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PLYMOUTH, Massachusetts – It took 24 more hours than originally planned, but the first round of the 35th Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship was completed on Thursday at Plymouth Country Club.
Following that first round – which began on Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 3:19 p.m. on Thursday after dense fog and then heavy rains caused two suspensions of play on Wednesday – the field was reduced to the low 71 scorers. Those competitors will return to Plymouth Country Club on Friday to compete in a second and final round of play set to begin at 7:00 a.m. off the 1st tee at Plymouth Country Club.
Due to the numerous delays – one of which kept play from beginning on Thursday until noon – tournament organizers made the decision to reduce the event from 54 holes to 36 holes. It marks the third time in 15 years that weather has forced a change in the original schedule.
This year’s 18-hole cut line fell at 7-over par 76. Friday’s field will include 68 competitors after three competitors withdrew following round one.
After all scorecards had been signed on Thursday afternoon, the top of the leaderboard looked the same as it had 24 hours earlier.
Mike Calef (Pine Oaks GC), who was part of the second group to tee off on Wednesday morning, still holds a one-stroke lead with a score of 3-under par 66. It was a round that featured five birdies and two bogies and represents his lowest score ever posted at Plymouth Country Club.
“I hit it pretty solid from tee to green,” said Calef following his round on Wednesday. “I was in the fairway a lot and that means that you can get a little more aggressive with your second shots. If you are in the rough and it’s wet and it’s thick it is difficult… I hit a couple of sketchy shots because everything is wet, but I was pretty happy with how I played.”
Sitting T2 at 2-under par 67 are Kyle Tibbetts (Framingham CC) and Matt Miller (Plymouth CC), while Rick Moreau (Nabnasset Lake CC) and Derek Schug (Plymouth CC) are T4 at 1-under par 68. Those top five competitors all completed their rounds on Wednesday.
“We never got rained on. We finished just before the weather came in,” said Miller, one of five Plymouth CC members to make the cut. “Obviously, it was a little more softer out there so you get to be a little more aggressive into some pins. The greens I thought were still rolling nice. We are not used to the speed, but as the day went on, it got a little bit wet but never to the point where you felt really wet. We lucked out there.”
The biggest changes on the leaderboard came right below the top five.
Brendan Hester (Pleasant Valley GC) and Frank Vana, Jr. (Marlborough CC), a past Hornblower Memorial and Massachusetts Mid-Amateur champion, respectively, moved into a tie for sixth place overall after posting scores of even par 69 on Thursday. They are joined in that spot with Nick Maccario (Bradford CC) and Glendon Sutton (Belmont CC), who had posted their even par rounds the day prior.
“It was good to get through the first round,” said Vana, who was 2-over par on Wednesday but then made three birdies and one bogey on Thursday. “I was able to make a few birdies to get myself back into it and look forward to tomorrow’s round.”
Five competitors are in a log jam at 1-over par 70. Included in that group is Herbie Aikens (Pinehills GC), the 2014 champion of this event, as well as Jack Kearney (Elmcest CC), one of only five competitors over the age of 60 who not only competed this week but made the cut.
“It is night and day from what we are used to playing,” said Kearney, who won the 2005 Hornblower Memorial Tournament. “For 20 years we have been playing this place where it is firm and fast, but the weather has caused some issues. The speed of the greens and the lack of bounces and roll have been the two big differences this week.”
For anyone that’s been paying attention to the Massachusetts golfing scene this summer, the name Shannon Johnson is one that ought to ring a bell.
The 35-year old Norton resident, who moved from South Dakota to the Bay State six years ago, represented Massachusetts by finishing as runner-up and then semifinalist in each of the last two U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championships. This year, she hit the ground running with victories in several Mass Golf Women’s Championships, including the Edith Noblit Baker Trophy Championship, the Grace Keyes Cup Championship, the New England Women’s Golf Association Championship and most notably the Women’s Amateur Championship.
This week, however, the former University of New Mexico and Indiana University women’s golfer Johnson was competing in another local tournament – this time for the first time. Not only was Johnson, a former Anne Marie Tobin Player of the Year recipient as the state’s top female golfer, competing in the 35th edition of the Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship, but she also became the first-ever female in the 35-year history of the tournament to advance from qualifying to the Championship Proper – a feat she accomplished when she shot a 4-over par 75 at Sandwich Hollows GC site on August 27.
After only getting in eight holes Wednesday before a 19 hour and 31 minute delay saw the first round resume at noon on Thursday, Johnson knew that she would have to have a decent back nine in order to place amongst the top-70 and ties and advance to Friday’s final round.
She did just that.
“I came out this morning and had a 50 yard shot for my first shot in on nine. That was my third shot and I hit it to about three feet and made the putt, so that was nice,” she recalled when play resumed. “I hit a really good shot on 10 to about 15 feet or so and made it for birdie. It was a really good way to start the day.”
After starting the day at 3-over through eight holes, Johnson tallied seven pars and a birdie in her final 10 holes to finish the round at 4-over 73 and T27 on the leaderboard, with plenty of breathing room to ensure her return Friday.
With so much rain on the course over the past 24 hours, Johnson was not only battling some of the state’s top competitors in the field, she was also facing slower conditions on the greens that forced her to put more emphasis on placing her shots.
“I hit the ball really well today and still had three or four birdie attempts that I could have made and didn’t make,” she explained. “The course is definitely playing a little longer, even though we’re not playing the back tees, but because it is just so wet that the ball is just not going anywhere. Now, obviously with all the rain, it’s slowed things down and even the greens with the downhill putts that normally are lightning aren’t so fast. If you can hit good shots in, they weren’t rolling out so they were just hitting where they landed. It was fun. There were definitely going to be a lot of birdies out there today.”
After her made par and her birdie to begin the resumption of play, Johnson tallied five straight pars and nearly made it six when her par putt on the 18th hole just missed.
With her first round of the Mid-Amateur in the books and the knowledge that she’ll return on Friday, Johnson will look to build on her first round experience.
“It was good to get all the jitters out and get the feelings that you would at a big national event,” said Johnson. “I think I just want to have a little more confidence on the green. Just pick a line and trust it and hopefully get the speed a little more dialed in. Today, I just hit the ball well and that is all I can ask for and that’s what I want to do tomorrow.”
In the 9:00 a.m. slot Friday, she’ll be paired with Alex Jeffers (Woodland GC) and Jeff Weishaar (Renaissance).
Practice rounds were made available – thanks to the generosity of the host club – for all competitors in this week’s field, but many did not need an introduction to Plymouth County Club.
Every May, a field of more than 120 competitors from across the country travel to Plymouth to compete in the Hornblower Memorial Tournament, a 36-hole stroke play tournament contested over two days at Plymouth Country Club.
It is a must-play event for the state’s top competitors, including many in this week’s field. In fact, there are four past Hornblower Memorial Tournament champions playing this week – Brendan Hester (2002), Jack Kearney (2005), Colin Brennan (2012) and John Hadges (2013).
Although not competing in the championship, Mike Ellis, who has been the Hornblower Memorial Tournament Chairman since taking the reins from his father, the late A. Linwood ‘Skeet’ Ellis, in the 1980s, has been on site all week taking in the action as a caddy for Frank Vana, Jr.
“I love seeing all of the guys from the Hornblower here, it’s awesome,” said Ellis, who is also a member at Plymouth Country Club. “It is good to see them playing here as often as they can. The thing that gets to me is how come all of these guys aren’t playing in the Hornblower? How come they aren’t trying.”
One competitor in the field who vows never to miss the Hornblower Memorial Tournament is Vana, a nine-time winner of the Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship and considered arguably the most prolific champion in modern Mass Golf history.
Despite all of his travels (just this year Vana competed in the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship and British Senior Amateur Championship), Vana still ranks the Hornblower Memorial Tournament among the top events on the annual golf calendar.
“It is a tournament that I would never miss and definitely one that I have been trying to win over the years without much luck thus far,” said Vana. “It is such a great opportunity for us all to be able to play in that event in May and then this year to come back and play Plymouth Country Club which is an outstanding course.”
Named after the late Henry Hornblower, an investment advisor who contributed a large portion of the land that helped create the host site Plymouth Country Club in the early 1900’s, the Hornblower Memorial Tournament is the result of a vision to create a tournament that would attract some of New England’s top amateur golfers.
It has accomplished its original goals. Since1965 when the tournament first began some of the most dominating golfers from the region including James Driscoll, Steve Tasho, Fran Quinn, John Hadges and Matt Parziale, the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, have all gone on to hoist the trophy.
In 2014, the top senior amateurs were given their own weekend to shine when the tournament organizers introduced the Senior Hornblower Memorial Tournament.
History was made once again in Plymouth this past spring when Shannon Johnson and Jacquelyn Eleey became the first females to compete in the Hornblower Memorial Tournament.
“The Hornblower is great,” said Johnson of her experience in Plymouth back in May. “It was really early in the year, so I was still trying to get golf-ready. It’s almost like two different golf courses because it played a little harder, a little firmer and the greens rolled unbelievably at the Hornblower. Now, obviously with all the rain, it’s slowed things down and even the greens with the downhill putts that normally are lightning aren’t so fast.”
Following her round on Thursday, Johnson took time to reconnect with some of the friends she made more than three months ago. That type of camaraderie is what Ellis believes makes the annual spring trek to Plymouth so special.
“It’s really about the membership and the attitude around here,” said Ellis. “We love the game of golf and we just want to have fun. It’s not a real golf grind when they come for the Hornblower. They are all trying their best and working their butts off to get the best score they can, but I think that the whole idea is how much fun can we have doing it.”
Mother Nature inserted herself into the 35th Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship this week which resulted in tournament organizers having to adjust the schedule.
Originally scheduled to be a 54-hole event played over a three-day period, the Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship was officially reduced to a 36-hole event after fog and then heavy rain resulted in two suspensions of play on Wednesday and then a delayed start on Thursday.
With only one half of the 120-player field able to complete the first round of play by noon on Thursday, a decision was made to allow the field to complete the first round on Thursday. Following the completion of 18 holes, the field would be reduced to the low 70 scorers and ties. Those competitors would then return to Plymouth Country Club on Friday to compete in a final 18 holes to determine a champion.
“It was unfortunate that we were not able to complete all 54 holes, but the conditions of the course on Thursday morning would not allow for golf to be played until noon,” said Kevin Eldridge, Mass Golf’s director of rules & competitions. “All decisions are made with the interest of the competitors and host club in mind.”
This will mark only the third time in the last 15 years has the Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship had its original 54-hole format shortened or altered due to inclement weather. In 2012, Frank Vana, Jr. won the title following 36-holes at Framingham Country Club. The same occurred in 2004 when Andy Drohen won his title following 36 holes at Blue Hill Country Club.