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WILLIAMSTOWN, Massachusetts – For Joe Alfieri (Lutz, FL), Thursday began with a bogey but ended with a ticket to another USGA Championship Proper.
Alfieri, the four-time Florida State Golf Association Player of the Year who had flown into Albany on Tuesday from a business trip on the West Coast in order to compete in Thursday’s U.S. Mid-Amateur sectional qualifier at Waubeeka Golf Links, made the most of his jet-setting adventure by posting a medalist score of 5-under par 66 in Williamstown.
“It was hard just to get here,” said Alfieri while he waited on Thursday to board his 5:45 p.m. flight out of Albany back to Florida. “I have been traveling quite a bit. Between the U.S. Amateur, getting my son off to school at Gardner-Webb University where he will be on the golf team and then for business in Northern California this week somehow I ended up in Williamstown, Massachusetts.”
The road to Waubeeka Golf Links may have not been the most direct for Alfieri, but it was a successful one as he claimed that top spot by two strokes over David Spitz (Weymouth, MA) and three ahead of Herbie Aikens (Kingston, MA), who turned in a score of 2-under par 69. The fourth and final qualifying spot was secured by Ryan Kohler (Chesterfield, NH) with a birdie made on the fourth sudden-death playoff hole (the 9th hole at Waubeeka Golf Links).
Those four competitors have earned the right to compete at the 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, which will be held on September 22-27 at Charlotte Country Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Having to qualify in an 18-hole qualifier is never easy, so I am pleased,” said Alfieri. “I was only up here because I was at the U.S Amateur when the Florida sites were held. I just looked for an open spot and ended here in Williamstown, Massachusetts.”
For Alfieri, Thursday’s round represented yet another chance to compete at the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. Since 2013, Alfieri has advanced to the round of 32 four times including three consecutive years beginning in 2015.
For the past two years, Alfieri has been exempt into Championship Proper as a result of being ranked in the top 400 of the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR). Today marked the first time in four years that Alfieri has had to advance through sectional qualifying.
“I had hand surgery a year ago and fell out of the top 400,” said Alfieri. “I struggled last year because of the hand surgery, but the game has turned around in the last three or fourth months and has been solid.”
Despite a bogey made on the first hole of the day, Alfieri was near perfect from that point on. He would card two birdies – on the 4th and 8th holes – to make the turn at 1-under par 35.
He then caught fire on the back nine where he made four birdies – including back to back ones on the 14th and 15th holes – for a 4-under par 31 back nine and a day-low score of 5-under par 66.
“I missed a short one on 12 and then hit a good shot on the par 3 14th to 15 feet to exactly where I was supposed to hit it and made it,” said Alfieri. “I made a 15 footer on 16 straight up the hill and then rolled in a 20 footer on 18. I knew where I stood, so I was playing a little more conservative the last two holes but ended up making that one on 18.”
A former professional golfer, Alfieri made appearances on the Web.com Tour between 2002 to 2007 and competed in 54 events before regaining his amateur status in 2011.
Since that time, he has been dominating the Florida amateur circuit and making himself a regular at USGA Championships.
“For me it epitomizes the kind of golf I want to play,” said Alfieri about advancing to national events. “The set up is difficult. It is firm and fast and there is a premium on hitting the fairway, managing your game and hitting it in the right spot. I love playing in USGA events. For me that is what you want to do.”
Also making the trip to Charlotte with Alfieri next month will be a duo of Bay State natives in Spitz and Aikens. After posting a 3-under par 68, Spitz was the leader in the clubhouse until Alfieri, who was part of the last group on the course, turned in his medalist scorecard.
Although he was bumped out of the top spot, the excitement over advancing to the next stage was well worth the 150-mile trek he made from Weymouth to Williamstown.
“It is awesome,” said Spitz. “Anytime you have an opportunity to play in any USGA Proper it’s awesome. This will be my fourth in my career. You feel like a guy on tour when you go there, and that is very cool.”
On this day, Spitz got off to a fast start by making birdie on three of his first eight holes. He made the turn at 2-under par 34.
“I got off to a fast start and hit it to two feet on one,” said Spitz. “My misses weren’t as wild as they have been the last few tournaments. I kept the ball in play and made a couple of putts too.”
A highlight for Spitz on the back nine, which he played at 1-under par, came on the 369-yard, par 4 12 hole. After hitting his tee shot into the hazard, Spitz chipped out and then was able to make par from 100 yards out. He would go on to finish his round by making five pars and one birdie (on the par-5 17th hole).
This will mark Spitz’s first appearance at the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in just two tries. Over the course of his amateur career, the 37 year old Spitz has advanced through qualifying to the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
“I am looking forward to the experience and excited to get down there,” said Spitz. “We have a good group going including Ben Day who is one of my good friends from Connecticut. There is a good contingency of local guys so it will be a lot of fun.”
En route to claiming the third qualifying spot, Herbie Aikens put on a show on the front nine at Waubeeka Golf Links. The Kingston resident made birdie on four of his first seven holes. He would finish with seven birdies on the day.
James Pleat (Cambridge, MA) and Ronald Laverdiere (Amherst, MA) finished T4 with scores of even par 71 and competed in a three-for-one playoff for the final qualifying spot. After Kohler claimed that qualifying spot, Pleat went on to secure the first alternate spot, while Laverdiere was named second alternate.
Special thanks to Waubeeka Golf Links for its incredible hospitality on Thursday. The competitors were welcomed with special signage and complimentary breakfast. In the eight years, Waubeeka Golf Links has hosted five Mass Golf qualifiers as well as the 2016 Massachusetts Public Links Championship.
On Monday, four competitors advanced to the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship following a sectional qualifier held at Charles River Country Club. Advancing at that site were: Joseph Alvarez (North Berwick, ME), Brian Bassett (Charlottesville, VA), Kevin Quinn (Needham, MA) and Jordan Burke (Needham, MA).
Also joining the qualifiers at next month’s Championship Proper will be the 2017 Mass Golf Player of the Year Matt Parziale (Brockton, MA), who is also the reigning 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion. Parziale is one of 28 exempt competitors who will be a part of the 264-player field.
Sectional qualifying will be conducted at 64 sites. Qualifying rounds began on August 6 with the final ones being conducted on August 27.