- Golfer Benefits
WEST NEWTON, Massachusetts – Nobody hit the ball better than Michael Thorbjornsen (Wellesley Country Club) and Ben Spitz (George Wright Golf Course) during the final stroke-play round Wednesday in the 113th Massachusetts Amateur Championship at Brae Burn Country Club (par-72, 6,770 yards).
Thorbjornsen, the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, closed out stroke play by making a birdie putt inside 10 feet on the 9th hole to tie the competitive course record with a bogey-free 8-under-par 64, capping off his 36-hole total at 7-under 137. He now shares the record with Nick Maccario, who established it during the 2019 Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship.
“That’s pretty cool,” Thorbjornsen said of the course record. “I honestly had no idea about the course record until I was driving up here so that’s quite nice.”
Despite his historic performance, it wasn’t enough to take medalist honors. Instead, that went to 2006 champion Ben Spitz (George Wright Golf Course). Playing alongside Thorbjornsen, Spitz was also on pace for the course record, and his solid play through two rounds (70-66–136) earned him the Harry B. McCracken, Jr. Medal and the No. 1 seed in match play beginning Thursday.
“If I keep playing the way I’m playing, somebody is going to have to play well to beat me,” Spitz said. “I think if I can continue the same game plan, if I get beat, I get beat, so I probably won’t change much.”
With 10 players just above the cutline at 3-over, two groups of five played a sudden-death playoff to determine the final 7 spots. The order of holes is 1, 18, 1, 17, 18. Sean Fitzpatrick (Braintree Municipal Golf Course), George Zolotas (Tedesco Country Club), Andy Luther (Boston Golf Club), and Dan Head (Wellesley Country Club) earned the first four spots.
“I felt like 18 owed me,” said Zolotas, who advanced after sinking a 30-foot putt on the second playoff hole (18th). “The first two guys came up short, so the last guy said I’m going to hit hard right at it. Once it hit the pin, it was like, ‘Thank Goodness’ just to get through.”
After three playoff holes, five players — Colin Spencer (Cummaquid Golf Club), Jack Boulger (Walpole Country Club), Doug Clapp (Old Sandwich Golf Club), Max Hutter (Weston Golf Club), Alex Schnickerberger (Wellesley Country Club)— still remained, and the playoff was suspended due to darkness. They will resume their playoff for the final three spots on the 17th hole at 7 a.m. Thursday.
The low 32 players advance to match play. The Round of 32 is scheduled to begin on Thursday at 8 a.m. with the Round of 16 scheduled for the afternoon. The quarterfinals & semifinals will begin Friday, and the 36-hole championship match is scheduled for Saturday.
Ben Spitz seems to be recapturing the same magic that led him to the Mass Amateur title 15 years ago. Spitz, who won the title as a college junior at the University of Rhode Island, is playing some of his best golf in recent years.
“It’s a good stretch of golf for me,” said Spitz, who finished T2 in the Mass Open and played in U.S. Open Final Qualifying this year. “It’s kind of coming together. I’m making good putts at the right time, popping it on the green, and giving myself chances.”
Spitz said he was “just trying to keep up” with playing partners Chris Francoeur (Amesbury Golf & Country Club) and Michael Thorbjornsen, who play for Louisville and Stanford, respectively. But he made up for it with great approaches. Spitz went 5-under through holes 13-16, which included an eagle on the par-5 13th (486-yards) by hitting a 3-wood from 250 yards out to about 20 feet and making the putt.
Despite the urge to crush drives like his younger opponents, Spitz has also relied on a strong wedge game from the fairway to set up easy putts. Once again, he laid up on the drivable par-4 1st (335 yards), but hit a wedge into about 3 feet for an easy putt. That started a streak of three birdies that put him at 9-under total. He then made par on the final five holes to cap a brilliant two days to start the championship.
“It was a fun couple of days for sure,” said Spitz, who made the quarterfinals last year. “You always want to make match play because anything can happen.”
If a few more putts had fallen, Thorbjornsen might have gotten the course record for himself. More importantly, he achieved the bounce-back round he needed to guarantee a spot into match play in his state amateur debut.
“I had 30 putts today, but still shot 8-under, which is quite impressive on the ball striking standpoint, but as far as putting goes, not the best,” Thorbjornsen said. “Still, I took advantage of the par-5s and driveable par-4s, hitting close ones there.”
After going 2-under on the back nine, including a birdie to start the day on the 10th, he made birdie on six of the final nine holes, including the final two. He almost aced the par-3, 8th as played a 4-iron in the perfect spot to set in a tap-in birdie.
Thorbjornsen is plenty comfortable with match play as he survived the gauntlet in the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur and made it to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Amateur last year at Bandon Dunes.
“I’ve played plenty of match play events to understand the strategy, so I’m probably going to do the same thing I did today, same clubs off the tee, and hopefully shoot the same score,” Thorbjornsen said.
Among those who are back in match play are Christopher Bornhorst (Brae Burn Country Club) and Kyle Tibbetts (Framingham Country Club), who had mirror rounds of 71-68–139 to finish T3 in stroke play.
Encouraged by the home crowd in the gallery, Bornhorst moved to 7-under after an incredible eagle on the par-5 5th (570-yards), followed by a birdie using a stock nine-iron on the par-3 6th (156-yards). Bornhorst’s tee shot on 5th got him caught behind a tree, however, he decided to trust his gut and hit 3-iron into the green.
“I actually wasn’t planning on going for it on five, but the lay up would have hit the tree that was crossing the fairway,” Bornhorst said. “I had no idea what the number was, I just hit it. I didn’t think it would get there, but it crept up. That putt is a really tough putt. I’ve had that a lot of times, and you really got to cast it out to the right and let it die in, and I knew it was a great putt right when I hit it. I was really happy with how that turned out.”
Tibbetts, meanwhile, said his putting was key to an improved round. Tibbets made eagle on the 13th and made back-to-back birdie putts on the 4th and 5th to move to 6-under. Despite a bogey on the 8th, he finished with a 36-hole total of 5-under 139.
Tibbets said a putting lesson from Framingham Country Club pro Graham Cunningham gave him confidence heading into the week.
“He and I spent an hour on the putting green at Framingham working on my mechanics, making sure I was hitting my line,” Tibbets said. “I hadn’t been rolling it too great before that, so that was definitely key. I made a bunch of good 3-footers and sprinkled in some 15-20 footers throughout the last two days, which was a major key to scoring well out there.”
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