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Headline: Brian Sears and James Imai Enjoy First MGA Championship at Pinehills GC; Both Share Lead Following Day 1 of MGA Amateur Public Links Championship
For Immediate Release: August 8, 2017
Brian Sears (above) and James Imai hold the lead following round one of the Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship being held this week at Pinehills Golf Club.
Plymouth, MA — The two leaders in the clubhouse may be nine years apart in age, but they share a mutual love of this week’s host site.
Brian Spears (Highfields G&CC) and James Imai (George Wright GC) both fired day-low scores of 3-under par 69 at Pinehills Golf Club and hold a one-stroke lead heading into the second and final round of the 2017 Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship.
Herbie Aikens (Pinehills GC) and Bram Daly (Miacomet GC) are T3 after carding scores of 2-under par 70. Following Tuesday’s round, the field was reduced to the low 63 scorers. Only those competitors will return to Plymouth on Wednesday for the final 18 holes.
36th Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Quick Links
“This course suits me very well,” said Sears, a 25-year-old resident of Grafton. “The way I have been playing the past two weeks I had extreme confidence and the course was playing phenomenal even with the downpour rain of last night’s storm… I am very, very proud of my score.”
The only other competitor to match Sears’ score on day one was Imai, who at 16 years old is the youngest player in the field.
“This course really suits my eye,” said Imai, who played this layout earlier in the season when the course hosted a U.S. Open Local Qualifier. “I remember playing back in May from 7,200, so this set up wasn’t as bad. I hit a good amount of drivers, a good amount of hybrids and 3 woods off the tee. If you are in the fairway it suits my game because I am hitting my irons good. As long as you are hitting irons you can stick them.”
After posting a day-low round on Tuesday, it was hard to believe that Sears first became acquainted with Pinehills Golf Club one week ago when he traveled to Plymouth to play a practice round. He fired a 1-under par that day and continued the momentum through to today.
Sears made bogey on his first hole of the day and then proceeded to play 4-under par golf through his final 17 holes.
"After the bogey on the first hole, I had a lot of putts that had phenomenal speed but some of them didn’t break as much as my caddy and I read," said Sears, who played golf first at Grafton High School and then at Nichols College. "Some of the birdies were back to back and there were some good approach shots, but putting really saved me today."
Sears made birdie on the 379-yard, par 4 5th and the 546-yard, par 5 6th holes and made the turn at 1-under par 35. He also carded birdies on the 11th and 17th holes, but it was the time between which proved to be most critical to his round.
"Overall my driving was phenomenal and everything worked out, but I would have to thank my putting for today," said Sears. “I can think of the back nine specifically where I had some long and crucial par putts."
After missing the green on the 181-yard, par 3 13th hole, Sears connected on a 10-foot par putt. He was able to get up and down for par on the next two holes to keep his bogey-free stretch going.
"Back to back to back I made some awesome par putts and come backs," said Sears. "Overall it was a good day."
Being in contention is nothing new for Sears.
Two years ago, he finished T3 at this event which was held at Red Tail Golf Club. It marked the first time that Sears had ever played in an MGA Championship event.
One year ago, he fired a day-one score of 4-under par 68 and held a two-stroke lead heading into the final round of the 2016 Worcester Country Amateur and also advanced – for the first time in his career – to match play at the Massachusetts Amateur Championship. Just last month, Sears advanced to the third day of the 2017 New England Amateur Championship - another career first for him.
"It comes down to the basics and keeping my composure," said Sears, who currently works at Golfers' Warehouse in Auburn. "Fairway, green and two putt. If the putts sink then the putts sink. If I just keep composure and keep laughing, I’ll be just fine. If you make me laugh I am calm."
No matter what happens on Wednesday, there is no doubt that Sears has found a true match in Plymouth.
"I love this course," said Sears. "It is in incredible shape, and I just love it here."
Another golfer who has a clear affinity for this course is Imai.
At the age of 15, Imai won the 2016 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship and attempted to defend his title last week at the Orchards Golf Club. Although he was unable to claim the top spot for a second year in a row, Imai was encouraged by what transpired in South Hadley. He capped off the three-day event with a 3-under par 67 which matched the best score of the day and vaulted him into sixth place overall.
“I played well my last two rounds of the Mass Junior, so I am trying carry that momentum,” said Imai. “I was hitting the ball great [today]. I just didn’t make a birdie putt on the front. I made a good up and down on 10 and that got things going.”
After making the turn on Tuesday at even par (he made nine straight pars), Imai sent his drive off the 10th tee left and into the fescue. He was just off the green with his approach, left his chip short and then made a key nine-foot putt to save par.
“That was big because I had finally made a putt outside of six feet,” said Imai. “That got me going. I did the same thing and got up and down for birdie on 11 and I just tried to keep at it.”
Imai made five straight pars before he stepped onto the 17th green and drained a birdie putt from 24 feet.
“I was giving myself chances all day,” said Imai. “Some putts I misread and some putts the speed was off but I knew that they were going to go in at some point.”
He hit his approach on the final hole to four feet to cap off a bogey-free round.
“All year I have been feeling good,” said Imai. “Ever since the U.S. Amateur qualifier at Andover [held on July 25] the results have been showing. I knew that I have been getting better and better. I was just going to keep doing what I had been doing and tightening up the screws and the ball would start going in the hole and so far so good.”
Herbie Aikens has played on more courses than he can probably recall, but the layout that will always remain dearest to his heart is the one he is playing this week.
Aikens, one of the most talented amateurs from the past decade, has been a member at Pinehills Golf Club since 2006. He is putting his home-course knowledge on full display this week after his day-one score of 2-under par 70.
“This place is near and dear to my heart," said Aikens. "It was cool to find out that this set a record for entries. It just shows how great of a golf course, well two golf courses, this place is is."
To Aikens' point, the MGA received more the 500 total entries for this year’s Championship which set a new record. Six qualifying sites were needed to determine the final Championship Proper field of 120.
Although this marks the first MGA Championship Proper for Pinehills Golf Club, the club has been a consistent and gracious host of U.S. Open Local Qualifying in seven out of the last eight years.
“It’s really special,” said Aikens, who lives 15 minutes away in Kingston. “When you have them here you tend to put more pressure on yourself. I know that I have done it before for the U.S. Open qualifiers. Today I was trying to play well here and represent the course and do the best that I could.”
There was a palpable buzz around the course all day while Aikens was on the course. With many eyes following him both on the course and via the electronic leaderboard, Aikens got off to a rocky start and was 1-over par following bogeys made on the 9th and 10th holes.
“I had steam coming out of my ears [after 9] and then made an angry bogey on 10,” said Aikens. “But another thing that is so cool about Massachusetts golf is that Zach [Ungvarsky] and Bill [Drohen], two great guys that I am playing with, are seeing that I am hot under the collar. They start talking to me on 11 and joking on the box and telling me stories. We start smiling again, and it chills me out.”
Aikens would make four birdies through the next six holes and finished at 2-under par 70 and just one stroke off the overall pace.
“There will be a few members poking around, and it will be fun to see some people,” said Aikens about Wednesday’s final round. “I just want to represent the course as good as I can and hopefully make a good showing and whatever happens will happen.”
There is no denying the quick smile and spark in the eye of Matt Cowgill (Wayland CC) when one starts to talk about the Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship.
Although just 22 years old, Cowgill has a history here that many envy.
In 2015, Cowgill finished second and just one shot out of first place at Red Tail Golf Club. One year ago, he captured this title at Waubeeka Golf Links following a three-hole sudden-death playoff against Cody Booska (CC of Greenfield).
“The runner up finish at Red Tail was a big moment for me,” said Cowgill. “That was the first time I was really in the mix at an MGA event, and I lost by a shot. That gave me confidence going into the following year, and I happened to win. If you can win once you feel as if you can win again.”
Cowgill has been riding that momentum ever since. Last month, he played his way into the finals of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship where he finished second to eventual champion Matt Parziale.
“I am still thinking about it all the time,” said Cowgill. “I am trying to still use the mojo I had that week and keep building on it. You don’t get those feelings all of the time so you want to hold onto them and build on them.”
Despite a tough start, Cowgill took an important step towards defending this title on Tuesday by posting a first-round score of 1-under par 71. He stands just two strokes off the lead despite a start which saw him card one birdie, two bogyes and one double bogey to make the turn at 3-over par 39.
“Once I started playing it more simple it fit my game well,” said Cowgill about the Plymouth layout. “I was being stupid on the front nine. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was lackadaisical. On the back nine it felt easy.”
Cowgill turned his round around on that back nine by making four birdies and zero bogies.
“I found something in my putting stroke,” said Cowgill. “I made a short one with it right in the center and I just ran with that the rest of the nine. I saw three putts outside of 12 feet go in. It made it much easier. You can’t shoot 4 under without making some putts.”
With the comfort of knowing what it’s like to not only be in contention but to also win, Cowgill is confident heading into the final round where he has a chance to become the first competitor since Bill Drohen in 2006 and 2007 to repeat as Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Champion.
“Tomorrow I need to keep doing what I was doing on the back nine,” said Cowgill “I need to not swing as hard and hit the middle of the greens and then hopefully putt like I did today. Chipping and putt has been huge or me this summer. It is what has helped me limit the damage on some of these holes.”
Pub Links Staying Power: In 2013, the United States Golf Association announced that the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship was to be discontinued after its 2014 edition and be replaced by the men's amateur four-ball championship. The announcement was stinging for many, but local golfers were soon relieved to learn that the MGA had no plans to follow the lead of the national organization and discontinue its Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship. This event made its MGA debut in 1982. The inaugural event was won by Don Reycroft at Leo J. Martin GC.
Dramatic Finishes: This event has a recent history of exciting finishes. One year ago, Matt Cowgill defeated Cody Booska in a three-hole sudden-death playoff at Waubeeka Golf Links. In 2015, Nick McLaughlin captured the title at Red Tail Golf Club and as a result of the victory became the first golfer in Bay State history to win that title as well as the Massachusetts Amateur and New England Amateur Championships... all in the same calendar year. In 2014, Herbie Aikens found himself deadlocked with Billy Van Stratum on the 36th hole before he landed his approach short and let it roll to inches from the hole to secure a one-stroke victory
A Funny Memory: Damon Lusk, formerly the chief financial officer of the Boston Globe who now holds the same title at ChoiceStream, Inc., had one of his more stressful moments come at last year’s Massachusetts Amateur Championship which was held at Taconic Golf Club. Upon arrival in Williamstown, Lusk realized that his son’s baseball equipment was in his car. Thankfully one of the MGA rules officials aws heading back to the Metro Boston area and was able to deliver the equipment to his son in time for the big game.
Brotherly Love: There are three sets of brothers in this year’s field – David & Ben Spitz, Bill & Andy Drohen and Carter & Jon Fasick. This impressive group has accounted for five #MassAPL titles.
Senior Power: Although the average age of all competitors is 38 years old, there are 15 in the field who are 55 years or older. One of those senior competitors – Ronald Laverdiere – has been busy making travel arrangements after he qualified for the 2017 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, which will be held on August 26-31 at Minikahda Club in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Laverdiere was one of five who advanced at a qualifier held last week at Charter Oak Country Club.
Champions Tour In the House: Fran Quinn, who currently stands 58th in the 2017 PGA Tour Champions Money List, took a break from competition to serve as caddie for his son Owen Quinn. This past weekend, Fran Quinn – the 1990 Massachusetts Open champion – finished T23 at the 3M Championship.
Past Champions in the Field - The following players have been victorious at this event, which dates back to 1982.
6569 - approximate yardage being played this week
503 - entries received (a record number) for the Championship Proper
90 - total number of towns represented
65 - age of the oldest player (Jim Doyle)
63 - total Member Clubs represented
38 - average age of this year's starting field
36 - times the event has been contested
15 - senior amateur competitors in the field
16 - age of the youngest player (Chad Bartlett, James Imai)
8 - number of competitors who are under the legal drinking age
8 - the number of players named "Mike" in the field
8 - number of competitors who play out of George Wright GC (the most represented Member Club)
7 - competitors who hail from Boston (the most represented town)
1.82 - average USGA/GHIN MGA Handicap Index
1- the number of champions who will be crowned on Wednesday