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LUDLOW, Massachusetts – Brookline native James Imai (George Wright Golf Course) couldn’t help but grin when his birdie putt on the 18th green just burned the edge. Luckily for him, his stellar play over the course of two days gave him enough cushion.
After tapping in, he gave a quick right fist pump to celebrate a victory in his final summer event of the season. The Northwestern University junior finished 10-under-par 132 without a bogey and won the 40th Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship on Wednesday at Westover Golf Course (par-72, 6,685-yards). It was his first Mass Golf Championship victory since winning the 2019 Mass Junior Amateur Championship at Crumpin-Fox Club.
“I’ve played a lot of good golf, but some of the results haven’t been what I’ve liked, and to put two rounds together finally the past couple days, it’s awesome,” said Imai, who shot 3-under 69 on Wednesday. “It’s great to see hard work turned into results.”
Mass Mid-Amateur champion Arthur Zelmati (George Wright Golf Course) and 4-time APL champion Bill Drohen (Brookmeadow Country Club) split runner-up honors, finishing 7-under overall.
Of the 58 who competed in the final round, the 20 lowest scorers and ties are exempt for the 2022 Amateur Public Links.
Established in 1982, the Massachusetts Amateur Public Links is open to amateur golfers who maintain a handicap index not exceeding 12.0 and who are bona fide public course players at a public Mass Golf Member Club, a course/club that provides playing opportunities for the general public seven days a week.
It wasn’t exactly the same record-tying round for James Imai on Wednesday. However, he always made sure he had a look at the green and didn’t cede much ground to Bill Drohen, who entered the day three strokes back, as did Christopher Boyd (Pinehills Golf Club).
Both Imai and Drohen made the turn at 2-under for the day, and Drohen got within two with a birdie on the par-5 12th. He then hit his best shot of the day on the 13th by making a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 13th to temporarily pull within a stroke of Imai. Still, the stead Imai confidently stepped up and drained a 15-footer to keep his lead intact.
“That was nice to see one drop and just make sure I didn’t lose a lot of momentum there,” Imai said. “[Drohen] is a great player. I knew from his record, he’s gonna make it close and make me play my best and earn it. He pushed me, and hopefully, I pushed him as well.”
From there Imai was able to par out the rest of the way. Drohen kept pace for a couple more holes, but he hit his tee shot on the 16th wide right and ended up with a bogey to all but end his chances of repeating.
Though Drohen, 48, was gunning for the title, rounds of 68 and 69 left him walking away feeling content with the performance going up against a Big Ten standout.
“It was it was a great day,” Drohen said. “James is such a great competitor, but he’s probably a nicer kid and it’s the first time I actually got a chance to play and meet him. He just didn’t give up. If I birdied, it seemed like he’d put one on top of me.”
Imai was able to navigate the course without much resistance. The closest he came to a bogey was actually the first hole Wednesday as he needed to make a 10-footer to save par. Other than that, he said trees make it difficult for a right-handed player to hit a draw, forcing him to adjust throughout.
“I’m usually the opposite,” Imai said. “I hit draws, but when I hit cuts it usually neutralizes my swing, but I just trusted it this week, and I’m glad I was able to pull it off.”
With another week left before returning to campus, Imai said he’ll practice in the meantime, while also picking up some hours caddying at The Country Club, the host site of the 2022 U.S. Open.
“It’s nice to just get out there and make a few bucks,” Imai said. “They’re great over there so I just love hanging out there. It’s a great spot.”
Zelmati entered Wednesday four strokes back, and had it not been for a bogey on the first hole, he would’ve also gone bogey-free. He lit up the back-nine with a 4-under 32 that included consecutive birdies on holes 12, 13, and 14. That put him in a tight race with Bill Drohen for second.
“Coming up 18, I knew Bill was probably ahead of me so I was definitely was trying to make birdie and feeling the nerves,” Zelmati said. “It’s a great feeling, actually, to feel those nerves and to be back in the mix.”
In his first event back since the Mass Open in June, Zelmati said the biggest joy was playing two pain-free rounds after injuring his back earlier this summer.
“That’s definitely the best thing that’s come out of this it’s just being able to play and not be injured,” said Zelmati, who will try to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship later this month in Connecticut. “Now I’m just looking forward to getting better and getting my game more on track.”