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PLYMOUTH, Massachusetts – Frank Vana. Jr. (Marlborough CC), the winningest golfer in Mass Golf history, continued to create even more history on Friday when he captured his record 10th Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship title.
The nine-time Mass Golf Player of the Year sent his iron approach shot to two feet on the 418-yard par 4 18th hole during the first sudden-death playoff hole at Plymouth Country Club.
That shot drew cheers from the gallery and set the stage for what would be a winning par over Mike Calef (Pine Oaks GC) and Jack Kearney (Elmcrest CC). The trio all finished with scores of even par 138 following the regulation 36 holes.
“It was nice to draw one and just get one in the fairway and feel good about that,” said Vana, who earlier this summer advanced to the round of 16 at the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship. “Then I had a perfect yardage for the second shot. I felt fairly relaxed and thankfully, I hit a nice shot.”
It marks his 10th Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship victory and his 15th Mass Golf Championship title. No other golfer in history has equaled those two marks.
“I don’t think about,” said Vana. “I think I lose track of it sometimes, but like I said, the nine was kind of stuck in my mind for both player of the year and this, so it’s nice to get that tenth one. I’m really thrilled.”
Over the course of his career he has now won 10 Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championships (1999-2003, 2005-06, 2012-13, 2018), two Massachusetts Amateur Championships (2004-05), two Massachusetts Four-Ball Championships (2002-03) and one Massachusetts Father & Son Championship (2003).
He was also named the Mass Golf Player of the Decades for the 1990s and 2000s, and in 2016, was inducted into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame.
“I don’t really think about that too much,” said Vana, about his history-making performance. “I just love playing. I love the camaraderie of the guys. I work hard to try and play well, and I just kind of tick it off one by one.”
This week’s victory was especially sweet for Vana, who guesses that he has spent more than two decades playing Plymouth County Club at the annual Hornblower Memorial Tournament, but never walked away as champion.
“Plymouth is a place that I love and I’ve never ever won the Hornblower,” said Vana. “I was able to play in the Senior Hornblower this year, and I finished second, but I’ve been playing in the tournament for maybe 25 years or more. I love this place, and it really always irks me that I haven’t been able to win here. I’m still a little ticked off that I haven’t won a Hornblower, but this feels really good.”
His latest victory was one to remember as the competitors faced two days of inclement weather which forced tournament organizers to reduce the scheduled 54-hole event to 36 holes with the final round to be played on Friday in Plymouth.
Despite the interruptions, Vana put on a display of consistency. He followed up his even par 69 – played over a two-day period – with a final round 69 which moved him from T4 into the top spot along with Calef and Kearney.
On two occasions during his Friday round, Vana made bogey but responded with a birdie to keep his round moving forward. After making what would be his final birdie of the day on the 331-yard, par 4 13th hole, Vana found himself in trouble off the tee on the 396-yard, par 4 17th hole. He was able to chip from a bad lie and nearly made a seven-foot putt for birdie.
“I hit a terrible second shot [on 17] and it worked out perfectly,” said Vana. “I actually thought I was going to make the putt, which would’ve been a crime, but it was nice to make a par and I wasn’t upset about that at all.”
He would go on to slide his birdie attempt on the 18th hole just past the hole, but his even par round was good enough to earn him a spot in the three-person playoff.
“Sometimes, the golf Gods look down on you,” said Vana. “I hit some bad squirrelly shots today and got away with it, and the rest of the time, I was kind of focused and hit a lot of good shots and didn’t make it too hard on myself. That formula sometimes works to win and today it did.”
While Vana’s road to the playoff was smooth on paper, Calef and Kearney took rather different routes.
Calef followed up his first-round score of 3-under par 66 posted on Wednesday morning with a 3-over par 72 on Friday. His final round featured a near hole in one on the 291-yard, par 4 6th hole (his drive off the tee landed six inches from the hole), one birdie and six bogeys.
Kearney, who won the Massachusetts Senior Amateur Championship at Plymouth Country Club in 2010, made a 40-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to advance to the playoff.
In the end, however, the final word belonged to Vana.
“I always say it’s great to win,” said Vana. “It’s hard to win, and it’s always fun and satisfying.”.
While Friday marked one of the final competitive Mass Golf events for many mid-amateurs across the Bay State, four individuals who advanced to the final round of this week’s Massachusetts Mid-Amateur championship were getting in their final swings before heading to even larger Mid-Amateur Championships next week.
Needham’s Jordan Burke, Weymouth’s David Spitz and Kingston’s Herbie Aikens were the three competitors in the final round of the Mid-Amateur Championship Friday who will be competing in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Charlotte Country Club in North Carolina, while Norton’s Shannon Johnson was the lone representative in this week’s championship field who will head to the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship in St. Louis. Both national tournaments begin on Saturday, September 22.
Burke qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Charles River Country Club on August 20, while Spitz and Aikens each qualified at Waubeeka Golf Links on August 23. Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur runner-up, was exempt into next week’s Championship Proper.
Osterville’s Brian Bassett, another local who will compete in Charlotte, was also in the field this week at Plymouth Country Club but missed the cut by one stroke that prevented him from returning Friday for the final round.
For the four competitors who were in the field Friday, this week’s championship presented a great opportunity for what each might expect against national competition for one of golf’s biggest amateur tournaments.
After battling wet conditions in each of the past two days, Aikens, who will be making his third appearance in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, said he wouldn’t be surprised to face similar conditions next week.
“I think what will be good is all the rain that [Charlotte] got, because it’s obviously going to be soaking down there” said Aikens in respect to Hurricane Florence’s arrival to the Southeastern United States. “It probably will be very similar conditions where you’re not going to get any roll and you’re going to have to deal with some mud on the ball. The greens are probably going to be spinning a lot, so it could be a perfect warmup for Charlotte.”
With an onslaught of heavy rain slowing down the greens this past week in Plymouth, Jordan Burke also felt that this week’s state mid-amateur provided a preview to what the field might face when they ascend on the Tar Heel State on the 22nd.
“Plymouth is a good test, whether we play it at the Hornblower or here [for the Massachusetts Mid-Amateur]” said Burke, who placed T11 on the leaderboard after carding a 4-over 142 with rounds of 72 and 70. “It’s obviously, going to be a little longer down in Charlotte and going to be really soft, I would expect, with the rain, but this is a great tune up as far as the green complexes and the challenges around the greens.”
While the conditions may be similar nearly 900 miles away, the timeliness of the two tournaments also provides a competitive mindset that others might lose when not playing competitively for such a long time.
“It’s nice to have back-to-back tournaments because you are keeping in that tournament mode,” said Spitz following his even-par 69 Friday. “Other than that, working on the game. Nothing really changes. You try to approach the tournament to win the tournament.”
The same sentiment was felt by Shannon Johnson, who looks to get back to at least the semifinal round of the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur for a third consecutive year.
While all the attention was on the fact that she was the first women to compete in the Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship Proper after qualifying in August, Johnson’s attention was more on golf itself.
“I’m just going to play golf and have fun and try to get ready for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am next week and get a lot of things figured out,” said Johnson. “Hopefully I can capitalize on a few mistakes going forward and see what happens.”
As for where her focus will be once she arrives to Norwood Hills Country Club for Saturday’s first round, she added, “You should never go into a tournament without thinking you can win it, so that is my whole goal. Going into this tournament, I’ve had really good success the last couple years. Once you get into match play, anything can happen. You just have to grind out every match and hope you are the last one standing.”
Aikens, Burke and Spitz will join fellow locals Kevin Quinn, Brian Bassett and reigning champion Matt Parziale in North Carolina, while Johnson joins Sue Curtin, Megan Buck and Tracy Welch as the Bay State representatives in St. Louis.
They may not have won a trophy or even took home any pro shop credit, but the group of six Plymouth Country Club members who qualified for and competing in the 35th Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship at their home club were all smiles following Friday’s round.
After all, they had just spent three days competing in a state event on their most favorite layout.
“It’s awesome,” said Derek Schug, who finished T16. “Honestly, to be able to play here is ridiculous because I don’t make a lot of these things, so it was a lot of fun. There was a lot of people who were rooting for us. Just to have Matty [Miller] and the other four guys was amazing.”
Miller had perhaps the biggest following on Friday after he posted a 2-under par 67 during round one to earn him a spot in the final pairing along with Mike Calef and Kyle Tibbetts (Framingham CC).
“When it was at Plymouth, it was a no-brainer to try and qualify for it,” said Miller, who finished T11. “We have a decent amount of guys who got in so it’s a great showing.”
In addition to Schug and Miller, other club members in the field include Don Foberg (T11), Guy Lansing (T23), Steve Bruce and Matt Montt.
“There are probably 15 guys here who are so good, so we have a really good group of guys,” said Schug. “We don’t always play in a lot of this stuff, so to be able to have this many guys here is really special.”
And what makes Plymouth so special?
“The people. Honestly, the people,” continued Schug. “The superintendent does such an amazing job here and the staff is just super. Everyone is really supportive.”
Quotable: Shannon Johnson on her experience as the first female to qualify for and compete in the Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship:
“People having asking me that question [on making history], and I don’t really know. I’m just going to play golf and have fun and try to get ready for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am next week and get a lot of things figured out. Hopefully capitalize on a few mistakes going forward and see what happens.”
Twitter Fodder: Those following @PlayMassGolf on Twitter have enjoyed fun exchanges between @RiggsBarstool and @ryanwhitney6, who are both hosts of respective @barstoolsports podcasts. Ryan Whitney, a Scituate native, former professional hockey player and co-host of its hockey podcast , finished at 6-over 144 for the two-round Mid-Amateur Championship here at Plymouth Country Club as he prepares to take on Sam Riggs Bozoian, a former collegiate hockey player at Harvard turned writer and host of the company’s golf podcast in the epic #RiggsVsWhitney match that has been trending on Twitter. A date and course have yet to be determined, but it was announced Friday that the match will likely be hosted in early summer 2019 at a course located somewhere between Whitney’s native Massachusetts and New York, where Rigg’s and the Barstool offices are located.
Booked for 2019: As a result of their performance this week, the top 15 and ties from the 2018 Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship have automatically earned a spot in next year’s Championship Proper. Top finishes from the previous year’s event is the second of 10 exempt categories for this championship.
Hosting Champion: Dating back to 2010, Plymouth Country Club has hosted 11 Mass Golf events. Here is a list of those events which include qualifiers, Member Days, tournaments and championships: Grace Keyes Cup (2010), Senior Amateur (2010), Member Days (2011, 2017 & 2018), Amateur Qualifier (2013, 2015), Hannah D. Townshend Cup (2015), Father & Son (2017) and Mid-Amateur (2018). On behalf of amateur golfers who have been able to enjoy playing this spectacular course – thank you!
Aging Well: The 120-player starting field including 16 senior amateur competitors, who represent those who are 55 years and older. Of the 16, 10 of them advanced to the second and final round by posting a score of 7-over par 76 during round one. Competitors who advanced to the final round include: Michael Kaloyanides, Don Foberg, Jack Kearney, Michael Arter, Keith Smith, John Hadges, David Walde, David Pierce, John McNeill, and Frank Vana, Jr.
Senior Time: Those senior amateurs are just beginning a key stretch of golf which has been coined “senior time”. Over the next three weeks, senior amateur competitors will have an opportunity to compete in three major championships. First up is the New England Senior Amateur Championship, which will be held on September 18-19 at Burlington Country Club in Burlington VT. The Massachusetts Senior Amateur Championship will follow on September 25-26 at Pine Brook Country Club. Those competitors who are 65 years old or older can also compete in the Massachusetts Super Senior Amateur Championship on October 2-3 at Haverhill Country Club.
Good Memories: Mike Arter has enjoyed his time in Plymouth this season. On August 21, Arter captured his second Senior Hornblower championship after posting rounds of 70 and 72 at Plymouth Country Club. Arter, who finished T23 this week, also won this title in 2015. In 2014, the Senior Hornblower became a separate event held in mid-August (before that, it was played along with the Hornblower Memorial in June).