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CUMBERLAND, Maine – Team Massachusetts headed up to Val Halla Golf Course with a clear goal in mind: the boys and girls wanted to win the team championships. Now, they can consider that goal done and then some. The Mass Golf Boys ran away with team division honors shooting a 3-round total of 5-under-par as a team to beat the next closest finisher (Connecticut) by 15 strokes.
Also, the Mass Golf Girls pulled away on Tuesday shooting 10-over-par to give themselves a 3-round score of 34-over-par and a 12 stroke margin of victory over second-place Rhode Island.
In addition to the team victories, one Mass Golfer also nabbed an individual honor. Annie Dai (MIAA) and MacKenzie Whitney (Oak Hill Country Club) both shot the low 54-hole total of 230 and actually had to square off against each other in a playoff in which Dai prevailed to win the individual girls championship. Colin Spencer (Cummaquid Golf Club) and John Broderick (Dedham Country & Polo Club) finished in 2nd and 3rd place, respectively, in the boys individual division.
John Broderick said it best on Tuesday.
“A Mass Golf sweep is always great. That’s going to make a good headline,” he said with a laugh. “That’s really exciting and I don’t know if it’s ever happened before, but it’s super exciting to win and see the girls do it too.”
Indeed it has never happened before that the boys and girls teams from the same state both won in the same year. The girls division was introduced in 2019 and that year, the Rhode Island girls won while the Connecticut boys earned a victory. After the event did not occur in 2020, the Mass teams just wrote their own chapter of history.
For the boys, they came out of the gates firing on Monday to establish themselves as the team to beat in the boys field. Between Colin Spencer tying the Val Halla course record, Weston Jones shooting 6-under 65 in his second round, and John Broderick’s all-around solid play, the boys shot 18-under to build a 22-stroke lead over the next closest team in Connecticut.
On Tuesday, the team wasn’t as sharp, but they benefited from the lead they had already built to earn a comfortable victory. Spencer again led the charge shooting 1-under 70 and Ryan Downes (GreatHorse) stepped up shooting a score of 1-over 72, the second-best mark of the round for the team.
“It’s awesome,” Spencer said. “We played really well the first 36 holes and kind of gave ourselves a little bit of a cushion which is always good. We didn’t have our best stuff today, but we were able to win. I had a blast and I can’t wait for next year.”
Downes may be the Mass Golf boys youngest male competitor at age 15, but he came up big in his final round and kept the team in a stable position at the top of the leaderboard.
“I putted pretty poorly the first two days, but I actually hit the ball pretty well,” Downes said. “I was kind of a little bit of flip-flop today, I putted a little better, but I didn’t hit the ball as well. So it was kind of inconsistent and not what I was exactly looking for, but it feels good because my score counted all three days.”
It’s been four years since the Massachusetts boys have won the New England Junior Amateur Championship, so to finally do so again and end a 2-year winning streak from Connecticut is a good feeling for the Bay State boys.
“It’s awesome,” Broderick said. “All of us are really good players and I think we all knew coming in that we could definitely beat anyone. Team Connecticut was probably our biggest rival, but we knew we could beat them. Then, to all play well and do it is pretty awesome.”
Perhaps even more satisfying than the win is just how well-rounded the play out on the links was. There were contributions up and down the roster across all three rounds of play. Now, the boys can finally call themselves champions once again.
“It was awesome,” Spencer said. “This is probably one of the most fun tournaments I’ve ever been a part of. The practice round was great where we played in the seven-some and all played together. We all went together in the van, stayed in the same hotel, it was just awesome.”
The team had fun and they also made their own bit of history along the way too.
At the start of action on Tuesday, it looked like the girls team division was going to come down to the wire. Massachusetts led, but they were only two strokes up on Rhode Island and five strokes ahead of New Hampshire. Things changed quickly and by the time the final round had concluded, the girls ran away for a 12-stroke victory.
On Monday, Annie Dai (MIAA) had stated that someone would need to step up if the girls wanted to win and she herself came up strong to her own word. The 15-year-old native of Longmeadow shot 3-over-par 74, her best mark of the week, to finish as the low scorer for her team.
“On the first few holes I was feeling really confident because my drives were a lot more consistent and I was hitting a lot more greens, then I made a few birdie putts,” Dai said. “Towards the end, I started three-putting and I think I ended up with five three-putts, but it still ended pretty well with my score.”
MacKenzie Whitney kept up her rock-solid performance for a third consecutive round. Whitney shot 7-over 78, the same score she posted in the first round, to once again help her team.
All three girls Whitney, Dai, and Keira Joshi all played in the New England Junior for the first time. Despite the lack of experience, it did not take long for them to build camaraderie and capture the first-ever team championship at the event for the Mass girls.
“It was really cool,” Joshi said. “Getting to be here is definitely fun. I’m super proud of Annie and MacKenzie, I was checking the leaderboard all day and they were 1 and 2, I was thinking go get them. It’s definitely fun.”
Joshi was supportive of her two teammates battling it out at the top of the leaderboard and she’s happy to now call them friends.
“I know both of them, obviously girls golf is a small world,” Joshi said. “We’re all friends going into this, but it’s definitely been a fun experience on the bus, in the hotel, and meeting the girls from the other states. I’ve definitely made some new friends.”
It wasn’t as certain as the boys start-to-finish victory, but the girls finished very strong and now have a major reason to be proud.
“It kind of feels unreal because I know the girls were very tight coming into this,” Dai said. “The boys were way ahead, but we had some tough competition and I really wasn’t trying to look at the leaderboard in the middle to know because I knew that I would stress myself out. So, I just played until the last hole and then checked.”
Now that it’s all said and done, all three girls have reason to smile.
As mentioned, Annie Dai stepped up her game on Tuesday and her efforts earned her the distinction of individual girls champion. Dai finished ahead of the other 17 girls in the field to pick up the personal honor in addition to her team victory.
It didn’t come without drama as she had to square off against her own teammate in Whitney to earn the win.
“It was weird because we had been on the same team and I knew that MacKenzie could have done better because she had a blow-up hole,” Dai said. The dynamic of the playoff was certainly odd, but both girls put their best foot forward to try and win.
“I feel kind of bad,” Dai said with a laugh after winning on the third hole of the playoff. “It was strange competing against each other when we came here together, but it was really fun to all play well.”
Even if she had to go through her teammate to win, Dai did still grow closer with both Whitney and Joshi over the course of the event.
“I didn’t know them that well,” Dai said.”Right before coming here, I’d just met Keira in another competition or tournament, then we found out we were coming here together and we started talking more. When we got here we knew each other and with MacKenzie, I’d played with her a couple of times already. It was a lot of fun.”
The boys individual champion was awarded to Connecticut’s Ben James. James, the No. 6 junior golfer in the world according to the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) rankings, shot under par in all three rounds on his way to winning the individual honor for a third-straight year.
“That achievement means so much to me,” James said. “This event, it’s my fourth time being here and I love our coach. We’re really good friends and with all of my friends just being here too it means a lot to win this event.”
James is the first-ever three-time winner of the individual honor in the New England Junior Amateur, but he was just happy to share another ride in the competition with his fellow Connecticut friends.
“It was awesome,” James said. “We did our best with the COVID restrictions. We didn’t have too many, but we just had a lot of fun at the pool and we enjoyed ourselves. It was nice to spend some time with the girls too going out to get some ice cream. It was really fun.”
With three individual victories and two team wins in four years, James undoubtedly left his mark on the New England Junior.
“It’s been a battle every year with me and the other competitors,” he said. “It’s just been awesome to kind of get it altogether three consecutive times. I’ve played pretty well in all of them and I’m just happy to win my last one.”
2 – Colin Spencer (Cummaquid Golf Club); 70-64-70-204
3 – John Broderick (Dedham Country & Polo Club); 67-68-76-211
7 – Joey Lenane (Kohr Golf Center); 73-69-73-215
8 – Ryan Downes (Great Horse); 73-72-72-217
T13 – Ethan Whitney (Oak Hill Country Club); 71-79-77-227
T16 – Daniel Brooks (Dudley Hill Golf Club); 75-74-79-228
T1 – Annie Dai (MIAA); 78-78-74-230*
T1 – MacKenzie Whitney (Oak Hill Country Club); 78-74-74-230
9 – Keira Joshi (Nashawtuc Country Club); 78-84-82-244
*Won individual girls division in playoff
The site of the offices for the Maine State Golf Association doubled as the host of the 2021 New England Junior Amateur Championship. Located in Cumberland, Maine, the course is an ideal site for large, interstate tournament field.
The 18-hole track plays to a par-72 and the championship tees stretch back to 6,595 yards with a 71.5 course rating and a slope of 130. The boys and girls certainly did not take long to get acclimated, even though Sunday’s practice round was the first time all the Massachusetts players had ever been to the course.
“It’s super straightforward,” MacKenzie Whitney said of the course. “There aren’t really too many tricky shots you have to do. You just hit it straight and everything seems to work. Most of the par-4’s are the exact same, straight and then wedge in, two-putt for par.”
The design of Val Halla is simple, but the players still need to bring their best game with them to the course.
“You have to hit it well,” John Broderick said. “Off the tee, if you’re not hitting it, you’re going to have some issues. There’s a lot of wedge opportunities, but you still have to hit it close. These greens are not crazy fast, but they can be firm in parts. You have to be in the right parts, some greens have a lot of break on them.”
Weston Jones shared a similar sentiment regarding the course.
“It’s a good course,” Jones said. “It’s short, but it’s not easy. You still got to hit some really good tee shots, some really good approaches, and then making putts is not an easy task out here. It’s difficult, which is great.”
The low scores help, but the Massachusetts players have certainly enjoyed their time they’ve spent at Val Halla. The crew played in a seven-some for the practice round on Sunday and that certainly helped them to gain some familiarity and comfort with their surroundings all while having some more fun.
“This has been an awesome experience,” Colin Spencer said. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect coming in, but it’s fun. You can obviously make a lot of birdies which is just fun. It’s nice to change it up a little bit, I’ve been at a lot of tough courses, so it’s nice to play a course where you can make a bunch of birdies.”