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HAMPDEN, Massachusetts – The first of three rounds of the 109th Massachusetts Open Championship was held at GreatHorse on Monday. The starting field competed in 18 holes and will return on Tuesday for a second round of competition. Following 36 holes, the field will be reduced to the low 50 scorers and ties or anyone within 7 strokes of the leader. Only those competitors will return on Wednesday for the third and final round.
Competitors are vying for the Clarence G. Cochrane Memorial Trophy that is awarded to the champion as well as a $75,000 purse which is available for all professional entrants. The Massachusetts Open Championship marks the only Mass Golf event that is open to both amateurs and professionals.
Highlights from the first round of competition are below.
Every June, Matthew Campbell enjoys taking a drive from his hometown of Clifton Park, New York to the Bay State for the Massachusetts Open Championship. It doesn’t matter where the event is held because Campbell makes sure that it’s on his schedule whenever possible.
“I just love coming up here and playing,” said Campbell, who made the cut at four of five PGA Tour Latinoamerica events last season. “The Mass Open has the best greens.”
Campbell backed up that statement during his first round on Monday when he posted an 8-under par 64. On his first hole, Campbell read the contours of the Brian Silva GreatHorse greens perfectly when he chipped in from the front of the green for eagle on the 401-yard, par 4 1st hole. It kick started a front nine which included the eagle, four birdies and zero bogeys.
“I found a good landing spot, and it was a perfect chip that trickled in dead center,” said Campbell, a 2013 graduate of Newberry College in South Carolina. “That kind of got the round going.”
Despite keeping his driver in his bag most of the day on the 6,895-yard layout and having just played the course once before, Campbell continued his perfect round. He made birdie on the 207-yard, par 3 13th hole and 129-yard, par 3 15th hole to finish his day at 8-under par 64.
“I came out yesterday for the first time,” said Campbell. “The wind swirls a little bit up here, but I hit the same clubs off the tee and a lot of hybrids off the tee because the driver wasn’t good and wasn’t cooperating.”
While his driver may have cooled off, his putting was red hot which is a departure from what has plagued Campbell in recent months.
“The putter has not been good all year,” said Campbell. “I got a new putter two days ago out of my shop back home.”
The putter came in handy on the back nine where he was able to get up and down on the 567-yard, par 5 11th hole to save par and salvage a perfect round.
“I hit a really good shot into 11 that went long,” said Campbell. “It was probably one of the best shots I hit all day, but I got that up and down and hit quality shots coming in.”
Two years ago when Campbell last competed in this event, he bettered his score each day en route to finishing T3 and just one stroke behind eventual champion Jason Thresher. Campbell did not return last year but only because he advanced through sectional qualifying and competed in the 2017 U.S. Open Championship.
Just after 3:00 p.m. the course at GreatHorse was buzzing with news that two-time and defending champion Jason Thresher was on a tear. The 2016 and 2017 champion from West Suffield, Connecticut began his three-peat pursuit by making birdie on five of his first six holes. He was a mere three shots back of the overall leader in the clubhouse – Matthew Campbell – with 13 holes left to go.
“I couldn’t have gotten off to a better start than that,” said Thresher, who is fresh off a 2017 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica campaign where he made 7 of 7 cuts and recorded five top-20 finishes. “I was hitting the ball right at the flags, and I was actually making putts which I struggle with when they are outside of 10 to 20 feet. I don’t make many of those, and they were dropping the first few holes. It actually could have been a much better start as I missed shorter birdie putts on 7, 8 and 9.”
Thresher made the turn at 5-under par 31, but then made two bogies – on the 10th and 12th holes. A birdie on the 567-yard, par 5 11th allowed Thresher to remain just a few shots back from the leaders.
“On the back nine on the first five, six or seven holes I kind of lost it a little bit,” said Thresher. “I had 90 yards in on 10 from the fairway, and I chunked it right into the front bunker and made my first bogey. I three putted 12 which I wasn’t surprised or angry about because it was my first putt of any length that day. I found it on 17 and 18 and hit all great shots and made two putts.”
With temperatures dropping as Thresher finished his round, he was able to recover some of the magic from earlier in the day to finish with two birdies and a score of 6-under par 66. He stands just two back of Campbell and in a tie for second with fellow PGA TOUR Latinoamérica competitor Josh Salah and Florida-based Brad Adamonis.
“I saw some low scores through nine holes this morning, and when I teed off seven [under] was lowest not in the clubhouse so I knew I had to make some birdies,” said Thresher. “After the past couple of months playing the Latin Tour that is just the normal routine. If you are not going under par and not going low you aren’t going to finish well.”
One year ago at TGC at Sacconnessett in Falmouth, Thresher found himself in a similar position. He was two back of the leader after one round before eventually claiming a two-stroke win over Salah. Two years ago at Worcester Country Club, Thresher was one back on day one but then prevailed in a thrilling three-hole aggregate playoff against Mark Stevens of Pembroke, New Hampshire.
“Mass Open the last few years is always my biggest event of the year,” said Thresher. “I always feel the nerves and everything.”
Since rejoining amateur golf competitions three years ago after a 20-plus year hiatus, Easton’s Jason Cook (Pine Oaks GC) continues to build on his game in hopes of qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open Championship, which he will be eligible for next year when it is hosted at Warren Golf Course on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.
Right now, the soon-to-be 49-year-old says his game is the best it has been in a very long time and based on the scores he has carded in recent competition, there’s not much to support anyone who would say otherwise.
Less than a week removed from earning medalist honors at the Massachusetts Amateur Championship qualifier contested at Foxborough Country Club, Cook finds himself leading the group of 52 amateurs in the field at this week’s Massachusetts Open Championship, taking place at GreatHorse in Hampden.
“[I love the game] a lot more,” said Cook on his return to amateur golf. After his first round, it is safe to say there is a lot more for him to love about his results.
Cook shot a 4-under par 68 Monday morning in the first round of the 109th Championship Proper and holds a two-stroke lead over the next amateurs on the leaderboard, GreatHorse’s Pat Pio III, Indian Ridge’s Brett Krekorian and Wollaston GC’s Mackenzie Nelson, who each finished at 2-under par 70.
With his performance, Cook took the first steps necessary to collect his first career Massachusetts Cup, which is awarded to the low amateur of the Massachusetts Open at the completion of play.
Starting on the back nine, Cook, a recent member of the Bay State team that won the 2017 Tri-State matches, birdied his first hole and made the turn at even-par before really stepping up his game on the second nine.
“I drove the ball great. I think I missed one fairway all day” said Cook on his first day performance. “I didn’t miss any short putts. I made about 12 feet and that sort of got me going on the back nine.”
He almost drove the green on the par-4 first hole then birdied the par-5 second hole before tallying three straight from holes four through six, which were playing as his back nine.
He said, “On the back nine, I birdied four of the first six holes. I didn’t birdie 10 but I almost drove the green. I birdied 11, parred the 12th and birdied three holes in a row. I hit it up two feet, then six feet and then I hit a five-footer on the next hole.”
In addition to his stellar start Monday and his medalist honors last Wednesday to qualify for the state amateur championship, Cook placed T5 at the Massachusetts Four-Ball Championship with partner Andy Drohen in the first Mass Golf Championship of the season, which was contested at The Captains Golf Course in Brewster.
This week’s Massachusetts Open field featured seven competitors who are playing on their home course, and the local knowledge that comes with such territory proved to be a true difference maker, particularly for amateur Pat Pio III, a 29-year old from Somers, Connecticut who made the short drive to GreatHorse for this week’s Championship.
Pio, a former golfer at Nichols College, made birdie on the 1st and 4th holes on his front nine and added two more on Holes 14 and 15 to finish his first round at 2-under 70. Of the seven GreatHorse golfers in the field, he sits as the club’s top scorer after 18-holes at T13.
Behind him were Chris Dejohn (T31), Billy Walthouse (T78), Matthew Naumec (T78), Guy Antonacci (T90) and Joe Brosseau (T110). After warming up on the driving range, GreatHorse head golf professional, Billy Downes, was forced to withdraw after a back injury that he has been battling resurfaced.
Following his opening round Monday, Pio said that having local knowledge of the course provided him with an advantage that others unfamiliar with the course might not have had. He has been a member since the club’s inception in 2015.
“I just kind of knew some spots where you couldn’t miss it and I knew some nuances on the greens and whatnot, and that kind of helped.”
The 18th hole, for example, a par-4 that plays uphill and to the left, can be a challenge for any competitor who hasn’t experienced the layout of the course, especially having played 17 previous holes.
“On 18, you have to know where to hit it off the tee and where you can miss it and where you can’t,” explained Pio. “Other than that, overall I hit it pretty solid off the tee so I that kind of alleviated some of the mistakes in the rough.”
This week’s field consisted of 52 competitors who reside outside of the Bay State. Other than practice rounds that competitors were offered in the week prior to the Championship Proper, many are playing the first competitively for the first time.
Jim Renner has fond memories of his 2008 Massachusetts Open Championship victory. It was an event which set the stage for a professional career that would see him compete on the PGA Tour in 2011, 2014 and 2015. During that stretch, he recorded three top-10 finishes – including a career-best T2 effort at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2014.
“Winning the Mass Open was a very big thing for me at that time,” said Renner, prior to competing in this year’s Massachusetts Open Championship for the first time since 2009. “I had just turned pro, and it was nice to have a [Mass Golf] title and beat a great field at Stockbridge [Golf Club]. Winning your state open is obviously something that was very important to me, and I was fortunate to win that week.”
Renner secured his PGA Tour card for the first time in December 2010. At that time, Renner had to survive six rounds of the PGA Tour’s qualifying tournament, then known as Q-School, to earn his tour card for the 2011 season.
“It has been a great experience,” said Renner. “With golf you have your ups and downs, but playing on the PGA Tour was amazing and almost surreal at times. There were a couple of weeks where I had a legit chance of winning which is why you play. You hope for those moments, and it’s interesting to see how you perform in those moments. Playing on the PGA Tour is where you want to be, and playing in the Web.com is not where you want to be but it gives you the opportunity to make the PGA Tour which is important.”
Despite battling nagging injuries for the past three to four years, Renner earned fully exempt status on the Web.com Tour for the 2017 season. While he currently holds exempt status, Renner announced in May of 2017 that he would be taking a medical leave from the Web.com Tour due to a torn labrum in his left hip.
“I had gotten multiple injections in my hip over the past few years, but it got so bad about a year ago where I had it looked at again and the doctor informed me that I pretty much had zero options other than surgery,” said Renner, who has made 80 career starts on the Web.com Tour. “When you play against the best players in the world and you have dings it gets really tough. I am happy that it’s behind me. The last year has been pretty difficult.”
His path to recovery led him to this week’s event thanks to a helpful reminder from a good friend.
“I was playing golf with Rob [Oppenheim], and he saw the exempt list and said that this was my last year to be exempt for the Mass Open which I did not know,” said Renner, referring to the policy which grants all Massachusetts Open champions a 10-year exemption. “So I thought that it would be a good thing to sign up for and to go back to Massachusetts.”
The reminder from Oppenheim, a current PGA Tour player from Andover who won the Massachusetts Open Championship in 2009, was especially timely for Renner who attempted to return to Web.com Tour action on April 26 at the United Leasing & Finance Championship but was unable to finish the tournament.
On this day in Hampden, Renner posted a round of even par 72 which include four birdies and four bogies.
“Today I didn’t feel as comfortable [as I would like],” said Renner. “But as the round went on I seemed to feel a little better, so I will be excited to play tomorrow for sure.”
When asked about plans for the future, Renner was still uncertain.
“In a perfect world I would like to think that I could go back on Web and play this year, but I don’t know if I’ll do that,” said Renner. “I may have to start up next year. I am still fighting some of the things from having surgery. The surgery has a recovery of nine months to a year and I am more on the year part of it, but I am going to play a couple of these and see how I feel. I want to play a couple of rounds in a row in tournament conditions and see how that goes.”
For complete coverage of the Massachusetts Open, visit MassGolf.org or follow Mass Golf on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @PlayMassGolf and by using the hashtag, #MassOpen