his sophomore year there, have spent their entire summer at the 18-hole Donald Ross designed course located on a peninsula along the Danvers River.
The two, both playing in their first MGA Junior Amateur Championship Proper, are the only two junior players, aged 14-17, from Kernwood to have qualified for the state’s third oldest tournament.
And both brothers, who picked up the game a couple years ago and have been practicing with each other ever since, say that playing on the only course they really know is different when it’s in a competitive affair like the junior amateur.
“It was different,” said the elder Emmerich. “It was cool to see everyone else around the course, full of junior golfers. It plays a lot harder than it usually does every day. I thought it was cool to see the course through a different view, just having fun and seeing it in a competitive nature.”
The same could be said for the younger Emmerich, who was also enjoying the support he was receiving from the Kernwood members and staff.
“It’s great to have the support from all the members who are out officiating and the head professional Frank Dully, who was very supportive when I qualified at Billerica,” said Christian, one of only 36 players in the field of 144 with the “pre-junior” status as a 14 or 15 year old competitor. “So were the other assistants and the bag room kids, who made it light when I came in, joking with me. It was just great.”
Knowing the course like the back of their hands, the Swampscott natives were believers in the fact that their home-field advantage was in fact just that, a home-field advantage– particularly against competitors who might be playing the course for the first time.
“It gives me a pretty big advantage. I know where I want to hit the ball and where I want to hit for the putts and how they break,” echoed Christian, while Max said, “I think it helped a lot and saved me from some bad shots because I knew where not to go and where to go, but it definitely helped me a lot.”
As they took the links, both teeing off on the club’s first tee a mere three groups apart, the score cards showed off some off that home field knowledge –particularly for the younger Emmerich, who shot a 7-over par 77 on a day that consisted of a light breeze and mostly cloudy skies.
On the front nine, Christian fired two birdies, including one on the par-four 5th hole that plays at 390 yards.
He said, “I’d say I’ve played that hole hundreds of times in my life and I just knew I had to birdie so that was all I had in my head. I then hit a good putt.”
Such was the case when he tallied par, something he did on an additional eight holes, including five times on the back nine of the course.
The course played a little more challenging for Max, who shot 19-over par 89 and will need a big second day on Tuesday to make the cut for one of the lowest 50 scorers who will advance for the final round on Wednesday.
Even with some local course knowledge, Christian admitted that he still had to take a new approach playing against kids that were as much as two years older than him.
“It’s different,” said Christian. “I usually play in tournaments where it’s everybody my age and I like how they do the grouping where everyone is the same age, mostly.
At the end of the day, however, they were both grateful for the opportunity to be playing in the tournament after qualifying at CC of Billerica, where they both shot 10-over par 79 to clinch the final two spots in this week’s main event.
While there is no telling how they will finish at this week’s event, one thing is for certain... you will find them back here on Thursday, working on their games and getting ready for whatever the next tournament is on their schedule.
He may be just 16 years old, but Jared Winiarz (NEPGA TOUR) has seen the world through golf.
The Norton resident began playing the game in earnest in 2008 when he first became a part of The First Tee of Massachusetts. Weekly clinics at the program’s home course of MGA Links in Norton led to a love for the sport and a passion for giving back.
“[The First Tee of Massachusetts] really helped me develop both as a player and a person,” said Winiarz, a member of the Norton High School golf team. “It really got me to this competitive level, and I never would have had such a love for the game had I not gone through The First Tee.”
One year ago, Winiarz was one of 32 youths from The First Tee chapters across the country nominated for and selected to play in the inaugural The First Tee Par-3 Championship in Virginia. He earned a sixth-place finish and was awarded the TFT Sportsmanship Award.
“Definitely get involved,” said Winiarz, when asked about his advice for young players. “It is amazing. It is a sport that lasts you a lifetime because it never grows old.”
While The First Tee has given much to Winiarz, the precocious teen is doing his part to give back.
For a second straight year, Winiarz and his brother Adam will be hosting the “Birdies for Babcia” Golf Tournament at MGA Links to raise money for the Jimmy Fund. The 18-hole event was designed to be family-oriented and open to players of all ages.
The Winiarz brothers launched this golf tournament in memory of their grandparents. All proceeds from the event go directly to the Jimmy Fund.
“They loved kids and everything about them,” said Winiarz who lost his grandfather to a brain tumor in 2003 and his grandmother to pancreatic cancer in 2005. “We thought why not start a golf tournament in their honor.”
On Monday, Winiarz no doubt had a huge cheering section from above, on the course and back home in Norton as he competed in his first-ever Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship.
“Usually I am always nervous on the first tee and today I definitely was,” said Winiarz. “I found my spot during the middle of the round and played my golf. I didn’t play too well. It was definitely difficult.”
While Winiarz continues his battle for the state’s top junior title, those interested in supporting “Birdies for Babcia” can find out more about this great cause online at birdies4babcia.com.
To learn more about The First Tee of Massachusetts. Visit thefirstteemass.org.
Here is a rundown on course statistics from Monday, August 1.
Day 1 Course Statistics
Average Score: 81.11
Low Score: 70
High Score: 94
Total # of Eagles: 3
Total # of Birdies: 163
Total # of Bogeys: 899
Total # of Pars: 1,118
Hardest Hole: #14 (average score was 5.176)
Easiest Hole: #1 (average score was 5.021)