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AUBURNDALE, Massachusetts – During what has become the premier stroke-play championship for top Bay State amateur golfers, three champions were crowned at Woodland Golf Club on Friday following the third and final day of the 2018 Ouimet Memorial Tournament.
The 54-hole event which was first contested in 1968 and is named after longtime Woodland Golf Club member Francis Ouimet featured three divisions – Championship, Lowery (Senior) and Women’s. This year marked the first time in event history that the Ouimet Memorial Tournament was fully managed by the Mass Golf and the first time that the Women’s Division has featured 54 holes.
At the end of the day, the Richard F. Connolly, Sr. Trophy was presented to Jackson Lang (Nashawtuc CC), the winner of the Championship Division. The Eddie Lowery Trophy, given to the winner of the Lowery Division, was awarded to Frank Vana, Jr. (Marlborough CC), and the Women’s Division Trophy was taken home by Jacquelyn Eleey (South Shore CC).
Here are highlights from each of the three divisions.
After he began this week by making birdie on his first five holes at Concord Country Club, Jackson Lang had a feeling that something good might happen.
What transpired over the next three days, however, probably exceeded any expectations he might have had on day one. On Friday, Lang calmly sank a 2-foot par putt on the 18th green of Woodland Golf Club for a final-round score of 3-under par 69 that earned him the 51st Ouimet Memorial Tournament title. It marks the first major state championship for Lang, who turned 21 last month.
“This is great. I love it,” said Lang, who advanced to the semifinals of the 2018 Massachusetts Amateur Championship. “It’s the last tournament on my summer schedule. I felt like I was moving in a great direction. You don’t win very much, so it’s really special when you do.”
Lang entered the final round two strokes back of day-two leader Timothy Umphrey (Nashawtuc CC) after following up his day-one score of 4-under par 66 with a 1-over par 71 on Thursday. He knew that he would have to make up ground on Friday, especially with a crowded field including defending champion Matt Parziale (Thorny Lea GC) also just a few shots back of the lead.
“When you play in tournaments like the Mass Am, the New England Am and this tournament there are a lot of good players and you are going to play well a lot and not win,” said Lang. “It is sort of how it is and how it has been the last couple of years. It is always pretty nice to have something to show for it.”
Lang had much to show for this week and it all began back on Wednesday morning when he enjoyed what might be his best start ever. He made five straight birdies at Concord Country Club and was almost was 6-under through five holes after his approach on the 5th hole nearly holed out from the fairway for eagle.
“When you go five under in the first five holes on the first day you definitely feel like you are going to be at a good spot at the end of the week was basically how I saw it,” said Lang. “So I got the 66 on the first day and was feeling great, but it was the same stuff. This is really cool. I am playing really well, and I am going to have some fun with it and see what happens. I don’t know if I have ever started off with five birdies, so maybe there was a little something special there.”
Lang used his first-round momentum to keep himself in contention through Thursday and into the final 18 holes on Friday. Playing in the second to last group of the day, Lang quickly vaulted up the leaderboard with early birdies on the 2nd and 4th holes in Auburndale. He would make one bogey on the front nine to make the turn at 1-under par.
“I had no idea where I was or what was going on,” said Lang. “I was under the impression that I had to make some birdies. I knew there were those two par 5s on 11 and 12 coming up when I made the turn so I tried to play smart and take advantage of those.”
Despite sending his first shot on the 553-yard, par 5 11th hole into the 14th fairway, Lang was able to strike a perfect second shot to set up a birdie on that hole as well as the 477-yard, par 5 12th hole.
“There was a lot of staying patient and waiting for the opportunities to come and not playing stupid golf,” said Lang, a rising senior at Davidson University who just last year year became the first golfer in school history to win an Atlantic 10 Men’s Golf Individual Championship. “I kept the ball in front of me and didn’t make any bogies.”
He took over the lead when he hit his approach on the 403-yard, par 4 14th hole to two feet. He would go on to make bogey on his next hole and finish the round with three straight pars. Unbeknownst to Lang when he tapped in his final putt on 18 that he was a champion.
“It’s not really information that I need,” said Lang when asked why he didn’t keep track of the rest of the field during his round. “I feel like I am not really going to change my strategy a whole lot in response to it. If I do it is going to be so marginal that it’s not really going to matter, so I would rather not burden myself with any extra pressure or any extra knowledge that I don’t need and just go out and play the game that I know and use the formula that I know works.”
Lang’s formula worked just fine on Friday despite a push from Parziale, who after making birdie on two of his first three holes and a third on the 603-yard, par 5 9th hole, had held the overall lead through most of the front nine.
An even par back nine, however, proved not enough as Parziale needed to hole out from the fairway on the 365-yard, par 4 18th hole in order to force a playoff.
“I played fine today. I thought that I hit a lot of good shots that I didn’t get rewarded for especially down the stretch,” said Parziale, who finished at 5-under par 207. “I putted well to stay in it. I made a lot of par putts. I am pleased with the way I played but I was just one short.”
Making this week even more special for Lang is the fact that his first major state championship is named after one of his golf idols.
“I take lessons over at The Country Club,” said Lang. “That guy started the whole golf scene up here, so to win Francis Ouimet’s tournament is a little bit extra special.”
Frank Vana, Jr. entered Friday’s final round of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament with a five-stroke lead after finishing atop the leaderboard in both the first and second rounds, the only competitor with that honor. On Friday at Woodland Golf Club, Vana had his best round of the week – shooting a 4-under 68 – to claim his first Eddie Lowery Division title and becoming only the third person in the 51 years of the tournament to win both a Championship title and a Lowery title in their career.
“It kind of felt like it came together today. I drove it pretty well and then I was hitting it pretty close and then I was making some putts, which was good,” said Vana, after his round – which was highlighted by six birdies on the day. “Even my not-so-good shots worked out pretty well.”
Playing the same course where he had won each of his five previous Ouimet Memorial Tournament titles dating back to 1998 as a member of the Championship Division, the Boxford resident Vana made birdie on each of his first three holes and five of his first nine to extend his lead coming to the home half of the 54-hole tournament.
That start, which helped push him to an eventual 10-stroke lead over second place finisher Keith Smith of Franklin, was one that he says helped set the pace for the rest of the round.
“In your mind, that’s what you kind of draw up and it just worked out that way,” said Vana on his start. “I hit it to three feet on one. Made that. Hit it to 12 feet right below the hole in good shape on two and made that then hit it to about six feet on three and made that.”
After birdies on both the par-4 7th hole and the par-5 9th hole, Vana carded another one on the par-5 12th hole to add to his lead before making par on each of the final six holes. Even the two bogeys he had on the day were near misses that didn’t force him to change too much.
“I was not really ever in trouble,” said Vana. “I missed two greens just on the edge of the green and three-putted those. Those were my two bogeys. I was not really ever in trouble. For the most part, kept it in front of me and made some putts, which was great.”
With his win, Vana joins both Jack Kearney (1992, 2010) and Kevin Carey (2000, 2014-15) as the only competitors to win both titles.
It ended a lot closer than she may have envisioned when she started her final round of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament Friday morning at Woodland Golf Club, but the end result for Quincy’s Jacquelyn Eleey was a huge save for par on the 18th hole and a one stroke victory over Shannon Johnson for the women’s division title.
Playing the course for the first time since winning her first Ouimet title a year ago, the former Georgetown Women’s Golf captain Eleey shot a 3-over par 75 Friday to finish the 54-hole tournament at 3-over par 219.
Eleey held off Johnson, of Norton, who made birdie on four of her last eight holes in Friday’s final round and had a great look on 18 before missing the birdie putt that would have sent the contest into sudden death.
“Definitely got a little nervous coming down to the end,” said Eleey following her round. “Shannon started playing really well down the end and really put some pressure on me. She birdied 16 and 17 and had a good look here on 18.”
With Johnson on the green in two and needing a birdie to continue the round on the 18th hole, Eleey was down low and to the left of the green looking to save par and build her streak to seven straight pars to finish the round. While she said her putting was her best on Friday, her chipping came in handy when she needed it to most to set up a momentous putt that sealed the win.
“I ended up having a good lie there on the left side of 18 and hit a great chip,” added Eleey. “I had about a seven footer up the hill and hit it right where I wanted to and it went in.”
With her win, which came in her final Massachusetts event as an amateur, Eleey became the first competitor since Megan Khang (2011-12) to win back-to-back titles. Only Alison Walshe (2004-06) has more wins in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament’s Women’s Division. Both Khang and Walshe have gone onto successful careers on the professional tours and Eleey looks to take a similar path when she enters LPGA Qualifying School in Palm Springs, California beginning August 20.
Starting off in the final group of the day with Johnson and round one leader Hannah Ghelfi, of Falmouth, Eleey parred the first hole, bogeyed the second and then carded pars on the next six holes to make the turn at 2-over. Her only other bogey came on the par-5 11th hole, playing the course the remainder of the round.
While it was a good end to what was an exciting week for Eleey, the 23-year old said this week’s tournament was a good preparation for her next journey.
“Very excited for that opportunity. I think this tournament got me ready for [Qualifying School]. Definitely feeling the pressure coming down the stretch and there’s going to be a lot of pressure there too, so I’m happy I was able to play in this to get me ready for that.”
Eleven years after the Ouimet Memorial Tournament was introduced in 1968, a key figure stepped to the forefront to help further elevate and expand the prestigious event.
For nearly 40 years, Richard Connolly served as a Director, Trustee and former President for the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund. In 1979, Connolly became the Ouimet Memorial chairman – a role that he continues to hold, along with co-chair and current Mass Golf President, Bunk Read. Despite the recent transition of event management from the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund to Mass Golf, the two have remained as leaders for the tournament.
“Dick’s contribution to the Ouimet Fund and to this event specifically cannot be overstated,” said Jesse Menachem, Mass Golf’s Executive Director/CEO. “He was an especially key figure during the transition period over these past two years. We could not be prouder and more honored to have him here with us today to celebrate these great champions.”
In 1990, Connolly donated the event’s Championship Division unique permanent trophy, which was named in honor of his late father. The Richard F. Connolly, Sr. Trophy is built around clubs used by Francis Ouimet, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, each one contributed to the Ouimet Fund by noted golf historian Dr. Gary Wiren.
A silver golf ball, inscribed with the event’s Championship Division winner’s name and year, is hung each year from the shaft of one of the clubs, while a replica version of the ball is also presented to the winner. Under Connolly’s watch for nearly 40 years, the Ouimet Memorial Tournament underwent significant growth. In 1999, for example, the Ouimet Fund celebrated its 50th anniversary. In recognition of that milestone, the Fund introduced a senior division which was named the Lowery Division to honor Eddie Lowery, Ouimet’s 1913 U.S. Open caddie who became a frequent Ouimet Memorial contestant.
In 2000, one year after the death of Gene Sarazen, the role of the Ouimet Memorial’s honorary chairman passed to Arnold Palmer, who was a longtime close friend of Connolly and a hands-on advocate of the Ouimet Fund. Palmer served in that honorary position until his death on September 25, 2016.
Four years later, a Women’s Division was launched at the Ouimet Memorial Tournament which set the stage for the eventual transition of operations from the Ouimet Fund to Mass Golf.
In addition to his work with the Ouimet Memorial Tournament, Connolly was the driving force behind starting the Francis Ouimet Award for Lifelong Contributions to Golf Annual Banquets (through his friendship with Palmer), has recruited other great honorees, and has been the principal sponsor for the annual gala that draws hundreds from across the golf community to Boston each year. The Banquet is now, thanks to him, the largest golf banquet in the U.S. averaging 1,500 attendees and the largest fundraising event and visibility tool for the Ouimet Fund.
In recognition of his incredible contributions to golf, Connolly was – in January of 2016 – honored by Mass Golf with the Frank H. Sellman Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes Exemplary Service to the Game of Golf.
For the first two days of the 2018 Ouimet Memorial Tournament, the 85 competitors in the field had the unique opportunity to play one of the oldest courses in the state – Concord Country Club – which opened its doors in 1895. This week’s start to the annual three-day tournament not only provided terrific competition, but it also proved to be a part of a historic milestone dating back more than four decades.
After all, it marked the first time since 1974 that the first two rounds of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament were held at the same course. When the event was introduced in 1968, the first seven years of the event were contested exclusively at Woodland Golf Club – the home golf course for the tournament’s namesake, who belonged to the Auburndale, Massachusetts course from 1910 until his death in 1967.
After the 1974 competition, it was decided to seek a new format and – at the same time – to transfer active direction of the tournament’s operations to the Ouimet Fund – the 501 (c) (3) organization whose purpose is to help deserving young men and women who have worked at golf courses in Massachusetts obtain a college education.
Since 1975, the first 36 holes of the Championship Division have been played on successive days at two different Bay State courses, while the final round, after the cut, has always been played at Woodland.
George Woodland, who has been a member at Concord Country Club for more than 40 years, commented on what hosting the Ouimet Memorial Tournament meant for him and his home club this week.
“We have talked it up quite a bit,” said Woodland, who also serves as a regular Mass Golf rules official and was one of the Officials in Charge for this week’s tournament. “We’ve had a few of the members come by that wanted to watch this play, and I think they have been very impressed. I think everybody has been impressed and pleased with what has happened with our golf course.”
Woodland continued, “We have an excellent superintendent and we have a good board that wants to make the club better and that has been really the mission for really the last 10 years. So, to host the first Mass Golf Ouimet Memorial Tournament for two days, they were delighted to do it.”
Hosting the 51st Ouimet Memorial Tournament is just the beginning for Concord Country Club, as the club is slated to host the New England Amateur Championship in 2020 and the Massachusetts Amateur Championship in 2022.
“I think they are looking forward to the New England Amateur in two years and the Mass Amateur after that,” said Woodland. “So, I think the club is committed to doing these things and seeing the good play myself this week has been terrific.”
Over the past few years, Concord Country Club, which in 1913 commissioned Donald Ross to design the original nine holes, has undergone a significant restoration project. Most recently was a change to the tee box on the par-4 5th hole.
“It was very extensive,” said Woodland. “We had an old tee on the right side of five that had just grown in. So, we cut the trees down and rebuilt two tees on the right side, put in a bunker down below the hill and opened up 30 to 40 yards of fairway on the right. I went out to the 5th hole yesterday just to see what they are doing and I think everybody has been pleased what has happened there.”
The response from the competitors this week simply reinforced what Woodland saw on course.
Pam Kuong, who advanced to the finals in the 2015 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship noted after her first round on Wednesday that Concord Country Club was playing “better than any USGA Qualifier sites.”
Frank Vana, Jr., a five-time Ouimet Memorial Tournament champion who most recently competed at the 2018 U.S. Senior Open Championship, could not reap enough praise on the Concord layout.
“The conditions of this course are second to none,” said Vana. “I don’t think that I have played a course that is in this good of shape. It is a tremendous golf course and a perfect championship venue.”