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MASHPEE, Massachusetts – Just like the wind Wednesday, competition in the opening round of the 60th Massachusetts Senior Amateur Championship at Willowbend was unpredictable. Starting times were pushed back from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. due to gale-force winds and pouring rain at the start of the day, forcing players in the morning to don rain gear and keep a tight grip on their headwear.
After the lead changed hands several times in the opening round, it Babson College men’s golf coach Jeff Page (Wellesley Country Club) who finished the day in first place with a 2-over-par 72. The final group was unable to finish hole 18 due to darkness and will finish before Thursday’s second and final round. That final group includes Will Cropper (Bungay Brook GC), who is T2 at 4-over with Willowbend’s Scott Beers, plus Todd Ezold (Twin Hills CC) and Andy Congdon (Wyantenuck CC).
After the final group finishes hole 18 in the morning, the field will be cut to the low 70 and ties.
The players are competing on the 9-hole Bay Course and 9-hole Bog Course (Listed as 10-18) at Willowbend.
Page is usually occupied in the fall coaching the Babson men, but since the fall season was canceled, it has allowed him to mix things up a bit. But make no mistake, he’s no stranger to competition. A 19-time Wellesley Country Club champion, Page has qualified for the Massachusetts Amateur more than 10 times, including two appearances in the match-play portion. He also previously qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
On this day, the unrelenting winds actually favored him, and he’s hoping it continues in the final round.
“I normally hit a low ball, so the windier the better for me,” said Page, who hit a line drive off the tee on hole 9 of the Bay Course, his final hole of the day, that just snuck over an overhanging branch and landed on the fairway.
Page birdied his third hole, but he didn’t find a rhythm until he made the turn. After birdieing hole one of the Bay Course, he surprised himself with a birdie on the second. And even after finding a bunker on the third hole, he still made birdie. Despite a three-putt bogey on his final hole, “I’m not complaining with the conditions,” he said.
“It’s nice to be in contention.”
Though Page still has recruiting and other duties even with no competition, it’s given him a window to compete himself.
“It’s nice having these tournaments,” Page said. “It’s been a lot of fun, unfortunately, it’s the last [Mass Golf Championship] of the year.”
Will Cropper also managed the wind well, hittng 16 greens in regulation and shooting 1-under through his first nine holes on the Bay Course, with birdies on holes 4, 5 and 6.
Cropper also had an unusual approach, hitting driver just twice the entire round.
“I’m pretty long off the tee,” said Cropper, who’s also qualified for his first Senior Amateur back in August. “I hit a lot of gapper irons. I have a 3 and a 4. I was still out there at a good distance and was able to hit the greens.”
As daylight faded, Cropper was struggling more and more to putt as he made five bogies down the stretch, including on the 17th. Still, Wednesday was his first look at the course, and after finishing early Thursday, he said he’s confident moving forward.
“If I strike the ball as well as I did today, and have a chance of seeing the course once and getting a feel for the greens, I feel good,” he said.
It’ll be much easier said than done, as Scott Beers is also nipping at the heels of the leader. Beers not only belongs to Willowbend, he lives on the property and knows exactly where the ball has to go to avoid the various hazards scattered throughout the course.
“Nobody should be ashamed of what they shot out here today,” Beers said. “This is an incredibly difficult golf course. You have out of bounds or hazards on every single hole, and you got the wind that blows you around, it’s tough.”
Beers has played in the last two Senior Amateurs prior but never cracked the top 25. With the event coming to his home course this year, he said he’s looking for more chances to compete in the future.
“[There are a] lot of great guys out here,” Beers said. “For years didn’t have the time to play, but I’m trying to get into more of them now.”
Andy Congdon, a Senior Club Champion at Wyantenuck, birdied two of his final four holes to finish at 4-over par 74, while Todd Ezold recovered from a pair of double-bogies with a birdie on the 16th (Bog 7th) and a handful of key pars to keep pace.
120: Total Players In The Field
6012: Approximate yardage played Wednesday
82.6: Average score carded on Wednesday
77: Age of the oldest competitor — Joe Monahan III
131: Number of birdies made collectively by the field
9: Number of 55-year-olds competing in their first Mass Senior Amateur Championship
8: Number of players named James, Jim or Jimmy.
5: Number of Players Each From Either Plymouth CC or Blackstone National GC
Fun With A World Champion: Scott Beers made ace in front of 2011 Open Champion Darren Clark during a Happy Hour Clinic at Willowbend in late August. In addition to the clinic, “Another member and I played a Gross best-ball match against Darren and our head golf professional, Mike Vidal,” Beers said. “We lost the match 3-and-2, but we won the fifth hole with a hole in one. We were pleased we only lost 3-and-2 since they didn’t give us any shots.”
Cranberry Harvest Upon Us: Willowbend is also the home of a large Cranberry bog that surrounds the 9th hole of the appropriately-named Bog Course. Set on a 400-acre golf course, Willowbend harvests about 12 acres of Cranberries per year come October. During the rounds today, workers were setting up white and orange flags inside the bog to mark the spots. Hole 5 of the Bog Course (Hole 14 overall), is a 186-yard par-3 with an elevated tee box where players shoot directly over the bog and onto the green. Though we didn’t witness any balls landing in the bog, one could likely find a few buried deep in there.
Happy Birthday x2: Not only did David Holmes (Blackstone National) and Mark Millay (Highfields G&CC) celebrate birthdays Wednesday, they were paired in the same group together. Holmes turned 63, while Millay hit an even 60, making him the same age as the championship itself.
Past Champions: The following players in this year’s field have won the Mass Senior Amateur: Don Anderson (2004), Paul Murphy (2009), Jack Kearney (2010, 2019), Joe Walker (2012), Keith Smith (2013, 2016, 2017), Don Reycroft (2015), Frank Vana, Jr (2018).