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HAMPDEN, Massachusetts – Following two rounds of play under sunny (on Monday) and then windy (Tuesday) conditions, the field is now set at the 109th Massachusetts Open Championship, which is being held this week at GreatHorse.
Following the first two rounds of play, two-time and defending champion Jason Thresher (West Suffield, CT) stands atop the leaderboard with a score of 9-under par 135. John Stoltz of Middletown, New York is two back, while day-one leader Matthew Campbell (Clifton Park, NY) is four off the pace.
Those three – along with the other 51 players who made the cut this week – will return to Hampden on Wednesday to compete in the final 18 holes. This year’s cut line fell at 6-over par 150.
Due to the forecast of scattered showers and possible thunderstorms, the third round will feature competitors in groups of three. The first tee time is set for 7:00 a.m. If there is a tie following regulation, a three-hole aggregate playoff will follow.
Highlights from the first round of competition are below.
Through sun, wind or rain Jason Thresher seems to thrive on the simple task of playing golf. On Monday under sunny and glorious conditions at GreatHorse, Thresher delivered a round that featured eight birdies and two bogeys.
Less than 24 hours with the wind howling across all of Hampden with gusts upwards of 15 miles per hour, Thresher calmly posted a clean round of 3-under par 69. His two-round total of 9-under par 135 places him atop the leaderboard heading into Wednesday’s final round which will be played under what is expected to be persistent rain.
“It will definitely be three different challenges,” said Thresher, the two-time and defending champion of this event. “I don’t know how it’s going to play in the rain, but whatever the conditions are golf is fun to play. The conditions make it more interesting. It is definitely more exciting when you factor in the wind and rain.”
Leading from the front is nothing new for Thresher. Two years ago he held a one-stroke lead at Worcester Country Club heading into the final round where he eventually prevailed in a three-hole aggregate playoff. Last year at TGC at Sacconnesset, Thresher shared the lead following 36 holes before claiming the title outright in regulation.
“I would have loved to have shot 66 again and been at 12 under,” said Thresher with a smile when asked if he prefers to lead or come from behind on the final day. “I have never really had a couple shot lead to win a tournament before so I am probably in a better position if it’s close.”
On this day, Thresher began the day playing the three holes that caused him the most problems on Monday. After making bogey on the 10th and 12th holes the day before, Thresher began his second round on the 10th hole and made eight pars and one birdie to make the turn at 1-under par 35.
“It seemed like the tougher the shot today the more focused I was and the better shot I hit because I left a few opportunities out there with short wedges,” said Thresher.
One of the toughest challenges on Tuesday was the 422-yard, par 4 16th hole which was playing 99 yards longer than it had the day before. Only six competitors in the field made birdie on that hole, and it ranked as the hardest hole on the golf course. Thresher was, no surprise, one of the them.
“On 16 I hit two great shots to about five feet,” said Thresher, who said the placement of the tee and swirling wind were key factors on that hole. “On [holes] 4 and 5 both of them were 10 footers. Other than those holes, I don’t think that I had any really good birdie opportunities except on 9.”
It was on the 9th green – his last hole of the day – where Thresher missed a 9-footer that would have given him his fourth birdie of the day and an even greater buffer going into Wednesday. However, following his round Thresher wasn’t thinking about any missed putt or shot. He was just content to be in a position to perhaps become just the fifth golfer in history to win three straight Massachusetts Open Championship titles.
“I am just happy that I am in the position that I am,” said Thresher. “This is where I expected to be going into the week.”
John Stoltz (Middletown, NY) made the turn at GreatHorse on Monday afternoon and decided to make a change. The one-time club professional who is now trying to kick start his touring career again was 1-over par. He had made two bogeys through his last six holes and his tee shot off the 1st tee – his 10th hole of the day – fell short of the green.
Instead of pressing he decided to go a different direction.
“At that point in the round I was like I have to hit a ridiculous shot,” said Stoltz about his predicament on that key hole. “Those are always fun because you could always pull out a great shot or make triple. I wanted to make a birdie, so I said let’s just have some fun. From that point on I have been just trying to have fun.”
Fun quickly translated into stellar play which has brought Stoltz into contention and just two strokes off the overall lead. He played his final nine holes on Monday at 3-under par (which included a double bogey on the 6th hole) and then returned to Hampden on Tuesday morning and played his first eight holes at 5-under par.
“I started off with a couple of birdies on the back,” said Stoltz, who began his second nine on Tuesday by making birdie on the 10th and 11th holes. “I knew that the wind was going to pick up as the day went on so I needed a little cushion.”
Stoltz leaned on that cushion through his final holes. He finished his round with seven pars and one bogey to post the day-low score of the day – a 5-under par 67.
“I had fun but the back nine was a bit of a grind,” said Stoltz with a laugh. “The back nine tightens up a little bit with the greens. You have to hit some more shots out there.”
One year ago, Stoltz made his debut at the Massachusetts Open Championship and set the course record on day one at TGC at Sacconnesset. He posted a 5-under par 67 but then followed that up with a pair of 77s which dropped him to T31.
This time around – with just 18 holes standing between him and a championship title – Stoltz is hoping that his recent change will result in a key career victory.
“I think that I am going to stick to my routine to try and have fun,” said Stoltz. “I haven’t done that in a while and it was kind of funny that I found that inside after that shot and it lightened me up a little. Whatever happens happens. These guys could go out and shoot 8 under or they could shoot 8 over you just don’t know what will happen.”
Another motivation for Stoltz on Wednesday will be his friend and mentor Bob Toski. Toski, the legendary golf instructor who was inducted into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame in 2012, suffered a heart attack on Saturday and remains in critical condition. He is 91 years old.
Stoltz, who was part of the Johnson & Wales (FL) golf team that won a NAIA National Championship in 2006, became connected with Toski through the school.
“I saw him over the winter and he said, ‘hey I see a lot of people and you are in a very small percentage with the ability to play. Just go do it,” said Stoltz. “Those were his exact words, so I have just been focusing on playing and playing as much as I can.”
Immediately following his round, Stoltz grabbed his phone so that he could find out how Toski was doing.
“He has been in the back of my mind all week,” said Stoltz. “Hopefully I can do something here that will make him happy.”
In a field of only 52 amateurs out of 142 total players, Jason Cook of Pine Oaks CC led the way in the battle for Low Amateur honors with a score of 1-under par 153 following the conclusion of round two. Cook currently stands T12 overall with 18 holes left to play on Wednesday.
With wind conditions playing a major factor in today’s round, Cook commented on how the wind affected his round.
“It was a lot harder out here today than yesterday condition wise,” said Cook, who fired an impressive 4-under par 68 on day one. “I didn’t drive the ball quite as well as I did yesterday, with a couple of loose drives. I was kind of in-between clubs today, so it was just a lot harder. I think I was 5 over after 12, and I played the last 6 holes at 2 under. The last 6 holes aren’t easy either.”
Cook currently holds a two-shot lead over the next amateur on the leaderboard, Brett Krekorian of Indian Ridge Country Club, who is T20 with a score of 1-over par 145. The next amateur behind him is Herbie Aikens of Old Sandwich Golf Club, who is T33 with a score of 4-over par 148.
With rain in the forecast for tomorrow, Cook believes mother nature is the only factor that could affect his game tomorrow.
“I think it all depends on the weather,” said Cook. “The wind just made it a lot tougher today. Pins were a little tougher. If I drive the ball as well as I did the first day, I think I should be ok.”
In addition to Cook, Krekorian, and Aikens, an additional six amateurs made the cut and will compete on Wednesday include: Max Theodorakis of Danbury, CT, Ben Spitz of George Wright Golf Club, Jackson Lang of Nashawtuc County Club, Mackenzie Nelson of Wollaston Golf Club, Daniel Woodbury of Pleasant Valley Country Club, and Jack Boulger of Walpole Country Club.
As the afternoon wore on, the story of the day turned from individual competitors to Mother Nature. The morning wave of players enjoyed relatively calm conditions with the wind picking up as the majority of them were finishing their final few holes.
“It was playing night and day on the back,” said John Stoltz, who felt fortunate to have a morning tee time. “In my first nine it was maybe 5 to 10 [miles per hour] and the last nine it was more like 15 to 20.”
According to weather.com, wind in the Hampden area was recorded to be 17 miles per hour with gusts up to 30 miles per hour. While those who play this course on a regular basis say that this is nothing new, some of the competitors were suggesting that the gusts were much higher than that and nothing like they have seen in recent memory.
“I felt like I was out there for two days,” said one caddie following an afternoon round.
GreatHorse is situated on a 232-acre site on an expanse of the Connecticut River Valley that presents 225 feet of elevation change from top to bottom. The wind gusts were especially brutal on the first few holes and on the back nine which were designed on pronounced uplands near the clubhouse which overlooks the entire course layout.
“It was just tough trying to gauge the wind,” said Matthew Campbell. “I wasn’t trying to hold on out there. I had some good shots that the wind took and others that it didn’t take.”
Adding to the challenge on day two was the course setup which included adding 99 yards to the 16th hole which played to 422 yards on Tuesday. Only six competitors in the entire field made birdie on that hole which played to an average score of 76.46 on Tuesday, which was more than a two shot difference than on Monday.
The last time that competitors in this event faced conditions like this was in 2016 when the event was held at Black Rock Country Club in Hingham. During the first round, winds gusts were measured at 30 miles per hour.
While the wind is projected to be tame on Wednesday, the competitors might have to deal with another element during the third round – rain. Starting times on Wednesday were moved to 7:00 a.m. (the traditional Round 3 start time is 8:30 a.m.) due to the inclement and unsettled weather patterns projected for the Hampden region.
“Our plan is to start early so that we can get as much golf in as we can,” said Kevin Eldridge, Mass Golf’s director of rules & competition. “We are thankful that GreatHorse is allowing us an early start so that we can get this final round in.”
On July 10, 2017, James Driscoll returned to Massachusetts to help kick off one of the most anticipated weeks of amateur golf in the Bay State. The two-time Massachusetts Amateur Champion – he won that event in 1996 and 1998 – arrived at his home club of Charles River Country Club to hit the ceremonial first drive. Driscoll represented the first person to participate in an opening tee shot in the history of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
“It is a true honor to be here,” said Driscoll to a crowd of supporters, competitors and officials before he hit the historic shot. “The person who is victorious at the end of this week will have a memory that they will never forget.”
Driscoll, who is now 40 years old, is one player who has created many golf memories.
At the age of 18, he became the youngest competitor to win the Massachusetts Amateur Championship. He also – three years prior to that – captured the 1993 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship title and, as a junior competitor, was ranked as the second best player in the country who made the final of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in 1996.
A graduate of Brookline High School and The Taft School, Driscoll enjoyed a stellar career at the University of Virginia and reached the final round of the 2000 U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club – which then led him an invitation to the 2001 Masters Tournament, where he was partnered with Tom Watson. At the time of the Masters, Driscoll’s first round 68 score was the best mark in an opening round by an amateur since Ken Venturi’s 66 in 1956. He was also a member of the 2001 Walker Cup Team.
Since turning professional in 2001, Driscoll has enjoyed a successful career on both the PGA Tour and the Web.com Tour in events across the country. He currently has status on the Web.com Tour for next season but is considering all of his options. His next stop following the Massachusetts Open Championship is Monday’s Travelers Championship Pre-Qualifier.
“I already have some status on the Web next year so instead of going to Q-school to try to get a tiny bit better status, I would rather go to Europe and try to get full European Tour status and then have some options for next year if I even want to play. I don’t even know. I am just taking this week and next Monday to see how I feel.”
After posting a 1-over par 73 on Monday, Driscoll found his way around the challenging GreatHorse layout in the afternoon to finish at 1-under par 71. He is currently T11 overall, but importantly he saw progress from yesterday to today.
“It was night and day,” said Driscoll. “Yesterday morning, especially, was no wind and the greens were so good that it was borderline easy. If you were playing well there was no reason not to shoot a good number, and a lot of guys did. It was frustrating for me. Today was totally different. I knew that if you hung in there, it didn’t have to be pretty to scrape around pars. And if you did that you would probably make up some ground.”
With one more round left to play in his native state before he continues his professional journey, Driscoll took a moment to think back to his younger days.
“I’m 40 now and I was 20 back then or even 15 back then,” said Driscoll. “A lot has changed, but at the same time it’s fun to be back playing a state tournament run by [Mass Golf]. There is definitely some good vibes there that I am trying to build off of.”
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