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MANCHESTER, Vermont – John McNeill (Amateur Golf Tour of New England) has come up just short of winning several statewide and regional championships in previous years. But finally, over the past month, he has not been denied victory.
McNeill, a Mass Golf member living in Stow, followed up his victory in last month’s prestigious Senior Hornblower Championship by taking home the 24th New England Senior Amateur Championships this week at Vermont’s Manchester Country Club. McNeill, the Dean of Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), said passion and love for the game fueled his drive toward winning a championship.
“This one is a big deal,” McNeill said. “I love playing the game, and I love the people you play with. The camaraderie with the seniors is great, and winning is just a bonus.”
McNeill, 60, said his opening-round 4-under 68 on Tuesday was his first bogey-free round in the past 30 years. What he didn’t know then was that’s all it would take to take home his first-ever New England Golf Association title.
He began Wednesday’s second and final round four strokes ahead of Connecticut’s Bob Murphy, Bill Hermanson, and Dave Jones, all tied for second place. Through 14 holes Wednesday, McNeill stood at 1-under overall (3-over for round) and held a 1-stroke lead, but play was suspended at 1:11 p.m. for a dangerous situation (lightning). At 2:39 p.m., the second round was officially canceled, and scores were reverted to the first-round leaderboard.
“While we hoped to be able to finish the round, the weather forecast was unfavorable for the remainder of the day, and we were unable to complete play in a safe manner,” said Greg Howell, Director of Operations for the New England Golf Association. “We are thankful to the players for their patience on a very difficult day. We also appreciate the staff and members of Manchester CC for being gracious hosts.”
After accepting his trophy, John McNeill said he would’ve loved to have closed out the round with a birdie on the final day. While that didn’t exactly come true, he did cap off his round with a tremendous birdie the day prior.
McNeill said his adrenaline was pumping as he sat at 3-under, just one hole away from completing an immaculate bogey-free round. He chose hybrid on the 18th tee, which plays downward and is a dogleg right, and his shot just trickled into the rough with a downhill lie 157-yards from the green. Then he hit what was arguably his best shot of the tournament, striping an 8-iron to 2-feet.
“I hit that club 150-yards, and I absolutely flushed it,” McNeill recalled. “As I was blacking out over the 2-footer, I rolled it in for the 68. It was just one of those days when I had a good game plan, I was hitting the ball where I was aiming it, and when I had long putts, I was rolling them up to 1 or 2 feet.”
Had it not been for some in-round adjustments, though, McNeill might not have prevailed. The first four holes of the Geoffrey Cornish layout play relatively straightforward, according to McNeill, but he needed to get up-and-down three times on the first four holes to stay at even par.
“I wasn’t hitting the ball very well on the first four holes,” McNeill said. “Then something clicked on my tee ball on the 5th hole, and after that, I was just striping it.”
McNeill made birdie on holes 8, 9, and 14 to pull into the lead, and while he didn’t know where he stood at the time, it was plenty to take a commanding lead that would hold.
McNeill, who grew up near Syracuse, New York, also has a family connection to Vermont golf. His mother, Mary McNeill, is a three-time Vermont Women’s Amateur champion and three-time runner-up in the same event.
“That was some really cool history to experience that,” McNeill said.
The McNeill family also used to summer near Orleans Country Club, located in Northeast Vermont near the Canadian border.
“It was the kind of place where mom and dad could shove the kids out of the station wagon at 8 a.m., and my brother and I would just play golf all day, and it was formative there just enjoying the game.”
McNeill has been a member of the Amateur Golf Tour of New England since 1992 and credits his exposure to different courses to finally finding success.
He also plays monthly at The Haven Country Club as a social member. After finishing T7 in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament, he said playing at The Haven helped him regain some confidence heading into late summer events.
“It’s a really great place there,” McNeill said. “I really doubled down on practicing the things I needed to fix up: getting up-and-down, being solid on short putts, and it paid dividends.”
And while Mother Nature stood in the way of a full 36-hole championship, “In a way, I don’t care how it happened, I’m just glad I had a good round yesterday,” McNeill said.
Also taking him some hardware were Andy Congdon (Wyantenuck CC) and Bob Kearney (Bretwood GC, NH), who split the Super Senior Division (65-over) title by shooting 1-over 73 in the lone round that counted. Congdon was also 4-under through 10 holes on Tuesday after making consecutive birdies on holes 16-18 and hole 1.
Manchester Country Club; Par-72
1 – John McNeill, Amateur Golf Tour New England (MA); 68
T2 – Bob Murphy, Brownson CC (CT); 72
T2 – Bill Hermanson: Black Hall Club (CT); 72
T2 – Dave Jones, Mohegan Sun GC (CT); 72
T5 – Mark Dennish, Old Sandwich GC (MA); 73
T5 – Chuck Tryder, Bellevue CC (MA); 73
T5 – Mark Vassalotti, Barnstable Golf (MA); 73
T5 – Andy Congdon, Wyantenuck CC (MA); 73*
T5 – Bob Kearney, Bretwood GC (NH); 73*
*Co-champions of the Super Senior Division (65-up)
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