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HAMPDEN, Massachusetts – The Mass Mid-Amateur Championship made its return to Western Massachusetts for the first time since 2008, as this year’s Championship Proper began Tuesday at GreatHorse. Two-time champion Matt Parziale (Thorny Lea GC) led the way with a 5-under-par 67, opening up a three-stroke lead over the entire field.
After the second round concludes Wednesday, the field will be cut to the top 30 and ties for Thursday’s third and final 18-hole round.
Matt Parziale can be forgiven for missing the past two Mass Mid-Amateur championships. In 2018 and 2019, Parziale had a conflict as he was invited to play in the Crump Cup, a highly-esteemed invitational mid-amateur tournament hosted at New Jersey’s Pine Valley Golf Club, which has been ranked several times as the No. 1 course in the U.S.
But with the two-time champion mostly staying in-state this year, Parziale made it clear he’s determined to win a third Mid-Am title as he opened the competition with a 5-under 67, besting his closest competitors by three strokes.
“I was pretty bummed to miss the last two [Mid-Ams],” said Parziale, who won the event in 2015 and 2016. “I’m glad this worked out this year to be able to play.”
Parziale, 33, played in the U.S. Amateur this year at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, but was unable to make the cut. Still, he said he putted well there and has been rolling it well ever since. He seemed to master GreatHorse’s lightning-quick greens as he made six birdie putts, taking the lead with back-to-back ones after making the turn to the front nine. He moved to 3-under and took the lead by hitting a 20-foot-plus birdie putt on the par-5 2nd hole.
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“I hit some good shots and putted really well from around 10 feet,” Parziale said. “That was good to get that going. I had some putts get away, but I was lucky enough to make the comebacker.”
Parziale’s two Mass Mid-Am wins set up his victory at the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur, which earned him appearances in the 2018 Masters and 2018 and 2019 U.S. Opens. But now Parziale said he’s enjoying playing events closer to home.
“I love playing in this stuff and hanging with the guys,” Parziale said. “I’m glad I spent most time at home and be able to play around here.”
Brandon Parker (Worcester CC) had the lead through the morning rounds as he shot a 2-under 70 with four birdies over his final nine holes. Parker had never played GreatHorse prior to Tuesday, but he was fortunate to be paired with club president Guy Antonacci.
“It was definitely helpful, especially my first nine,” Parker said. “I wasn’t hitting first so I could get to watch what they were hitting here and there. There’s some holes out here where you get a really have to commit to what target you want because the bunkers come into play so you got to get your line.”
Parker, 31, said he only plays in a few statewide events per year, but has held his own this year. He qualified in the Mass Amateur and missed the cut by three strokes. He also added a new driver in the bag, a Titleist TS3, which has helped him add about 5-10 yards to his drive and carry some of the bunkers Tuesday.
“I was excited to see it come in here because I hadn’t been out here,” Parker said. This is a fun one for guys like us who don’t play that much anymore. We’re trying to get out here and compete a little bit better versus against the college kids.”
Arthur Zelmati (Cranberry Valley) sits in solo third place at 1-under 71. He had a chance to tie Parker, but just pushed his birdie putt a little wide on the 18th.
After setting a competitive course record of 64 in the opening round last year, defending Mass Mid-Am champion Nick Maccario (Bradford CC) had a much more challenging first round at this year’s Championship Proper. Maccario was 4-over through his first six holes, including a double-bogey on the 15th, but he finished with a birdie and eight consecutive pars to shoot 2-over 74.
“There were some really tough locations so you kind of had to pick and choose,” Maccario said. “My second shots weren’t too strong, so I relied on my putting and getting up and down and got off to a tough start.”
Maccario said making birdie on the 17th gave him a good vibe before making the turn and playing the front nine. He also finished with a birdie on the par-3 9th but it came to rest on the front lip of the cup.
“Two-over, I think on this golf course is not too shabby,” Maccario said.
It’s not often you see a golf club’s president competing when a club is hosting a major event. But Guy Antonacci is trying to make it a tradition when a Mass Golf Championship comes to GreatHorse.
“To be able to play and compete is still an awesome feeling,” said Antonacci, who birdied his final hole but shot 9-over 81 (his course low score is 69). “Competing here is tough for me because I don’t ever really settle down. My whoop will tell me it was crazy and my heart rate never dropped, but it’s still, it’s still awesome to be able to get out and play and still compete.”
GreatHorse was initially supposed to co-host in the Mass Four-Ball with Twin Hills CC this year, but after it was canceled due to COVID-19, Antonacci offered up the club for the three-day stroke play championship.
“I think it’s kind of the perfect tournament for here,” Antonacci said. “Obviously I want to host a Mass Amateur and everything else, but for now I mean, I think this is kind of the perfect setting for the Mid-Am. Guys can come, hang out, have a drink, stay and have fun.”
Antonacci is no stranger to Mass Golf events, and in fact, pulled off one the rarest feats Mass Mid-Amateur history. During the 2015 Championship Proper, he aced the par-4, 358th 1st hole to record the first double eagle in Marlborough CC history since it opened in 1922. However, he didn’t know he made it right away, and checked everywhere, including the bunkers.
“You’ll hear guys going to check the hole for it, so I did that too, and there it was,” Antonacci told MassGolfer while reflecting on his first career ace.
Antonacci wasn’t alone as fellow members A.J. Oleksak & Michael Petrick also competed. Oleksak, a former team captain for the University of Hartford men’s golf team, shot an even-par 72 with three birdies, including the 576-yard, par-5 8th. Petrick, a former club four-ball champion, shot an 11-over 83.
GreatHorse is one of the great success stories when it comes to reviving a golf club. The Antonacci family, which has been involved in harness racing since the 1960s, purchased the club at auction in 2012 and has since it a $55 million facelift that has transformed the country club into GreatHorse — the state-of-the-art facility that it is today.
Not only is GreatHorse offer a challenging golf course (its 77.2 men’s rating and 140 slope rating are the second-highest in Massachusetts), there are fun amenities all-around for members to enjoy. From the top of the 25,000 sq ft clubhouse, which offers sweeping views of the Connecticut River Valley, members enjoy amenities such as a spa, a pool, an elegant restaurant, tennis courts, a bocce court (one player even hit off it Tuesday).
“This place is so much more than just golf,” Guy Antonacci said. “We wanted to build a place that the wives would want to be here more than the husbands and the kids would want to be here more than the wives. We knew if we could somehow accomplish that, then we would be successful.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the transformation of GreatHorse via MassGolfer Magazine’s coverage of the 2018 Mass Open.
This year’s Mass Mid-Amateur Championship has six past champions in the field who have won a combined 16 Mid-Am titles. Colin Brennan, Nick Maccario and Frank Vana, Jr. are all matched in the same threesome and among them have won 12 titles. Here’s a summary of how each past champ played in Round 1.
Frank Vana, Jr. (1999-03, 05-06, 12-13, 18): 74
Steve Tasho (1998): 77
Herbie Aikens (2014): 80
Matt Parziale (2015-16): 67 – leader
Colin Brennan (2017): 75
Nick Maccario (2019): 74
7,060: Approxiamate yardage GreatHorse will be set up Wednesday
575: Entries received for the Championship Proper
70: Age of the oldest player (Paul Chiampa)
64: Total Member Clubs represented
39: Average age of this year’s starting field
37: Times the event has been contested
16: Senior amateur competitors in the field
25: Age of the youngest players (Kyle Alexander, Adam C Brickle, Steven Ferraro, Matthew Michaud, Mike Roulic)
11: The number of players named “Mike” or “Michael” in the field
9: Number of competitors who play out of George Wright GC (the most represented Member Club)
0.37: Average USGA/GHIN MGA Handicap Index
5: Players who shot even-par or better
2: Total number of birdies made on hole 18 (Joseph Iacona, of Vesper CC, & Taylor Fontaine, of Worcester CC).
1: The number of champions who will be crowned on Thursday
A handful of competitors have extra special motivation to do well this week. The Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship represents one of the final events that will be used to determine the team that will represent the Bay State at the Tri-State Matches scheduled for October 13-14 at Hartford Golf Club (Hartford CC). Team selection is based on the Richard D. Haskell Mass Golf Player of the Year point standings. Each team from the three states – Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut – includes 10 mid-amateur and six senior amateur competitors. The Bay State has won the last 15 of the last 16 titles.
To see the Player of the Year standings, CLICK HERE
Entries are open to amateur golfers who have reached their 25th birthday by September 8, 2020, and who have an active Mass Golf/GHIN Handicap Index at any public, private, semi-private, municipal or non-real estate Mass Golf member course/club not exceeding 5.4 (as determined by the July 23, 2020 Handicap Revision) or have completed their handicap certification.
Peter Drooker won the inaugural Mass Mid-Amateur in 1984 at the Club at New Seabury on Cape Cod, the site of last week’s Women’s Stroke Play Championship for the Baker Trophy. Back then, the Championship Proper consisted of players 35 and older with a Handicap Index not exceeding 10.0. Ever since 1998, the minimum age has been 25, while the maximum Handicap Index has nearly been cut in half.
Frank Vana, Jr., who was inducted into the Mass Golf Hall of Fame in 2016, has won the event 10 times, including five consecutive times between 1999 and 2003.
For complete coverage of the Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship, visit MassGolf.org or follow @PlayMassGolf on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Interact with us throughout the tournament by using #MassMidAm.