Teens Willett & Downes To Duel For Mass Amateur Crown - MASSGOLF

Ryan Downes, Conner Willett Will Square Off In Final Match Of 114th Massachusetts Amateur Championship At Concord Country Club

For Immediate Release: July 14, 2022

CONCORD, Massachusetts – For the first time in more than half a century, two teenagers will meet in the final match of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship.

On one side is Ryan Downes (GreatHorse). Not only is the 16-year-old from Longmeadow the youngest player in the field, he is one step away from becoming the youngest winner in championship history.

On the other side is Conner Willett (Charles River Country), the 19-year-old from Wellesley, whose play following the recent, unexpected passing of his father has captivated the golf community in Massachusetts and beyond.

Both players have put on a tremendous display of golf over the past four days, even playing alongside each other in stroke play Monday and Tuesday. Now the two friends who have bonded through junior golf over the years will square off in the 36-hole final match Friday. The match begins at 7:30 a.m. Spectators are welcome to attend.

LIVE STREAM: Mass Golf will broadcast the final match live on social media. Follow @playmassgolf on Facebook and Instagram to follow along.

ONLINE: MASS GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP CENTRAL | MATCH PLAY SCORESPHOTO GALLERY | PAST CHAMPIONS

THE BACKSTORY

Conner Willett felt he was due for a breakthrough championship event. With all the emotion swirling around following the unexpected passing of his father this past weekend, Willett has had a simple goal of playing as much golf as possible.

A slew of Charles River members and close friends and fellow competitors have been following along the entire way in match play. Willett perhaps has managed the course better than anybody and has been pouring in long putts all over the place, including a 40-footer on the 9th hole Wednesday, and a long, bending putt on the 13th in his semifinal match Thursday. Even an early 3-hole deficit against Christian Emmerich (Kernwood Country Club) on Thursday morning, didn’t faze him.

“I bet a lot of people didn’t think it was coming, but I’ve known I had this for the past couple of years,” Willett said. “My game just hasn’t showed it. I’m just really happy to make it on that stage.”

There’s no doubt Willett has had his father, Rick, on his mind all week. After his semifinal win Thursday he pointed to a conversation the two had that helped get his mind right for this championship.

“It changed my whole attitude, and I’ve just been kind of kept rolling since then,” Willett said. “I haven’t thought about my swing and over a month. I just walk out there and just keep doing the same thing.

“I was really anxious and really nervous going into rounds,” he added. “I was really scared of shooting 80, and my dad just gave me a boost of motivation just to be the top dog and just have the confidence or have a little positive self talk, and it definitely goes a long way.”

Ryan Downes, meanwhile, has also brought his A-game to the Mass Amateur. Downes may have needed a playoff to get into match play, but since then he’s been on a tear. He’s made 16 birdies combined in his four matches and has taken down two college players (Xavier Marcoux, Rutgers; Will Frodigh, Elon) as well as his clubmate Matthew Naumec (GreatHorse), a former pro and low amateur at this year’s Mass Open.

“I think [the course] really suits my game, and I’m definitely getting used to it,” Downes said after Thursday. “I’m seeing the reads well and just matching my line with pace. Down the stretch today, I really did that well and started rolling a few [putts] in.”

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Downes is playing with poise beyond his years. He’s grown up on a golf course as his father, Billy Downes, is the head golf professional at GreatHorse, and was instrumental in the development stages of the new club in Hampden. Downes’ uncle, Bobby Downes, is head golf professional at the Country Club of Wilbraham.

And now Downes has a chance to make a name for himself by becoming the youngest-ever player to win the Mass Amateur. He is also trying to become the first Western Mass champion since John Kelly (Twin Hills Country Club), of East Longmeadow, in 2014. Kelly also made the final match in 2016 at Taconic Golf Club.

“To be the first 16 year old to win, that’d be awesome, that’d be incredible,” Downes said. “It’s going to be a really fun match. I can’t wait for it.”


MEET THE FINALISTS

CONNER WILLETT

Instagram: @conner_willett

  • Will begin his sophomore year at Georgetown University in the fall
  • Won the 2016 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

 

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


RYAN DOWNES

Instagram: @ryandownes_golf

  • Will begin his senior year at Longmeadow High School in the fall
  • Ranked the No. 23 golfer in the class of 2024 in the AGJA Boys’ Rankings
  • Won the individual title at the 2021 Division I Western Mass Golf Championship
  • Won the 2021 Cape Cod National Golf Club High School Invitational

 

ROAD TO THE FINAL
Stroke Play: 72-76–148 (+8)
R32: Def. Anthony Vecchiarelli, 4&2
R16: Def. Xavier Marcoux, 1 up
Quarterfinals: Def. Matthew Naumec, 2&1
Semifinals: Def. Will Frodigh, 2&1


SEMIFINALS RECAPS

9-Conner Willett (Charles River Country Club) def. 5-Billy Argus (Wollaston Golf Club), 5&4

Conner Willett struck early and often against Billy Argus, winning holes 3, 4 and 5 to build a quick 3-up lead. Argus reduced the deficit with a birdie win on the par-3 6th, but Willett went back up with wins on 8 and 9. The two held steady as they made the turn, and Willett increased his lead to 4 holes with a long birdie putt on 13 (see video below). Willett closed out the match by making par on hole 14.

“I’ve just been hitting the ball well,” Willett said. “We play so fast that out here. Once you get a rhythm going, it’s pretty easy just to keep it going. Once I regained the tee, I could just finish the hole and almost run up to the next tee and hit my shot, so it was easy to keep a rhythm out there.”

 27-Ryan Downes (GreatHorse) def. 2-Will Frodigh (Dedham Country & Polo Club), 2&1

Ryan Downes fended off another player multiple years his senior in the semifinals, defeating Will Frodigh, 21, in 17 holes to secure a spot in the finals. Downes took advantage of Frodigh’s bogey on the 1st hole to gain an early edge, but Frodigh countered with wins on 2 and 3 to take his only lead of the afternoon. Downes won 4 and 5 to get back in front and, after Frodigh won hole 6, took advantage of an errant putt by Frodigh on hole 9 to gain a 1-up lead.

Downes again took advantage of mistakes by Frodigh on holes 12-14, which Frodigh bogeyed. Frodigh won 16 to push the match to a 17th hole, but pars by both on the final hole sealed the win for Downes.

QUARTERFINALS RECAPS

9-Conner Willett (Charles River Country Club) def. 32-Christian Emmerich (Kernwood Country Club), 2 up

Conner Willett defeated Christian Emmerich in a comeback, 2-up win after going down by 3 on the first four holes. Willett subsequently won the 6th hole and controlled the match down the stretch, picking up wins on holes 8, 11, 13 and 15 before Emmerich took one back on 17 in an attempt to push the match to extra holes. On 18, both approach shots ended a comparable distance from the cup, though Willett nearly holed out. Emmerich putted first with a chance to make birdie but sent his ball right of the hole pin high. Willett followed it up with a birdie putt of his own to secure the win.

5-Billy Argus (Wollaston Golf Club) def. 20-Tommy Parker (George Wright Golf Course), 2&1 

Billy Argus trailed by 2 at the turn, but he rallied back to tie it with key par putts on the 10th and 14th holes to even the match and then won it with birdies on the 17th and 18th holes. Parker, 35, who was the oldest player remaining in the field, made his lone birdie on the 8th and won the 9th with a par, but his second-ever run to the Mass Amateur quarterfinals came up short. Argus is playing in his third Mass Amateur, but this is is first appearance in match play.

2-Will Frodigh (Dedham Country & Polo Club) def. 23-Matt Williams (Boston Golf Club), 1 up

Neither Will Frodigh nor Matt Williams budged until hole 7, when Williams took advantage of a bogey by Frodigh to take his only lead of the match. Frodigh quickly erased the lead with a win on 8 and went on to win holes 10 and 11 to put himself up by two holes. Williams took two holes back for himself by winning 12 and 14, but a win on 16 was all Frodigh needed to get back in front. Frodigh nearly won the 18th hole on his third stroke but his ball came just short of the hole. A missed birdie putt by Williams was enough for Frodigh to escape the match.

27-Ryan Downes (GreatHorse) def. 3-Matthew Naumec (GreatHorse), 2 up 

Entering the quarterfinals, Matthew Naumec was the only player who had yet to play a full 18-hole match. He didn’t have to do so during his round against Ryan Downes either, but he found himself on the other end of things as Downes came back to win 2 up. After Naumec took the first two holes, Downes later tied the score with wins on holes 7 and 9. Naumec regained the lead on 12 but a win by Downes on the following hole gave the junior player the lead. Downes controlled the match down the stretch with wins on 15 and 16 and a par on 17 that ended the match a hole early.

Billy Argus exceeded many expectations with his run to the semifinals. He still earned an exemption into next year’s Mass Amateur. (Mass Golf)

WATCH: DAY 4 RECAP

NOTABLE

Here are some other tidbits from Day 4 at the Massachusetts Amateur Championship. 

  • The Mass Amateur champion receives the Massachusetts Cup, a five-year exemption into the Mass Amateur, plus various exemptions to several Mass Golf championships they are eligible to enter. The eight players in the quarterfinals are exempt for the Ouimet Memorial Tournament, which takes place July 27-29 at GreatHorse and Woodland Golf Club.
  • Willett is seeking to become the first Charles River member to win the Mass Amateur since James Driscoll did so in 1996 and 1998.
  • If Downes wins, he’ll be the youngest champion in the history of the event. Both Ted Adams (1939) and James Driscoll (1996) won at age 18.
  • The 2021 Mass Amateur champion, Michael Thorbjornsen, is also from Wellesley and was 19 when he won last year.
  • Patrick Frodigh (2018) was the last person to win the Mass Amateur through qualifying. Willett had to qualify for the event, doing so at Hyannis Golf Course on June 22.

QUOTABLE

  • “Conner and I are friends. I know him pretty well. I played with him the first few days of stroke play, so he played really good then.” – Ryan Downes on his final match in the Mass Amateur.
  • “He drank two Red Bulls this morning. So if you give Ethan [Whitney] two red bulls he’s just going to start vibrating out there. It was definitely nice because I’ve been really tired, and it’s been a lot of golf and it was nice having a little boost of energy almost every single hole.” – Conner Willett on having his close friend Ethan Whitney as a caddy.
  • “I mean, honestly, I had never expected to make it this far. I’ve never really made match play before. Really exceeded all expectations.” – Billy Argus on his takeaways from the championship.
  • “That was tough. I didn’t quite have it but he’s tough to beat. He’s a great player.” – Billy Argus on facing Conner Willett in the quarterfinals.

THE SOCIAL SCENE

 

STAY INFORMED

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