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HAMPDEN, Massachusetts – Chasing history isn’t easy, but you wouldn’t have guessed that by watching Jason Thresher of West Suffield, Connecticut tap in his par putt on his 54th hole of regulation to win the 109th Massachusetts Open Championship at GreatHorse.
Thresher finished with a three-day score of 11-under par 205 to win his third straight Massachusetts Open Championship title. He becomes only the fifth competitor in the 109-year history of the event to win three straight tournaments. The only other competitors to accomplish that feat dating back to 1905 were Dana Quigley (1982-84), Paul Harney (1967-1970), Harold McSpaden (1936-38) and Alex Ross (1906-10).
“Leading up to this week I was thinking about how many people have three-peated,” said Thresher. “And now I am just thinking about the year before I first won and that if I had made a few more putts that year it would be four right now.”
It is not surprising that Thresher was contemplating how difficult it is to win this title so quickly after signing his scorecard. After all, he had just endured more than four hours of a grueling and pressure-full round in order to secure his third title.
“This one was a lot different than the other two,” said Thresher, who entered the final round with a two-stroke lead over John Stoltz of Middletown, New York. “I fell behind on the back nine and definitely felt the pressure.”
Pressure was firmly applied all day long by a charging Evan Harmeling who posted the low round of the day – a 7-under par 65. Through the first nine holes on Wednesday, Thresher was 1-over par. Harmeling, meanwhile, was changing the entire complexion of the event by posting a score of 5-under par 31 on the front nine, which included an eagle on the 532-yard, par 5 8th hole.
“At the turn I asked what the scores were and I was surprised that I was tied at the time and I felt the pressure on the back nine,” said Thresher. “I didn’t get off to a great start. I wasn’t hitting it that well and then on the last six holes I started to hit it well.”
Harmeling made birdie on 382-yard, par 4 10th hole to pull even with Thresher at 10-under par. After making 10 straight pars beginning on the 2nd hole, Thresher finally found the red with birdies on the 12th and then 15th holes – both par 3s – to reclaim a one-stroke lead.
The two players remained deadlocked until the 17th hole where Harmeling – playing in the group just ahead of Thresher – dropped his fifth birdie putt of the day to the excitement of the crowd.
“I saw Jason stuff it in there on 15 and had a sense that I had to make one or two more coming in,” said Harmeling, who attended Phillips Academy in Andover and currently resides in Burlington, Vermont. “I hit a couple of good shots. I had a 2 iron and gap wedge to about 12 feet. It was the best putt of the day really. My line was going end over end there so it was nice to look up and see that. It’s always nice.”
Thresher responded with his approach on that 383-yard, par 4 17th hole which set him up for a seven-foot birdie to regain a one-stroke lead.
“I heard the applause, but I didn’t know for certain if that was for a birdie or saving par or something else,” said Thresher, who was standing in the 17th fairway when Harmeling made his birdie. “But I left myself with a good yardage there. For some reason I had a lot of pitching wedges today so I hit that club four or five times during the round so it was a real comfortable shot.”
Then, with Harmeling watching from a perch just above the 18th green, Thresher – from a side-hill lie – landed his approach to four feet to set up a victory-clinching par on the final hole.
“The first one was huge for my career,” said Thresher. “This one is great. I haven’t been back in New England for a long time. I am going to be back for the entire summer which will be great. This is a great way to kick off the summer and enjoy New England life again.”
The name GreatHorse has become synonymous with world-class golf and unparalleled amenities since opening in 2015, and as host of this week’s Massachusetts Open Championship, the course has lived up to its reputation and then some as it puts its first major Mass Golf Championship in the books.
Over a three-day period, GreatHorse hosted top professional and amateur competitors who traveled across the country to compete in what is considered one of the most prestigious state tournaments in the Northeast. To wit, this year’s field featured competitors who have competed on the PGA Tour, Champions Tour, Web.com Tour, Mackenzie Tour and the PGA Tour Latinoamérica.
“This is a great golf course,” said Jim Renner, a member of the Web.com Tour and a former PGA Tour player. “This was one the nicest places that I have ever been to period. The Web would be very thrilled to have an event here. They would be more than pleased.”
Renner, who competed on the PGA Tour in 2011, 2014 and 2015 and has made 80 career starts on the Web.com Tour was not alone in his praise for the Hampden layout.
“This golf course is amazing,” said John Stoltz of Middletown, New York who won the 2005 Met Open Championship and fired the day-low score of 5-under par 67 on Tuesday. “It is probably one of the best golf courses I have played. From tee to green there is not one bad hole. The conditions are ideal… the golf course is just unbelievable.”
The history and story of the course has been told in publications that have reached international audiences. The Antonacci family purchased Hampden Country Club in January of 2012. What began as a simple bunker and irrigation renovation project turned into a complete overhaul and rebuild of the property. New England based architect Brian Silva was commissioned to oversee the project.
The original golf course was 6,800 yards with 44 bunkers. The new layout has the ability to stretch to 7,500 yards with more than 200 bunkers scattered throughout.
At the time of its opening, owner and president Guy Antonacci said that the goal was to not only establish GreatHorse as one of the premier facilities of its kind in the area, but to add the club to conversations about future sites for regional and national-caliber events.
“It is great to have a couple of the PGA Tour guys here and the rest of the field seems pretty stacked,” said Antonacci, who was also part of this year’s field. “When we were building it that was a goal to have big championships whether they be pros, amateurs or juniors or women. I am just happy to see competition here.”
While the course this week did not stretch to 7,000 yards, the layout presented three unique challenges on each day of competition as a result of the creativity allowed through different tee selections and hole locations. In addition, 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.
Monday presented the competitors with a swirling wind and sunny skies, while Tuesday’s forecast brought consistent wind gusts measured at upwards of 30 miles per hour. Intermittent cloudy skies and rain showers emerged on Wednesday to give the final field a new and different look at the GreatHorse layout. Regardless of what they saw each day, the competitors had the same opinion about the course.
“I love this place,” said Jason Thresher, who grew up playing at Crestview Country Club and last year competed in eight PGA Tour Latinoamérica events. “The greens were rolling great which is probably why I made a few more putts. They were staying on line a lot more than what I am used to seeing.”
As competitors left the property on Wednesday evening they drove by a sign that declared, “Now entering Western Massachusetts. Thank you for visiting GreatHorse.”
After what they experienced over the past three days, there is no question that a return trip will be in order.
As competitors approached the 18th green on Wednesday during the final round of the Massachusetts Open Championship at GreatHorse in Hampden, they were greeted by United States Coast Guard veteran Tom Burzdak, who was chosen to serve as this year’s honorary flagstick attendant.
In salute to our country and those who have served and continue to serve, the Mass Golf flag was replaced with an American flag on that 18th hole in what has become a long standing tradition at the final day of the state Open Championship.
Born in Springfield, Burzdak joined the United States Coast Guard in 2000 following his graduation from nearby Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham. After being trained as a machinery technician, Burzdak served two years as a rescue swimmer in Ketchikan, Alaska.
“It was intense training. It wasn’t like the average training,” said Burzdak. “Have you ever seen the movie The Guardian? That’s rescue swimmer training. So it was fun and exciting needless to say.”
After two years in Ketchikan, Burzdak returned to the east coast, where he was stationed first in New Haven, Connecticut and then spent several years at both Camp Lejeune and Fort Macon in North Carolina.
Following nine years of active duty and six in the reserves, Burzdak returned home to the Bay State and currently works full time for GreatHorse as the club’s outside operations manager.
“I have always wanted to work at a golf course,” said Burzdak, who also gets to work with two of his six siblings, a younger brother and sister, who both work part time in different roles at GreatHorse. “My first job was actually at Fenway Golf in East Longmeadow when I was 16 years old.”
While he continues to serve our country as a member of the reserves, Burzdak looks forward to his future here at GreatHorse.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories of people going into the military who love playing golf and decided to make a career out of it,” said Burzdak, whose position requires him to work closely with the GreatHorse pro shop staff. “I’m working toward that path right now. I would love to become a golf pro one day. This is kind of the stepping stone.”
On this day, Burzdak replaced his red GreatHorse shirt and radio for his United States Coast Guard uniform so that he could greet each of Wednesday’s 54 competitors and their caddies as they put the finishing touches on their play in this year’s Championship Proper.
“This has become a highlight and a staple if you will of our Massachusetts Open Championship,” said Executive Director / CEO Jesse Menachem. “It is a great way for us to recognize and honor those who have served during what is one of our biggest events of the season.”
Mass Golf is grateful of Tom Burzdak for his many years of service and for all who have served or are currently serving in our countries military.
The title of low-amateur honors ended up being a battle of the ages. Veteran Jason Cook of Pine Oaks Country Club, who will turn 49 years old in eight days, was the low amateur after each of the first two rounds of competition and had a two-stroke lead over Indian Ridge CC’s Brett Krekorian heading into Wednesday’s final round.
As the final round wore on, however, Krekorian continued to gain ground and by the midway point of his round he held a two-stroke lead over Cook thanks to a front-nine score of 1-under par 35. His final score of 3-over par 219 secured his spot at the low-amateur.
The rising senior at Limestone College and four-year member of the Andover High School golf team is coming off a junior campaign in which he earned 2018 GCAA Division II PING All-Southeast Region recognition and was a semifinalist for the 2018 Division II Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year award.
“I guess it just shows me where I stack up against guys who are around my age,” said Krekorian. “Being a low amateur is a good sign. I actually think that I could have even played better this week.”
Following his day-low round of 5-under par 67 on Tuesday, John Stoltz was hoping that he could deliver a victory on Wednesday for a good friend. Bob Toski, a 2012 inductee into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame and legendary golf instructor, suffered a major heart attack on Saturday. Stoltz, who spent time working with Toski this past winter, was emotional throughout the week as he tried to focus on his job while also thinking of his friend who was battling for his life in Florida.
Following his round, Stoltz reported that Toski is doing better but is still in critical condition. Mass Golf sends its thoughts and prayers to the entire Toski family during this difficult time.
There was no mistaking James Driscoll on the course this past week. In addition to playing stellar golf – he finished at event par 216 – the two-time Massachusetts Amateur Champion (he won that event in 1996 and 1998) was wearing sun protective clothing that covered his arms and face all three days.
“I started wearing the sleeves a couple of years ago, and then I was like why am I not covering my face,” said Driscoll, who will next travel to Ellington Ridge Country Club in Connecticut to compete in the Travelers Championship Monday Qualifier. “I know that it looks crazy, but at the end of the day I would rather look a little weird for a couple of hours than wake up 20 years from now with serious issues.”
Many assumed that Driscoll, who has enjoyed a successful career on both the PGA Tour and the Web.com Tour since turning professional in 2001, was protecting himself from a current skin issue, but in fact he was being proactive about his health and in the process raising awareness for skin cancer.
“I am fair skinned, and it’s funny because I wear this all of the time and more people come up to me and say hey I had a spot cut out of my arm or I had a spot cut off my face,” said Driscoll. “The sun isn’t getting any weaker, so I am just trying to be as smart as I can.”
Although he didn’t make the cut this year, one local amateur from Vermont takes the prize for multitasking and being multi-talented. Garren Poirier, an amateur who lives in Killington during the summer months, drove from South Carolina to Hampden on Sunday so that he could make his tee time on Monday.
Poirier made the long trek after serving as photographer for his sister’s wedding. When not competing in the region’s most competitive events, Poirier is a talented photojournalist who owns and operates GarrenTee Photography. He specializes in weddings, but earlier this spring several of his photos were featured in MassGolfer magazine. In fact, what may become an iconic image of 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion Matt Parziale and Tiger Woods playing a practice round at the 2018 Masters Tournament was the cover photo for the spring MassGolfer issue.