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BELMONT, Massachusetts – Following his first round of the 2018 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship on Monday, Brookline’s James Imai said that he felt really good about where his game was and felt the results were showing.
On Thursday, he had to use all his weapons, but the eventual result was the same – coming back from 3 down through 12 holes to square the match with Needham’s David Rogers before defeating him in 22 holes to capture the 100th Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship.
With his victory, Imai becomes only the 10th competitor to win multiple state junior titles.
“It means a lot,” said Imai. “Mass Golf is definitely one of the best organizations out there and to win one of their championships is always special. Everything about this victory, everything that happened and all the friends that came out to watch is just a special win. It’s an honor.”
Playing in his final competitive round before heading to the U.S. Amateur Championship next week at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California, the 17-year old Imai, who also won the 2016 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship, entered the championship match having recorded par or better on all but two holes since the start of the tournament.
He was down 3 holes through 12 in the championship match, but in historic fashion, James Imai came back to defeat David Rogers in 22 holes to win the 100th #MassJunior Championship. A great start for the 17 year old, who heads to Pebble Beach next week to compete in the U.S. Amateur! Head to MassGolf.org for the complete recap!
He finished as the stroke play medalist, earned the top seed and rolled through the match play portion, including the semifinal round where he bested Marlborough’s Jack Tobin, 4 & 3, to set up a finale with a fellow rising senior Rogers, who beat Swampscott’s Christian Emmerich, 2 & 1 in the morning’s semifinal round.
In the afternoon’s championship match, the 17-year old Rogers, a rising senior at Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, got out to an early start by making birdie on the 4th hole. That, combined with a double bogey by Imai on the 5th hole and a bogey on the 7th hole, saw his lead extend to as many as 3 up, a lead that would remain intact until the 13th hole.
“I had the two-way miss going,” he said on his unusual start to the championship match. “I was trying to figure out what to do to slow down. I just needed a spark, one up and down, one par to just halve the hole.”
By the 9th hole, Rogers appeared to have an answer for every Imai effort, including when he found a way to halve a hole in which Imai delivered an impressive up an down after missing the green. The competitors would halve that hole and then they carded matching scores on the 10th and 11th holes.
Prior to the start of the 12th hole, Imai got his wish in hopes of slowing down – due in part to a 45-minute weather delay provided by Mother Nature – and following the interruption, he found his groove.
“I was honestly feeling really good, and then the weather came, and I was able to take a break,” said Imai. “After that, I played twelve and I had 15 feet, missed the putt but I knew I was getting really close.”
The par-4 13th hole was where things started to turn around.
Imai, who just last week committed to play golf at Northwestern University beginning in 2019, hit his approach shot to four feet and tapped in the birdie putt, his first birdie of the day, to win his first hole of the match.
Both competitors made par on 14, but a second birdie on 15, a bogey by Rogers on 16, and a third birdie by Imai on 17 brought the match to all square and shifted the momentum in favor of Imai.
With the match all square and anyone’s game, Imai fixed what appeared to be an erroneous tee shot that landed left of the tree line between the 17th and 18th fairways.
“I would say my coach would not advise me to hit that again, but in the current circumstances, I was able to pull off the shot of my life,” said Imai on his second shot on the 18th hole in an effort to save par and advance the match.
With Rogers dead center in the fairway, Imai had to navigate through branches of a pine tree with hopes of getting it onto the green.
“It was 150, downhill lie but the ball was sitting up,” explained Imai. “I had to go under two limbs and over those trees closest to the green. It was just enough loft where I could keep it under and the second trees were not even a question so I just had to set myself up and pull the trigger.”
He hit it to the fringe of the green, 10 feet above the hole, then two putted to keep his chances alive.
“It just shot off right but I knew just the fact that I had a putt to win was amazing,” added Imai. “It didn’t go in, but I figured I still had a shot and that’s all I needed.”
After halving the 18th hole, both competitors had chances to pull away, but it wasn’t until the 22nd hole, a return to Belmont’s fourth hole, where the match was decided.
From 255 yards out on his second shot, Imai landed the ball over the front side bunker and was able to get up and down. Roger’s second shot landed in the middle of the green, and after a series of putts by his opponent, including the last one that that just slipped by the cup, Imai was crowned the champion.
CLICK ON THE @PLAYMASSGOLF TWITTER THREAD BELOW TO SEE HOW THE MATCH WAS COVERED ON SOCIAL MEDIA. FOLLOW @PLAYMASSGOLF ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER & INSTAGRAM.
The final match of the 2018 #MassJunior Championship has begun! Follow along with live scoring as James Imai & David Rogers battle for the title here at Belmont Country Club!
— #MassGolf (@PlayMassGolf) August 9, 2018
Prior to the start of Thursday’s final round of the 2018 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship at Belmont Country Club, Mass Golf announced the names of the final two competitors who will represent the Bay State at next week’s New England Golf Association New England Junior Invitational Championship, the 52nd of its kind, being contested at Longmeadow Country Club.
Sixteen-year old Weston resident Max Hutter, of Weston Golf Club, and 15-year old Westminster resident Ethan Whitney, of Oak Hill Country Club, are the final two competitors who will compete for Team Massachusetts against assembled squads from each of the other five New England area golf associations beginning on Monday, August 13.
The two will join the likes of Peter Bowie, Xavier Marcoux, Jack O’Donnell, Jack Tobin and Jared Winiarz, all of whom were announced to the team earlier this week by head coach Kyle Harris, the new Director of Operations for The First Tee of Massachusetts.
Coming off appearances in the quarterfinal round of the Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship on Wednesday, both Hutter and Whitney will add strength to an already powerful roster as Team Massachusetts looks to win its third straight New England Junior Amateur title and their six in eight years.
Earlier this week, Hutter shot a 3-over 145 in 36-holes of stroke play to place T7 at the Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship and earn the seventh seed entering match play while Whitney carded a 4-over 146 in the 36-hole stroke play round to net the 12th seed. Both Hutter and Whitney were victorious in their Round of 16 matches before bowing out in the quarterfinal rounds.
“We are thrilled to welcome both Max and Ethan to the squad as we look to defend our title in our home state,” said Harris. “Both competitors showed great talent this week in their play, as well as great respect for the game, two of the qualities we looked for when we put together this team.”
Following a practice round on Sunday at Longmeadow, the seven competitors will begin play on Monday with 36-holes of stroke in a best five of seven format. An additional 18 holes will be conducted on Tuesday. Following completion of play, an individual champion as well as a team champion will be crowned.
Hutter is going to be a sophomore at Roxbury Latin while Whitney is a sophomore at Cushing Academy. Both are members of their high school golf teams.