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IPSWICH, Massachusetts – There was a palpable sense of joy in the air as the Mass Golf Championship season began on a sunny and breezy Tuesday with the first round of the 40th annual Massachusetts Four-Ball Championship being played at The Golf Club of Turner Hill and Ipswich Country Club. The highly popular event features 392 players in teams of two competing in four-ball stroke play, with the best score on each hole for the side (team) counting toward its total.
For the team of Daniel Nash (Orchards Golf Club) and Ron Lowe (Taconic Golf Club), the state four-ball has always been a tradition of spring.
“It’s always been a kickoff to the season so last year was kind of in limbo, and this year feels like normal,” Lowe said. “It’s hard, but it’s fun.”
The event is so popular it sold out within five hours of registration opening at 10 a.m. March 2. Part of that also had to do with last year’s event being canceled due to COVID-19, but given golf’s recognition as a safe, recreational activity, Mass Golf has a full schedule of events slated for this year.
“After a one-year hiatus, we’re happy to get our biggest championship field out on the golf course and see everybody for the start of a new and exciting season,” said Kevin Eldridge, Mass Golf’s Director of Rules & Competitions.
After Round 1, two sides are atop the leaderboard after carding an 8-under-par 64 at Ipswich Country Club. Matt Parziale (Thorny Lea Golf Club) and Herbie Aikens (Old Sandwich Golf Club), the 2016 and 2017 champions who are veterans in this event, find themselves tied with high school standouts John Broderick (Dedham Country & Polo Club) and Weston Jones (Charter Oak Country Club), who are playing in this event together for the first time. Mike Calef (Pine Oaks Golf Course) and Nick Maccario (Bradford Country Club), who are the defending champions from 2019, are two strokes back at 6-under 66.
The players will swap courses for Round 2 on Wednesday. Any and all tiebreakers will be contested at Turner Hill.
When Matt Parziale and Herbie Aikens first teed it up together in the Mass Four-Ball in 2016, they won the event by two strokes and then won the following year in a playoff.
Vanderbilt University commit John Broderick and Rutgers University-bound Weston Jones are hoping for similar fortunes in their first go-around as a team. The pair are typically squaring off in junior amateur competitions but decided to join forces this week.
“We’re mainly competitors but we’re also big-time friends,” said Jones, who advanced to U.S. Open Final Qualifying the week prior. “When you combine those two, we kind of feed off each other, and we have very similar games, so it works well.”
“Our mindset was just to fire at pins the entire day,” added Broderick, the 2020 Mass Golf Junior Player of the Year.
The pair played well in three-hole waves, collecting birdies on 12, 13, and 14 while also picking up key par saves when needed. On the front nine, they also closed strongly as Jones made three birdie putts spanning holes 3-8, his last coming off a beautiful approach shot to about 6 feet from the flagstick. Jones found the fairway bunker off the 9th tee, but Broderick picked up the par save to keep them tied for the lead.
Parziale and Aikens are plenty familiar with this position. They were tied after Round 1 of the 2016 Four-Ball and have been within the top 5 after the opening round every year they’ve played together in the event.
Though Parziale, a six-time Mass Golf Player of the Year, had never played Ipswich prior to this week, he caught fire on the front nine after making the turn at 3-under. He birdied holes 2-5 consecutively, hitting two approach shots within a foot for tap-ins, and then adding on with birdie putts of 10 and 15 feet. Aikens then sank a birdie putt on the par-3 7th to move the pair to 8-under.
“Herbie had played here [before] so he had some ways to get me around,” Parziale said. “We played the par-3s and par-4s well, but we didn’t play the par-5s well at all, we parred all four. We were able to hit some close wedges, make a few good putts on the par-3s. We made one bogey on 17. I had a horrible approach, but other than that, it was a pretty stress-free round.”
Added Aikens: “I hadn’t played here a lot, but I did remember the golf course so we were able to just be strategic about it I think we were pretty conservative on our tee shots and then try and get a little bit more aggressive. Greens are awesome like absolutely perfect. So, if you can get in good spots and have good looks, the balls are on track so it’s nice.
Parziale will be more familiar with Turner Hill on Wednesday, as it’s a course he’s played in the past.
Click the video below to see some of the morning views from Ipswich Country Club, including some overhead shots.
Among the 256 players (128 sides) competing in the 2021 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, beginning May 22 at Chambers Bay in Washington state, a few are competing in the Mass Four-Ball this week. Among them are Nick Maccario and Mike Calef, the defending champs of the Mass Four-Ball, who earned medalist honors at the USGA qualifier back in October 2020.
But they have plenty to make sure to not look too far ahead as they will finish out this championship and then play in the Norfolk County Classic this weekend at Presidents Golf Club.
“I think it’s just jiving and seeing where our games are,” said Maccario, the 2020 Mass Golf Player of the Year. “We played this past weekend together, but playing together in competition I think we both play a lot better today than we did over the weekend. So once you get us in the proverbial ropes, I think we’ve played better.”
Maccario might be well-suited to make a run at the title Wednesday, as he has played both courses numerous times as a graduate of St. John’s Prep High School in nearby Danvers. “I’ve probably had 50 to 100 rounds at both courses, just going to high school down the street and having friends and family at both courses. Not a lot of competition, but I’ve played a good amount of regular rounds.”
Matt Parziale and Herbie Aikens are well-versed in Four-Ball by now. Together, they have qualified for the U.S. Four-Ball four times (2016, 2017, 2019, and 2021). Aside from their abundance of skill, what makes the pair such a dominant team is their ability to trust each other’s shotmaking abilities.
“Anytime you’re competing, especially when you’re competing with the same partner, it’s always good,” Parziale said. “This is great to play the week before and looking forward to heading out there next week.”
Alex Jeffers (Woodland Golf Club) is in a bit of a different spot. Jeffers qualified for the U.S. Four-Ball last month at Connecticut National with Gavin Pourier of Vermont. But this week, he’s playing with D.J. Hynes (Framingham Country Club), and the pair finds themselves T5 at 4-under 68.
Aside from Broderick & Jones, other high schoolers impressed during the first round of the Mass Four-Ball. The team of Aidan O’Donovan and Colin Spencer, both 17-year-olds from Cummaquid Golf Club, were paired with high school seniors Conner Willet and Ethan Whitney, and both teams find themselves in the top 7 entering Round 2.
Spencer and O’Donovan, both juniors, shot the low round at Turner Hill with a 4-under 68 to finish the day T5 in their first crack at the event together. They were supposed to play last year, but the event was canceled. When events were still limited, Spencer and O’Donovan spent their summer days playing matches together at Cummaquid.
“Sometimes at Cummaquid, we’d play our own ball but then count up our four-ball score,” said O’Donovan, a University of Rhode Island commit. “We texted about getting out there and we’ve been looking forward to it.”
Right away, things were looking up as O’Donovan, who chipped in one hole 1 despite his ball “doing 100mph” toward the hole. O’Donovan also made birdie on the third, but Spencer’s putting helped propel them forward. He made a 45-footer for birdie on the 8th that broke about 10 feet and added a pair of par saves on the back nine to keep their spot. On the 15th, O’Donovan hit out of bounds, but Spencer made the 6-footer downhill to save par, and then made birdie on the 16th.
“We were fighting out there,” Spencer said. “On a bunch of holes, par was a good score.”
The high school juniors said the key to staying in contention tomorrow is making birdies on par-5s, something they were unable to do Tuesday.
“Birdieing par-5 will be huge,” Spencer said. “We had no bogies, and if we can do that again, we should be right there.”
Willett, a Georgetown University commit, and Whitney, a Temple University commit, were able to shake off a pair of bogeys with timely birdies and par saves. Willet made birdie on holes 7, 10, and 11, and despite a string of bogies by Whitney, Willet was able to make par on six of the final seven holes to stay within five strokes of the leaders.
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Course Stats: Some combined statistics for the field on Day 1: Turner Hill: 2 Eagles, 204 Birdies, 1,378 Pars, 1,118 Bogeys, 381 Double Bogeys; Ipswich CC: 11 Eagles, 267 Birdies. Teams at Ipswich CC averaged a score of 79.13, while those at Turner Hill averaged a score of 82.43. In total, 52 teams finished below 70.
Intern to Competitor: Matt Johnson (George Wright Golf Course) had gone over a year without playing in a competitive golf tournament, until Tuesday. Johnson, who served as an intern for the Mass Golf staff last year, teamed up with Stephen Quillinan (Sandy Burr Country Club) and finished 3-under-par 69 at Ipswich. Johnson had played in the tournament with his father previously but hadn’t played in it since college. After graduating last year, he would’ve played had the event not been canceled. A former NE-10 conference champion for NCAA Division II St. Michael’s College, Johnson started off strongly with an eagle on the par-5 first hole, hitting his approach with a five iron to 6 feet and making the putt. “It’s an awesome tournament, it’s definitely fun to play partner golf in tournaments.”
Volunteers In Action: Mass Golf Volunteers Bobby Villeneuve (Ludlow Country Club) and Peter Sherman (Twin Hills Country Club) both competed as a team at Turner Hill on Tuesday, carding a 4-over 76.
Partners On The North Shore: Ipswich and Turner Hill served as co-hosts of the 2010 Mass Four-Ball, the second of three straight Mass Four-Ball victories by Ryan Riley and Herbie Aikens. The clubs also split hosting duties for the first two rounds of the 2012 Ouimet Memorial Tournament. Turner Hill also co-hosted the Mass Four-Ball with Ferncroft in Middleton back in 2014. That year, James Kroeger and Alex Stimpson clinched the title last year when Kroeger sank a 30-foot putt for par on the 18th hole at Turner Hill.
Busy Week: The following players in the Mass Four-Ball also qualified for the Mass Open on Monday: Jake O’Rourke (Bayberry Hills Golf Course), Sam Russell (Cranberry Valley Golf Course), Brandon Parker (Worcester Country Club), Alex Jeffers (Woodland Golf Club), Jesse Zorfas (Framingham Country Club), and Jake Peer (Winchester Country Club).
Pro Connections: PGA TOUR pro Richy Werenski won this event with his brother Mickey back in 2013 when it was played at Ledgemont CC and Pawtucket CC. Werenski, a South Hadley native, who last year was recognized as an Ambassador of Mass Golf alongside LPGA Pro Megan Khang, recently finished third in a different team event, the Zurich Classic, where he teamed up with Peter Uihlein, another Bay State native. Evan Harmeling, who earned his first victory on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, also won this title with Colin Brennan back in 2007.
Visit MassGolf.org and follow @PlayMassGolf on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest information on this week’s Massachusetts Four-Ball Championship at The Golf Club at Turner Hill and Ipswich Country Club. To join the conversation, use the hashtag #MassGolf and #MassFourBall.