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SOUTHWICK, Massachusetts – On Monday, Amesbury’s Chris Francoeur came up just short on his putt for eagle on the par-5 ninth hole, his final hole, that would have bested the entire 121 player field. He still managed to settle for a birdie and found himself tied with five other players – Jason Cook, John McNeil, Sean Fitzpatrick, 2009 champion Ryan Riley and 3-time champion Bill Drohen. The group of six all completed their first round of the 37th Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship at 2-under par 70, leading the charge for the 69 who will return tomorrow eyeing the championship.
Francoeur, the 19-year old golfer who wrapped up his freshman season at the University of Rhode Island in May, left his house on the North Shore before 5 a.m. to ensure that he wouldn’t miss his allotted 8:50 tee time on the opposite side of the state. Once he was on the tee, he picked up right where he left off last Friday at the Ouimet Memorial Tournament, where he made the cut and finished the 54-hole tournament in 12th place at 1-over 213.
After the nearly two and a half hour drive, Francoeur turned around his 1-over through four holes start by finishing the remaining 14 holes at 3-under to find himself centered amongst a logjam of competitors at 2-under 70.
“I think I might have missed one green and missed one fairway, so I was pretty much two-putting for par on every hole,” said Francoeur, who in the last few weeks alone advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship, placed T21 at the New England Amateur Championship, missed the possibility for an alternate position at the U.S. Amateur by three strokes and played the Ouimet to its final day. “I made one bogey and it was a three-putt on a par-5, so I thought I played pretty well today, but hopefully a few more putts drop tomorrow.”
Playing in his first state APL, and what was ultimately his first time playing the course, Francoeur said his game is where it needs to be as he looks to make the drive back from Amesbury tomorrow for the conclusion of play, and the chance to take home first Mass Golf Championship trophy.
He said, “I’ve been hitting the ball well the last few weeks. I’m just trying to keep doing what I’m doing. I could have made a few more putts today, but I’m still happy with the way I played. I had 140 into the par-5 and I left my eagle putt just short. I would have liked to have made eagle on the last hole, but a birdie is a birdie. Always happy to make those.”
Among those looking to stop him are the fellow co-leaders after the first round.
Jason Cook, of Pine Oaks Golf Club, birdied his first hole and added birdies on the par-4 sixth hole, the par-4 11th hole and the par-5 16th hole, but had back-to-back bogeys to close out his round that prevented him from doing any more damage on the leaderboard.
John McNeil, also in Cook’s group, was 1-over through five holes, but birdied both the sixth and seventh to break par, then added birdies on the 11th, 15th and 16th. Like his fellow round 1 competitor Cook, McNeil was heading into 17 at 4-under, but found similar trouble on both 17 and 18 to drop two spots into a tie on the leaderboard.
Ryan Riley, who won the Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship nine years ago, got off to a hot start off the 10th tee and birdied three of his first six hole before quickly entering a streak of 11-made pars. On his final hole, the par-5 ninth, the 37-year old from South Easton carded a six, preventing him from edging his fellow competitors for the top spot.
Three weeks removed from advancing to the quarterfinal round of the 110th Massachusetts Amateur Championship, Boston’s Sean Fitzpatrick (George Wright Golf Course) recorded two eagles – one on the par-4 4th hole and the second on the par-5 9th – to highlight his play. Fitzpatrick had a birdie on the second, 10th and 14th holes, but three bogeys and a double prevented any further ascension up the leaderboard.
Three-time champion in the field, Bill Drohen, made the turn at 2-under and was 3-under through 14, but a missed four-foot putt on his second to last hole that resulted in a bogey and a missed three-foot putt on the last hole kept him tied on the leaderboard.
22-year old Cody Booska of Turners Falls, Massachusetts has played a lot of golf throughout his young career and has consistently found himself near the top of the leaderboard in his various Mass Golf Championships. The annual Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship, the two-day stroke play tournament open to competitors who are bona fide public course players at a public Mass Golf member club, is one hurdle he hasn’t been able to climb just yet. This week, he hopes to change that.
The Johnson and Wales North Miami rising senior Booska, competing in his fourth APL Championship, has finished in the top-10 of each of the past three Championship Propers. His first year, in 2015, he finished T9 and was only five strokes off that year’s champion Nick McLaughlin, who had also won that year’s Massachusetts Amateur Championship, New England Amateur Championship and was named the Mass Golf Player of the Year for his efforts. The following year, he placed second after falling in a three-hole playoff to Matt Cowgill at Waubeeka Golf Links, and last year, after shooting a 7-under 65 at Pinehills in his final round to force a playoff, lost in a sudden-death playoff to Benjamin Spitz.
“Not only this week, but any tournament in Mass now, it made me realize that I can hang with these guys,” said Booska Monday about finishing second in each of the past two Championships. “Just like any tournament, you kind of have to give yourself a chance going into the last day. I know that I’m going to need a low round tomorrow probably, around the five-area, but like I said, I give myself a chance and that is all I can do on day one.”
With each of the past two champions, Cowgill & Spitz, not competing in this year’s field, some would think that Booska might be the clear favorite heading into the final round Tuesday, but he knows more than anyone that that won’t be the case.
“I didn’t even notice until today that Ben and Matt weren’t playing,” said Booska. “There are so many good guys out here, no matter what tournament it is, you have to play well to win.”
Playing the course for only the second time in his career, the first was a Mass Open qualifier in 2016, the Country Club of Greenfield member Booska shot an even-par 72 and sits T13 on the leaderboard. He made the turn at 1-under 35 but had some challenges on the back that left him at even-par 72 after 18, with room for improvement heading into tomorrow’s final round.
Booska said, “I kind of stumbled coming down the stretch, made a double on 16. I think I only missed two or three greens today, so even par was a little disappointing to be honest, but even if right in it so I will take it for sure.”
Considering a year ago he had shot a 2-over 74 in his first round and was five shots off the lead going into the final round, Booska is once again in a position to make a move tomorrow, hopefully ending the streak of Amateur Public Links playoff losses.
If Brookmeadow Country Club’s Bill Drohen were to come out on top in the final round of the Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship Tuesday at The Ranch Golf Club, not only would he collect his fourth APL title since 2004, he would also break the record for the most wins in the tournament, which first began in 1982. Currently Drohen, who won the ’04 title at Maplegate CC, the ’06 right here in Southwick and the ’07 championship at New England Country Club, would surpass Steve St. Amand on the most wins in the APL Champions list, who won three titles in a five-year span in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
“It is always nice because I haven’t played here since the last time it was here,” said Drohen on being back in this week’s field. “It’s always good to come back. I like the course. It just fits my eye I guess you could say. I don’t remember what I shot last time (in 2006), but I got in a pretty good battle with [Daniel] Falcucci and my brother, Andy, in the last group. It came down to the last three or four holes.”
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