Conner Willett Completes Inspirational Run To 114th Massachusetts Amateur Title - MASSGOLF

Conner Willett Edges Out Ryan Downes In Final Match Of 114th Massachsuetts Amateur Championship

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JULY 15, 2022

CONCORD, Massachusetts – The emotions kept building and building all week for Conner Willett. And with one final 10-foot birdie putt falling into the 16th hole on Friday, they were finally let loose.

Willetta 19-year-old from Wellesley, playing with a heavy heart all week and a bevy of support from the Mass Golf community behind him, completed one of the most inspirational runs in Massachusetts Amateur Championship history, defeating Longmeadow teenager Ryan Downes, 16, in the final 36-hole match, 4&2, Friday at Concord Country Club.

Willett’s father, Rick Willett, passed away unexpectedly one day before the championship began. But determined to compete and play as many holes as possible, he seemed to block everything out and put on one of the most courageous performances in the century-plus history of the championship. Playing 138 holes over five days, his gritty effort delivered him his first state amateur title.

“It means a lot,” said Willett, a member at Charles River Country Club in Newton. “It’s definitely just a lot of self-belief in there. I’ve had some couple tough years, past couple years with just golf, and I always personally thought I could do it, and then I did it this week, which was awesome. Really was a dream come true.”

ONLINE: MATCH PLAY SCORES | PHOTO GALLERY | PAST CHAMPIONS | MASS AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP CENTRAL

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Mass Golf (@playmassgolf)

Friday marked the first time two teenage players squared off in a Mass Amateur final. Willett, followed in the footsteps of fellow Wellesley native Michael Thorbjornsen, who at 19 won the Mass Amateur last year. Willett became the new owner of the Massachusetts Cup, joining luminaries such as Francis Ouimet, Fred Wright, Fran Quinn, Jr., and Frank Vana, Jr. as past winners.

But truly remarkable was the outpouring of support, including by members of Charles River, his closest friends, and his mother Beth and his sister Kaitlyn. Many of them wore blue ribbons with the initials R.W. on them.

Willett started the week with his uncle Ryan as his caddie for the first three rounds, donning a blue bib with the Charles River club logo on it. The bib was passed down to Rutgers standout Weston Jones for his match against Ethan Whitney, who made the blue ribbons. When Willett beat Whitney in the second round, the bib was passed to Whitney, who had the bag the rest of the way and provided continuous encouragement and enthusiasm the rest of the way.

“It was great, he caddied for me in the Mass Open, which I made a good run there,” Whitney said. “We both know each other’s game extremely well and just everything that’s happened this week, I just knew if he’d beat me, I had to be there for him and take it as deep as we could. I tried to just keep him calm and relaxed and just kind of focused on what he needed to do in the moment to make the best shot so he could win the match.

“I’m so happy there’s so many people who are willing to do something like that for someone because it meant the absolute world to him.”

Added Willett: “It was awesome. I mean, look at all the people here. I definitely wouldn’t have done it without them.”

Conner Willett, right, and his caddie Ethan Whitney supported each other all throughout the week. (David Colt)

Downes who entered the championship as the youngest player in the field and was trying to become the youngest winner in championship history (Charles River member James Driscoll won it at age 18 in 1996). However, he made the longest run of any member of GreatHorse in the Mass Amateur.

“Definitely it’s a great experience,” said Downes, a rising junior at Longmeadow High School. “I know I could compete with pretty much every amateur in Mass Golf now, making it to the final, and it was definitely a goal of mine at the beginning of the week. I did make a 12-footer to get into the playoffs for the last spot so it’s a long way coming. Definitely an honor to be here.”


CHAMPION’S PROFILE
CONNER WILLETT

  • Will begin his sophomore year at Georgetown University in the fall
  • Qualified for the Mass Amateur on June 22 at Hyannis Golf Course
  • Won the 2016 Massachusetts Young Golfers’ Amateur Championship at the Acoaxet Club in Westport
  • Made the match play semifinals in the 2019 Mass Junior Amateur
  • Won the Avidia Jr Cup in 2018 and 2019
  • Played in the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National (2014, 2015)

ROAD TO THE FINAL
Stroke Play: 69-75–144 (+4)
R32: Def. Nick McLaughlin, 20 Holes
R16: Def. Ethan Whitney, 3&2
Quarterfinals: Def. Christian Emmerich, 2 up
Semifinals: Def. Billy Argus, 5&4
Finals: Def. Ryan Downes, 4&2 (36-holes)


WHAT HAPPENED

Willett struck first with a birdie on the first hole to take the lead, but it was Ryan Downes who had command early in the morning. Downes won holes 3, 4 and 5, with pinpoint accuracy on his approach shots. With a birdie on the 13th hole, Downes held a 3-up lead.

However, Willett swung the momentum in his favor by winning the final four holes of the opening 18. Downes was unable to get up-and-down on the 15th and 16th hole, and on the par-5 17th found the right rough off the tee. Willett was on in two after hitting a stinger into the green and was able to two-putt for birdie. On the 18th, Willett hit his approach to 8 feet and his putt rolled in to take a 1-up lead.

Not to be deterred, Downes came out swinging after the midway break. The 16-year-old eagled hole 1 and took the lead with a par on the 2nd hole.

Willett tied it again with a par on the 4th and then took the lead on the 7th hole (25th of the day) by hitting his approach 3 feet to the hole and rolling it in for birdie. He then made par on the 9th to bring it to 2-up.

Downes didn’t hit as many fairways and greens down the stretch, but he had an incredible out from the right rough on the 11th and won the hole after Willett missed the green and flubbed a chip.

On the 13th, one day after his incredible putt was featured on SportCenter’s Top 10 plays, Willett pulled off another miraculous shot. After his tee shot landed into the right fescue, he hit a 60 degree wedge that hit the front right of the green and rolled to the front. That denied Downes’ shot at winning the hole.

“Me and Ethan, we agreed on a target point and we agreed on the yardage and then just looked at the line and committed to that shot and trusted it and I hit it well and, fortunately, it stayed on the green. I don’t think it honestly should have stayed but it did.”

That shot alone rallied Willett, who won the final three to claim the trophy. Downes hit behind a tree on the 14th and was forced to pitch out. He then flew the green on his approach, and despite an incredible chip from the back of the green, was unable to salvage a half of the hole.Willett played it safely in front and then two-putted for par to win the hole.

After Willett made another two-putt par on the 15th to bring it to a 3-up dormie, Willett drove it perfectly to the front right side of the fairway. His approach hit the green and almost spun into the hole. And minutes later, Willett sank the decisive putt, pumped his fist one last time and fell into the long embrace of Whitney, followed by his friends and family.

“I was just trying to lag it up and then somehow it went in,” Willett said.

For the win, Willett took home the Massachusetts Cup, as well as a five-year exemption for the event. He’ll also play in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament, taking place July 27-29 at GreatHorse and concluding at Woodland Golf Club.

LIVE STREAM

Check out the replay of the final match of the 114th Massachusetts Amateur Championship. Kudos to Stephen Hanjack, Mass Golf’s Assistant Director of Strategic Communications, for the play-by-play of each hole.

To view the first 18 Holes: CLICK HERE

To view the second 18 Holes: CLICK HERE

WATCH: CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

Here are some other tidbits from the final round at the Massachusetts Amateur Championship: 

NOTABLE

  • At 19 years, 7 months and 25 days old, Willett is the youngest Mass Amateur champion since Jim Salinetti won in 1997 at 19 years, 4 months and 23 days old.
  • Willett is the first Charles River Country Club member to win the Mass Amateur since James Driscoll did so in 1996 and 1998.
  • Downes became the first Western Mass native and Western Mass club member to advance to the final of the Mass Amateur since John Kelly in 2016 at Taconic Golf Club. Kelly won the Mass Amateur in 2014.
  • Willett is the first person to win the event through qualifying since Patrick Frodigh did so in 2018.
  • An incoming sophomore at Georgetown University, Willett one of many Mass Amateur champions to win the title while being part of an NCAA golf team. Prior to Willett, the most recent was Thorbjornsen, who was also an incoming sophomore at Stanford University when he won last year.
  • Next year’s Mass Amateur will take place, July 10-14, 2013, at Essex County Club.

QUOTABLE

  • “That was ideal. Whoever lost was going to caddy for the other, so it turned out I beat him, fortunately, it was a good match. But yeah, it was really fun. I mean, we’ve played together a bunch, definitely every week, almost every single day, so it kind of just felt like any normal round out there.” – Conner Willett on having Ethan Whitney as his caddy.
  • “There was a couple bounces today that [Conner] just looked at me and just was like, ‘Thanks, Rick.’ He was definitely smiling up there for sure and was super proud of him.” – Ethan Whitney on the influence of Willett’s father on his win.
  • “I learned that I could be really patient, even when I make some mistakes and still play good golf. I played pretty well for the majority of the week, maybe apart from half of the second round, made a couple mistakes but I felt like especially during match play, I was really patient and it kind of paid off pretty well.” – Ryan Downes on what he learned about himself.
  • “I did sleep pretty well actually. That’s something, normally it doesn’t happen sleeping with a big kind of event coming up. But there’s definitely some nerves, opening tee shot was definitely a little nervous. But I think it was definitely a little better than what I have been in. I’ve been in some pretty tough situations so I kind of knew what to expect.” – Ryan Downes on his nerves heading into the final round
  • “It was a remarkable week in many different ways. First and foremost, Connor Willett, his entire family, our thoughts are with him. For him to persevere through this week and be a champion in more ways than one is truly special. And I think what we see here, 75 people around, interviews, supporting him, supporting Ryan Downes, that’s community. That’s what amateur golf is all about. And that’s just here locally. Throughout the week, we’ve seen support regionally, nationally. He’s been recognized for what he’s been able to do on the golf course but as a person, as a family member, as a son, something that’s special that I think many of us can relate to. And I think it speaks volumes about what we have here Mass Golf, what we have as amateur golfers, and really what we have to look forward to. So again, thoughts with the Willetts but a lot to look forward to in the year ahead. And we thank you all for being with us this week at Concord Country Club.” – Jesse Menachem, Mass Golf Executive Director/CEO.

STAY INFORMED

Visit MassGolf.org and follow @PlayMassGolf on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest information regarding the 114th Massachusetts Amateur Championship. To join the conversation, use the hashtag #MassGolf and #MassAm