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NEWTON, Massachusetts – The opening round of the 54th Ouimet Memorial Tournament got off to a ceremonious start Wednesday as part of Charles River Country Club’s 100th anniversary celebration. The competition lived up to the hype, too, as all three division leaders lead by just one stroke.
In total, 102 players completed the first 18 holes of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament, which is Mass Golf’s lone exemption-only stroke-play event on the schedule and is the only one to feature divisions for men, senior men, and women in the same event. The tournament began in 1968, one year after the death of Francis Ouimet, the Brookline native who shocked the world with his victory in the 1913 U.S. Open. Ouimet also became an honorary member of Charles River in 1928.
Thursday’s Round 2 will also take place at Charles River. The final round, as always, will take place at Ouimet’s home course of Woodland Golf Club, located in the Newton neighborhood of Auburndale. The Championship Division field will be cut to the low 30 and ties. The low 12 and ties will advance in the Lowery Division.
The Championship Division featured some Ouimet Tournament veterans at the top of the leaderboard. Last year’s champion Chris Francoeur (Amesbury Golf & Country Club) shot 3-under and shares the lead with Kyle Tibbetts (Framingham Country Club), who came in solo fourth in 2020.
Francoeur, who made the semifinals in this year’s Massachusetts Amateur, was in the second group off hole 10 and started out playing the back nine. He struggled a bit early with a double-bogey on his third hole, but he quickly found his footing. The Louisville transfer was 1-over on the back nine, before closing with five birdies on the front.
“I kind of adjusted throughout the round,” Francoeur said. “Matt [Parziale] and I were both spinning wedges off the green pretty early in the round. We kind of had to adjust by clubbing up, chipping them into greens, rather than hitting full wedges that would spin-off. There were actually a couple of holes where I intentionally missed the fairway so that I wouldn’t spin the ball into the greens. I made a good adjustment, and I’m happy with the way I finished.”
Despite missing the fairway on holes 7 and 8, Francoeur got up and down for par before sticking one to 3 feet from the rough to set up a birdie on the 8th. Francoeur also made birdie on the par-3 9th (175-yards), ending his day in style as he hopes to push towards another victory in the event.
“I’ve been playing pretty well,” said Francoeur, who played in the Porter Cup last week. “I hadn’t seen [Charles River] in a few years, so I was trying to be a little conservative off the tee and coming into greens. Now that I saw it today, I can adjust my game plan going into tomorrow.”
Tibbetts’ best stretch of golf came on the 14th, 15th, and 16th holes. Tibbetts caught a break on 14 when he hit a 6-iron off the tee that sliced right and rattled off a tree towards a hazard. Despite that, he was able to flop a shot from his lie, and the ball found its way into the cup.
“It was a pretty lucky break to stay in, and I would say it was maybe 50 percent skill, 50 percent luck that it dropped, but I’ll take the 2 no matter what,” Tibbetts said.
The positive momentum continued with his birdies on the next two holes, bringing him to six total on the day as he climbed into the tie for first.
“If you want to talk about Mass Golf majors, the Ouimet is definitely one of the majors,” Tibbetts said. “I’m lucky that I get invited and last year I played well enough to make it in for this year. I definitely circle it on the calendar and want to play in it every single year that I can.”
Dillon Brown (Country Club of Halifax) didn’t tee off until the afternoon wave rolled around, but he wasted little time pulling himself up the leaderboard. The University of Maryland senior sank three birdies over his first six holes and ultimately finished the day 2-under 68 and in sole possession of third place.
“My driver actually felt really good today,” Brown said. “I didn’t necessarily need it as much as I would like to. I kind of just got off to a hot start. I was kind of playing conservative all day just hitting to the middle of the greens, getting my two putts, and getting out of there. I got my birdies as they came. I didn’t make too many of them, but I didn’t make as many mistakes out there either, which is good.”
Brown has previous experience playing in the Ouimet Tournament. Last year he made the cut and finished T13, and it appears as though he is going to be right back in the mix again this season.
So far there is little separation to be found in the Women’s Division. Shannon Johnson (Thorny Lea Golf Club) is leading the pack after shooting 1-over-par 75, but six players are within three strokes of the lead.
Megan Buck (Thorny Lea Golf Club) and Catie Schernecker (The Country Club) are tied for second place, each shooting 2-over 76. Lifelong Charles River member Jaqueline Gonzalez is in a three-way tie with Molly Smith (Vesper Country Club) and Lillian Gulserian (Blue Hill Country Club) at 3-over 77. Charles River’s Pam Kuong, the lone past champion in the Women’s Division (2015), still finds herself in contention at 4-over 78 and in seventh place.
After opening her round with a birdie, Johnson drove the green with a 3-wood on the short par-4 11th (227-yards) and made the short eagle putt to move to 3-under through 2 holes. She also added birdies on holes 17 and 18 to make the turn at 3-under 38.
Gonzalez, a Holy Cross graduate, was 2-under at the turn and was 1-2 with Johnson throughout the day. Though she was 5-over, Gonzalez said she’s excited to be in the mix in her first Mass Golf event that’s being contested at Charles River.
“It’s very cool to see Mass Golf set up here and all the best players from around the state, showing up to play Charles River and see how the golf course holds up,” Gonzalez said. “All the scores are right around each other, so it should make for an interesting next day.”
Gonzalez said there’s been a buzz around this event and others given that it’s Charles River’s 100th anniversary. After the Ouimet Tournament ends, Charles River will host its club championship.
“All of it coming together is making for a fun week that I think a lot of people are looking forward to, and to have this tournament here is great,” Gonzalez said.
Steve Tasho (Thorny Lea Golf Club), who won the Lowery Division two years ago, set the pace at Charles River on Wednesday as he kept a relatively clean card with 14 pars Wednesday to hold a one-stroke lead at 2-over 74.
Tasho, the runner-up in the 2020 Mass Senior Amateur, was 3-over through 14 holes, but he earned his lone birdie of the round on the par-5 15th (474-yards).
Charles River’s Brian Coakley is nipping at Tasho’s heels as he fired a 3-over 75 with a pair of birdies on the back nine. Coakley, who is playing on a host club exemption, made birdie on hole 13 (par-4, 348-yards) and hole 15 (par-5, 530-yards).
Behind them are six players tied at 4-over 74, including John Hadges, a two-time Mass Amateur champion, who made eagle on the par-5 2nd hole. Joe Walker (Dennis Pines Golf Club), the 2016 Lowery Champion, and 2017 Lowery champion Jim DiBiase (Woodland Golf Club) are currently tied with Jim Patterson (Orchards Golf Club), Keith Smith (Franklin Country Club), and John McNeill (Amateur Golf Tour of NE).
The Lowery Division consists of senior players ages 55 and older. The low 12 players and ties make the cut.
As Charles River Country Club celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding, esteemed members Bob McDonald and Joe McDonald were recognized before play began Wednesday.
Bob McDonald, who was in the first class of individuals to receive a scholarship from the Francis Ouimet Memorial Fund, served as club president from 1979-1981. Joe McDonald, also a Ouimet Scholar, has also been a longtime member of “The River” and caddied for Francis Ouimet, the 1913 U.S. Open champion and a member of the Mass Golf Hall of Fame.
Joe McDonald also had the honors of hitting the ceremonial opening tee shot.
This morning, the 54th Ouimet Memorial Tournament got started with a special celebration.
Bob and Joe McDonald, longtime members of Charles River CC, were honored on the first tee. Joe’s ceremonial first tee shot marked the official start to the Tournament. #MassGolf pic.twitter.com/n6MwEEVF12
— Mass Golf (@PlayMassGolf) July 28, 2021
Whit’s Back: The last time Ryan Whitney (Old Sandwich GC) competed in a Mass Golf event was last year’s Ouimet Memorial Tournament. Whitney, the former NHL pro, injured his elbow at the end of last season. However, he played through it during the winter, and what was initially just tennis elbow turned into some “bigger than usual” tears. He then had to miss the first three months of the competitive golf season. Whitney finished Round 1 with a 7-over 77, and despite some lingering soreness, he said he’s glad to be back. “This is such a good tournament. I’ve been dying to play again. Charles River is in unreal shape, and it’s just fun to be back home playing again.”
— Mass Golf (@PlayMassGolf) July 28, 2021
Course Conditions: According to Gene Gonzalez, who serves on Charles River’s Green Committee, the club has received 14 inches of rain so far this season. Despite another heavy storm the night prior, Charles River’s golf course maintenance staff was working hard to get the golf course ready for play this week. Though the course played long in the wet conditions, many of the players felt the course held up nicely.
“My caddie said it was half a hurricane here last night, and you’d never know it for just a few wet spots,” said Bob Linn, who qualified for the Ouimet by winning the 2020 Massachusetts Super Senior Amateur Championship. “The greens were a little faster than I thought they would be. They didn’t look that fast, but everything I hit was six feet past the hole. I putted very poorly today, but it wasn’t the green’s fault, it was my fault. Afterward, I said to my caddie that golfs a game of decisions, and I didn’t make too many good ones today.”
Home Club Representation: A total of eight Charles River members are competing in this year’s Ouimet Memorial Tournament. In addition to the players mentioned above, Joe Harney (4-over, T28) played in the first group and is in the top-50 of the Championship Division alongside Conner Willett (5-over, T34), Timothy Tierney (7-over, T49). Paul Murphy, the 1975 champion, shot 6-over and is T10 with Gene Gonzalez in the Lowery Division.
String Of Success: Jim Patterson (Orchards Golf Club) has a unique distinction. He’s played in the U.S. Senior Open before getting into a Ouimet Memorial Tournament. Due to his solid play over the past year, Patterson got his first Ouimet experience at Charles River on Wednesday, just two weeks after competing in the U.S. Senior Open in Omaha, Nebraska. Patterson shot 4-over 74 and finds himself T3 after the opening round.
Out West In 2022: Next year’s Ouimet tournament will require some travel. The 2022 championship will begin with the first two rounds at GreatHorse in Hampden, which hosted the 2018 Mass Women’s Amateur Championship and 2020 Mass Mid-Amateur Championship. Those who make the cut will head 80 miles east for the final round at Woodland.