James Imai Storms Out to Lead Following Day 1 of 100th Massachusetts Amateur Championship

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: AUGUST 6, 2018

BELMONT, Massachusetts – The first of two rounds of stroke play for the 100th Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship was completed on Monday at Belmont Country Club. This year marks a new format for this historic Mass Golf event which features both stroke play and match play over a four-day period.

ONLINE: ROUND 1 RESULTS | PHOTO GALLERY | JUNIOR AMATEUR HOME PAGE

The starting field will take part in a second round of stroke play on Tuesday. Following the completion of play, the field will then be reduced to the low 16 scorers, who will continue on to match play. A tie for the final qualifying places will be determined by a hole-by-hole playoff on Tuesday evening in Belmont.

Weather permitting, the rounds of 16 and quarterfinals will take place on Wednesday with the semifinals and final 18-hole match to be completed on Thursday.

STORY LINKS: JAMES IMAI OFF TO FAST START | TURNER & IMAI ARE SOON WESTWARD BOUND | A NEW FORMAT COMES TO TOWN | NEWS & NOTES

Below are highlights from the first day of competition at Belmont Country Club.

James Imai Gets Off to a Fast Start

Brookline’s James Imai says that Belmont Country Club, which he played for the first time on Sunday as part of a practice round for this week’s Junior Amateur Championship, reminds him a lot of his home course of George Wright Golf Course in Hyde Park. If that statement stays true, the competition best be worried.

Looking to get back to the Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship podium as the Bay State’s top junior golfer, two years removed from winning the title in 2016 at Kernwood Country Club, Imai made a statement – shooting a 4-under 67 to jump out to an early lead in the 100th playing of the Junior Championship. After the first 18 of stroke play, Imai holds a two-stroke lead over Walpole Country Club’s Eric Boulger.

“I hit 17 greens and the one green I missed, I got up and down on. That definitely helps,” said Imai on his day-one performance. “I hit it in the right spots. Hopefully, I can keep doing that every day.”

Starting on the 10th tee in the 8:40 a.m. slot, Imai began his day with a birdie and was 2-under par at the turn, adding another on his 9th hole – Belmont’s 18th hole. During that stretch, he made a save on the par-3 12th hole that would’ve disrupted an otherwise bogey-free round, stating, “On 12, I was way over the green, but got up and down, so that kind of kept it going.”

Imai made birdie on the 4th hole and finished with another helper on his final hole to finish the day with four total birdies to 14 pars.

He said, “I birdied nine to finish, so that definitely felt good. I birdied four. All of the par-5’s except for 17, so I played really well. I was able to limit the damage.”

Coming off a stretch which included play in the Massachusetts Amateur Championship, the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, a U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier, the Ouimet Memorial Tournament and now this week’s state junior championship, Imai says he’s feeling the best he possibly could as he heads into next week’s U.S. Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach.

“It’s kind of just trying to tighten up the screws. I feel really good right now and the results are showing,” said Imai. “It’s kind of just keep doing what I’m doing and keep tightening up the screws and hopefully have a special week this week and next week.”

As the leader in the clubhouse after the first round, the Brookline native and rising senior at Brookline High School, who just last week committed to play golf at Northwestern University beginning in Fall 2019, Imai will look to build off his day one performance through the second and final day of stroke play. Beginning Wednesday, the championship sees a return to its match play format for the top-16 competitors with the eventual top-two competitors facing off Thursday afternoon for the title.

Behind Imai on the leaderboard after round one is Walpole Country Club’s Eric Boulger, the younger brother of 2016 runner up Jack Boulger, who tallied five birdies and currently sits at 2-under par 69. Jared Winiarz, Xavier Marcoux and Max Hutter round out the top-5 scoring.

Pre-Junior Division Highlights

The Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship presents a unique “tournament-within-the-tournament” opportunity for those who are between the ages of 14 and 15. Those competitors play from the same tees as the rest of the field, but as a result of their age they are also eligible to be recognized as the Pre-Junior champion.

In the history of the Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship, which dates back to 1914, only four competitors have won both the overall and Pre-Junior Division titles. The last competitor to achieve such a feat was James Imai, who was victorious at the age of 15 in 2016.

On Monday, Weston Jones (Charter Oak CC) took an important step towards becoming a part of Mass Golf history by posting a day-one score of even par 71.

“I had a lot of versatility off the tee, so I hit a lot of two irons which is a comfortable club for me,” said Jones, who will turn 15 years old in September. “My wedge play and putting were really good today, and that’s what kind of got me through.”

Despite making double bogey on his third hole of the day – the 173-yard, par 3 12th hole – Jones battled back to make the turn at 1-over par 36. After he made birdie on the 15th hole, Jones suffered a bogey on the 16th hole but he quickly responded by sticking his approach on the 501-yard, par 5 17th hole to two feet.

“I doubled my third hole, and I stayed confident there and shot 2 under from there,” said Jones. “I had a couple of long putts, and I was just hitting a lot of greens.”

On the Belmont CC’s front nine, Jones stayed steady. He made par on his first three holes before he went birdie-bogey on the 4th and 5th holes. Despite the rising heat index as the afternoon wore on, Jones ended his round on a high note by draining a 20-foot birdie putt on the 402-yard, par 4 8th hole.

“I just need to hit fairways,” said Jones about the key to success this week. “I am feeling confident with my irons. I know that I can hit greens, so I just have to hit fairways.”

With 18 holes down and 18 more holes left before a Pre-Junior Division champion is crowned, Jones is excited about his position and the opportunity.

“It would be great,” said Jones, who is competing in his first Mass Golf Championship. “The field for the Pre-Juniors is great this year and that would be amazing.”

Nipping at Jones’ heels on Tuesday will be John Broderick (Dedham C&PC), who is just one back of Jones after posting a 1-over par 72 and stands alone in second place.

“I have been hitting the ball really solid, but sometimes it comes down to my putting,” said Broderick, who will turn 15 years old in December. “I had a lot of short birdie putts today and hopefully tomorrow I can make some more putts and be under par.”

Broderick began his round on the 352-yard, par 4 10th hole and made three straight pars before carding his first birdie of the day on the 374-yard, par 4 13th hole. He would make bogey on the very next hole, but his approach on the 430-yard, par 4 18th hole landed two feet from the hole to set up his second birdie of that nine.

“I was hitting it good on the front nine and was even through the first eight holes and then hit it to two feet on 18 to make a birdie to finish off the front nine,” said Broderick. “I birdied one and four with a bogey on three and was 2-under, but I think the heat got me the last five holes with three bogies but still a good round.”

On the Belmont CC’s 1st hole – his 10th of the day – Broderick sent his 5-iron approach to 10 feet to set up a birdie putt.

“I hit it a bit too hard, but it hit the back of the hole and went in,” said Broderick about that putt.

He then guided his chip to two and a half feet on the 4th hole before the temperatures began to take a toll on his game.

“It got really hot on the last six holes,” said Broderick about the temperatures which reach mid 90s on Monday. “The first 12 were fine, but the last six it got really hot at the end.”

Despite making those three bogies down the stretch, Broderick was able to weather the storm and finish atop all but one of the competitors in the Pre-Junior Division.

“Obviously they are both really important,” said Jones, a soon-to-be freshman at Wellesley High School who is playing in his first-ever Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship “There are two tournaments in itself. I want to win both if I can, but if I could win the Pre-Junior that would be awesome.”

Two competitors – Conner Willett (Charles River CC) and Freddie Curtis III (Shaker Hills CC) – are currently T4 with scores of 2-over par 73.

Only those Pre-Junior Division competitors who finish in the top 16 will continue play on to the match-play portion of the event on Wednesday.

A New Format Comes to Town

On Monday, more than 100 competitors aged 14-18 kicked off play in the first round of the 100th Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship at Belmont Country Club, a continuation of one of the longest Championships Proper in state history. While a changing venue each year results in a different look and feel, this year’s Championship too had similar results – but for different reasons.

Unlike past years, the 2018 Junior Amateur Championship features the re-introduction of match play to the format – a nod to the tournament’s origins that date back more than 100 years ago when the organization took over operations of the Boston Interscholastic Championship prior to the first World War. The reintroduction to the match play format is a change to what competitors are used to seeing – a 54-hole stroke play tournament where the lowest score after those three rounds are crowned champion.

Following two rounds of stroke play, which will conclude on Tuesday at Belmont, a cut will be established and the top-16 players with the lowest scores will advance to match play, which will begin Wednesday morning and conclude on Thursday afternoon.

“The idea really came about being that it is the 100th anniversary of the event, so we figured we would want to celebrate the event and kind of see what we can do to up the event a little bit more,” said Kevin Eldridge, Mass Golf Director of Rules and Competition. “We did learn that when the event did start, it was a stroke and match play event, so we figured it would be a great opportunity to make the change back from strictly a stroke play event back to a stroke and match play event.”

Additionally, with the changes surrounding the 100th anniversary of the tournament, Eldridge believes the change to include match play will also be beneficial to all participants.

“It is also nice to get junior players used to some match play events,” said Eldridge. “Given the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship is a match play event as well, this will give kids some extra experience with match play format. Most other junior tournaments out there are either 36 holes or 54 holes of stroke play, so this will be a good opportunity.”

While the idea to generate some buzz around the Junior Amateur Championship in connection with its 100th anniversary was great on paper, the ones who will ultimately reap the rewards will be the competitors themselves. They too are happy for the switch of format.

Christian Emmerich, a Swampscott resident playing in his third Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship said, “I thought match play would be fun because the Mass Am is match play too and it’s the top 16, so once you’re in the top-16, it doesn’t matter what you did the two days before. It’s basically everyone’s game after that.”

He added, “People who kind of grind out pars might not have best luck with people who can fire five birdies and four bogeys. You can make a big mistake on one hole and it doesn’t matter because it only be a loss of one hole.”

Whether one’s game is better suited for stroke play or match play will be determined over the course of the next 72 hours.

After conclusion of play on Tuesday, including the possibility of a sudden-death playoff to break any ties, the top-16 scorers will be seeded 1-16 based on 36-hole scores from Monday and Tuesday. Round of 16 matches will take place Wednesday morning with quarterfinal matches slated for Wednesday afternoon and the semifinal and final matches set for Thursday.

Turner & Imai Are Soon WESTWARD BOUND

This week’s Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship, the 100th of its kind, also marks one final run through for two of Mass Golf’s youngest competitors.

Both Brookline’s James Imai, the 2016 Massachusetts Junior champion, and Gloucester’s Mark Turner recently qualified for the 2018 U.S. Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach and will be among the nine Bay Staters in the field when competition kicks off on Monday, August 13. Turner earned medalist honors at the 36-hole qualifier on July 24 at Essex County Club while Imai won-out in a one-hole playoff to clinch the final spot and complete a sweep by Massachusetts natives in Manchester-By-The-Sea.

With the countdown on to California, both Imai and Turner are looking to put on one final show in a tournament that both have had success in ahead of what will ultimately be the highlight of their careers thus far.

“I’m so excited,” said Turner on Monday, a similar sentiment to what he felt nearly two weeks ago at Essex. “I’ve never been to Pebble Beach. I can’t wait – especially going out with [James Imai] because we play so much together. It’s going to be so much fun and really looking forward to it.”

For the 18-year old Turner, who will be making his inaugural appearance at the U.S. Amateur, this week’s Massachusetts Junior Amateur will be one final opportunity to get his game in check, as well as to nurse an injury that he hopes will be the clear by the end of the week.

“I hurt my right arm a little bit, so I’m trying to heal that up a little bit before I get out there,” said Turner of a recent injury he suffered while working out in the gym that resulted in a right strained bicep.

Turner, who finished fourth in last year’s Championship Proper, shot a 4-over 75 and sits at T26.

Like Turner, James Imai too is looking to use this week to get ready for next week’s big show at Pebble Beach. Paired together in the same group with Turner, Imai finished at 4-under 67 and currently leads the field – a good place to be heading into the biggest week of your life.

“It’s kind of like the U.S. Junior,” said Imai on the similarities between preparing for his second national tournament in less than a month. “We had the Massachusetts Amateur [the week before], so it’s kind of the same deal. Obviously, with only 16 kids, the ratio to who makes match play can be pretty similar.”

When he played in the Massachusetts Amateur Championship, which started on July 9, he was too preparing for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, which began at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey on July 16.

“It’s definitely good prep and happy I played better this time around,” said Imai. “Hopefully I make match play and get the same juices going. It’s going to be a fun week, especially with all the Mass guys out there.”

While Turner’s focus is on getting his shoulder back in order, Imai says his goal this week is to simply continue competing to the best of his ability.

“It’s kind of just trying to tighten up the screws. I feel really good right now and the results are showing,” said Imai. “It’s kind of just keep doing what I’m doing and keep tightening up the screws and hopefully have a special week this week and next week.”

NEWS & NOTES

Heat Index Alert: In what is on pace to be the warmest first week of August ever in the Boston area, temperatures soared to 95 degrees in Belmont during the heart of the first round. In fact, weather.com reported that conditions “felt like” 99 degrees during most of the day. Relief is not in sight for these competitors as temperatures are expected to reach the mid 90s once again on Tuesday.

Switching Hats: One of the two officials in charge this week is looking forward to a busy fall. George Pendergast, a longtime member of The Country Club and past president of what was then known as the Massachusetts Golf Association, also serves as head coach of the men’s golf team at Tufts University. He has served that post for four years. Prior to taking over the head coaching position, he spent four years as the associate head coach of the Jumbos. Making it a true family affair in Belmont, the other official in charge this week is George’s brother Hector Pendergast.

Brotherhood: Two sets of brothers made the trip to Belmont this week to compete for the same title. Seventeen-year-old Christian Emmerich (Kernwood CC) was joined in the field by younger brother Aidan Emmerich (Kernwood CC), who is making his Junior Amateur Championship debut at the age of 14. Also competing were the brother duo of Charlie Campbell (Captains GC) and Will Campbell (Captains GC), who are 17 and 15 years old, respectively.

Former Champs In the House: Two past champions of this event are looking to become on the 10th person in event history to win this event two times. James Imai captured the overall title at the age of 15 in 2016, while Dillon Brown won this event last year when he was 17 years old.

The USGA Fab Four: Four of the six competitors from Massachusetts who competed in the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship are in this week’s field. Included in that list are: James Imai, Dillon Brown, Peter Bowie, and Mark Turner. The two Bay Staters not in Belmont this week are Michael Thorbjornsen and Andrew DiPetrillo.

Pre-Junior Medalist: Following the second round of stroke play on Tuesday, the low scorer from the Pre-Junior Division (i.e. those competitors who are between the ages of 14 and 15) will be recognized as the Pre-Junior Division winner and will receive a trophy on site. Any Pre-Junior Division competitor who advances to match play is also eligible to win the overall title since all competitors in the field play from the same set of tees.

The YGA to Junior Pathway: In 2012, Mass Golf introduced the Young Golfers’ Amateur Championship in order to give the younger golfers a chance to win their own title. The event is open to only those competitors who are under the age of 14 and features 18 holes in a modified stableford format. Once competitors reach the age of 14, they become eligible to compete in the Junior Amateur Championship.

Spotted: Frank Dully, the longtime head golf professional at Kernwood CC, took time off on Monday to support his son Sean Dully, who was part of the afternoon wave of competitors. Frank Dully is regarded as one of the best playing club pros in New England. He won the 2006 NEPGA Championship and to this day shares the Kernwood CC competitive course record with six-time Massachusetts Open champ Geoff Sisk and Rhode Islander Dana Quigley. Dully and Sisk matched each other with 64 in the second round of the 2007 Massachusetts Open, which Sisk won.

Two Former YGA Champs: Since 2012 there have been five different champions of the Young Golfers’ Amateur Championship. Four of the five are included in this year’s field – Nicholas Cummings (2012, 2013), Jack O’Donnell (2014), Conner Willett (2016) and Joseph Lenane (2017). The one past champion not in this year’s field is Michael Thorbjornsen, who won this event in 2015. Last month, Thorbjornsen became the first Bay State native to win the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. He will next compete – per an exemption received as a result of winning the USGA Championship Proper – in the 2018 U.S. Amateur Championship to be hosted at Pebble Beach Golf Links (CA).