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AUBURNDALE, Massachusetts – The 54th Ouimet Memorial Tournament saw a repeat champion in the Championship Division for the first time since Frank Vana, Jr. did so in 2001-2002. Chris Francoeur (Amesbury Golf & Country Club) posted rounds of 67-69-71 on his way to shooting a three-day total of 4-under-par 207 and earning his second consecutive title.
In the Women’s Division, Molly Smith (Vesper Country Club) grabbed hold of the lead in the second round and never looked back. Smith shot 3-under 216 to win the division by a commanding 10 strokes. The Lowery Division belonged to Steven Tasho (Thorny Lea Golf Club) who shot 9-over 220 to win the division for the second time in three years.
This year, the first two days of the Ouimet were held at Charles River Country Club in Newton. As is customary, the action shifted over to Woodland Golf Club for day three. Woodland is the first club Francis Ouimet held a membership at in his illustrious golf career.
Chris Francoeur controlled the Championship Division for the duration of the three days. He led after each round and on Friday, he put an exclamation point on his round with his shot on hole 15 (par-3, 225 yards). Francoeur pulled his tee shot left of the green and found himself pin high, though sitting in thick rough.
The Louisville graduate student used a wedge and was able to chip in for a birdie that all but sealed his fate as back-to-back champion. “It was kind of a tough shot,” Francoeur said. “My caddie just told me give yourself a look at par and it rolled in. It’s a lucky shot, but I’ll take it, doesn’t matter how it goes in.”
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The shot moved Francoeur to 5-under for the tournament and put him three strokes ahead of Dillon Brown (Country Club of Halifax). After the big shot, Brown did his best to keep things interesting. He birdied on 16 to pick the stroke back up, but both competitors bogeyed the 17th hole. That allowed Francoeur to go into 18 knowing he just had to play things safely.
“We both hit pretty good tee shots and when the ball landed on the green I thought he made it,” Francoeur said. “So, after I saw his trickle by the hole, I said just give yourself an uphill putt at birdie. That’s what I did, so I was happy I was able to pull that off.”
Francoeur will be playing in the Rhode Island Amateur next week and then he will head off to the University of Louisville shortly thereafter, so the Ouimet marked his final Mass Golf event of the summer. Francoeur actually overcame rough starts to all three of his rounds.
On Wednesday, he had a double bogey on his third hole of the day. Thursday he started out going 3-over on his first five holes, then on Friday he was 1-over at the turn. However, each time he was able to respond and he posted scores of par or lower for all three rounds. He was the only person in the division to do so.
“Sometimes you get off to a shaky start one round, but to have it happen all three days, it’s kind of weird,” Francoeur said. “I was really happy I was able to battle back every day. My putter really bailed me out. I didn’t hit the ball great, so to shoot even, I was pretty happy with that score. I thought it was playing pretty tough out here today. It was windy, there were some tough pins, but my short game definitely helped me out.”
In total, Francoeur had three birdies for his last round to shoot an even par-71, but more importantly, he’s now a back-to-back champion. “Winning this back-to-back years, let alone even one year, it’s something really special,” Francoeur said. “I’m really happy I was able to pull it off.”
The aforementioned Brown finished behind Francoeur and tied for second place with Kevin Gately (Harmon Golf). Gately shot 1-under-par 69 on Friday as he wrapped up with a three day total of 209.
There was perhaps no one more dominant in this year’s Ouimet than Molly Smith. The 16-year-old got off to a slow start on Monday when she shot 3-over 77 and was trailing behind leader Shannon Johnson. However, Smith flipped the switch on Thursday and never looked back. She birdied 7 of her first 9 holes and shot 6-under par for the round. Friday, she held steady shooting an even par-71.
“It’s pretty exciting because I really wanted to win this event,” Smith said. “I didn’t perform well last year. I played my rounds here last year anticipating coming back. So, I learned a lot and brought it to today.”
Smith had a fairly clean round on Friday with two bogeys and two birdies, but the real story is how she turned things around after her opening round. After Wednesday, Smith spent a significant amount of time out on the putting green trying to iron some things out ahead of her next round.
“I didn’t really putt good that first day and didn’t really hit many good shots at all,” Smith said. “It was definitely a very frustrating round, but I spent like an hour, hour and a half on the putting green that night. It definitely helped. I kind of swung not so great, very good, and then not so great again, but I think I definitely putted much better today. That’s kind of where those score discrepancies come from.
Smith has had a busy summer of golf. She won the Mixed Four-Ball for the Stone Cup with her father Phil back in May, she competed in the US Girls’ Junior Amateur in July, and next week she will be teeing it up at the US Women’s Amateur in New York. The win on Friday will give her some positive momentum heading into that event.
“I’m very, very excited for that,” Smith said. “I definitely think coming off this tournament, it gives me a little bit of momentum knowing that I can make a lot of birdies and play pretty good. I’m definitely very excited and looking forward to that.”
Smith beat out a talented field by ten strokes and posted impressive rounds on a pair of difficult golf courses. The Women’s Amateur will be a different kind of challenge, but she’s happy with how things are trending.
“I’ve been playing pretty good all summer,” Smith said. “I sort of knew going in that if I can just sort of stick to the game plan I had and just clean up a few things, get a few breaks here and there, I should be in good shape. It’s definitely nice to sort of confirm that my game is in the right direction.”
Shannon Johnson (Thorny Lea Golf Club) shot 75-75-76 for a three day total of 7-over-par 226 and solo possession of second place. Christine Mandile (Winchester Country Club) finished in third shooting 227.
The Lowery Division was closely contested for much of the week, but Steven Tasho (Thorny Lea Golf Club) eventually separated himself from the pack. The 2020 Mass Senior Amateur runner-up shot a three day total of 9-over-par 220 to win the division by 5 strokes. He outlasted Keith Smith (Franklin Country Club), whom Tasho won the Senior Four-Ball Championship with back in June. John Hadges (Thorny Lea Golf Club) was T2 with Smith.
Tasho won the Lowery previously in 2019.
“It means a lot,” Tasho said. “I won it two years ago and last year I had a bad first two days and I missed the cut. That was sort of burning at me the whole year. I wanted to have a chance to come back and sort of redeem myself a little. It’s just a great event. I’m fortunate to win it twice as a senior and I had two runner-ups as a regular one, so it means a lot. It’s a great event.”
The Woodland Course played tough on Friday, but Tasho was able to score back-to-back birdies on the 13th and 14th holes as he separated himself from the rest of the field. As Tasho described it, his birdie on 14 was actually a save after a poor initial shot.
“I hit a bad drive [on 14],” he said. “I hit it left over the little ditch there. I had 135 yards and I punched a 5-iron to about six-feet right of the hole. That was probably my best shot of the day at the time.”
Like Smith and Francoeur, Tasho has had a successful summer. In addition to winning the Four-Ball with Keith Smith, he was runner-up this week at the Father-Son Tournament at Renaissance in Haverhill.
“That was fun,” Tasho said. “We had a good time out there, lost in a playoff, but that sort of got me ready for this week. Having to make some key shots and make some putts. So far, the summer has been good. I’m looking for something good to happen next Tuesday at the U.S. Senior Amateur qualifier.”
If Tasho can keep swinging the way he has been, he will certainly find himself in contention.
Last year, just before hosting the annual final day of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament, Woodland Golf Club underwent a number of renovations on their course. The club worked with Delaware golf architect Tyler Rae on making the changes to enhance their course.
Between March 1 and July 1 last year, they filled and redesigned numerous bunkers, removed several other bunkers behind holes, changed the designs of several holes including 2, 8, 14 and 15, and they also opened up the front entrances on a number of fairways to make the course more playable.
Now one year removed from the changes, the course has held up well. “I think the bunkers have come in pretty nice,” Chris Donadio, Woodland’s Head Superintendent said. “They’re lot more work than the bunkers we had previously, but with that being said, they don’t wash out as much. It’s kind of the tradeoff cutting grass more, but the raking and the maintenance on that end is a little bit better.”
Donadio praised Rae for the work he did on the course as his name continues to rise in the golf course architecture landscape.
“We worked together every day he was here,” Donadio said. “It was just a great experience because he was in the bulldozer, he was on the golf course, so we were able to kind of make changes and tweaks as the project went along. It wasn’t just a sketch on a piece of paper and here’s your plan. That was really fun to kind of see some of the holes transform as he saw people golfing and how things played out on the golf course.”
Ted Griffin, the Head Golf Professional at Woodland, agreed with Donadio that the club was lucky to bring in Rae when they did for the project.
“I said this in a letter to the membership when we got him and he came aboard, I thought we were getting him at the right time,” Griffin said. “He’s very accommodating when it comes to ideas, he accepts different opinions, so it was great. He’s smart and a very bright guy. He wants to give the members what they want, but he knows what the golf course needs to make it better or different. There’s kind of a tricky balance in there and he’s great at it.”
With over a year in the books since the renovations finished, the changes have been met with rave reviews from the membership.
“We’ve always been fortunate because it’s [the course] always been in pretty good shape, but people that come now and play who may not have played for a while look at the golf course and say, ‘Wow what a great addition,'” Griffin said. “The bunkers make the golf course look so much different. It plays harder, it’s more fun, and it’s made a big impact I think.”
Donadio agreed that the changes have been good for the club, members, and the actual golf being played out on the course.
“The greens expansions we did are really knitting in well and we’re able to use some new complications that we haven’t had in the past,” Donadio said. “The bunkers are playing good, obviously it’s been incredibly wet, so it’s a different challenge at this point, but I think the enthusiasm around the club has just been up since the renovation.”
Woodland isn’t finished either. There are plans in place to put in some new tees, both shorter and longer, on a number of the holes. As the changes continue to roll on, the condition of an already tremendous course should only keep improving.