- Golfer Benefits
AUBURNDALE, Massachusetts – The Ouimet Memorial Tournament celebrated its 55th playing this year, and three new players have affixed their names as champions of one of the most storied golf championships in Massachusetts. As the 54-hole stroke play championship shifted from GreatHorse, the first Western Mass course to host the tournament, to its annual finish at Woodland Golf Club, the winners separated themselves early Friday.
When the dust settled, 16-year-old Longmeadow native Ryan Downes (GreatHorse) became the youngest-ever winner the Championship Division of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament, taking home the title by five strokes. In the women’s division, Harvard University sophomore Catie Schernecker (The Country Club) pulled away from the lead group with a 1-under 70, giving the reigning Mass Women’s Amateur champion another victory. And in the Lowery Division (Seniors 55+), Keith Smith (Franklin Country Club) finally emerged victorious after a string of runner-up finishes.
The championship, which was first contested in 1968, is named after longtime Woodland Golf Club member Francis Ouimet.
In third grade, Ryan Downes put together a book/movie report presentation on “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, which tells the story of Francis Ouimet’s historic victory at the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline.
About eight years later, it only seems fitting that his first Mass Golf championship victory happened to be an event named after the legendary Ouimet, doing so by taking down some of the top amateurs talent in the state
“It was definitely good motivation to go win this tournament,” Downes said. “I have watched ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’ a bunch of times, so it was a fun project.”
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The junior at Longmeadow High School is certainly proving to be quite the prodigy. After finishing runner-up at the Mass Amateur two weeks prior, Downes has been anything but discouraged. He finished 4th in the Jordan Spieth Invitational hosted by the American Junior Golf Association with all three rounds under-par, and this week entered with confidence with the first two rounds of the Ouimet at his home club.
Taking a one-stroke lead into Friday, Downes said he felt confident sleeping on the lead and got an early boost with a birdie on the opening hole, followed by another on the 5th and another on the 9th to make the turn at 6-under total. While he said not a lot of tee shots fit his eye, his short game continued to work well, and it carried him the rest of the way.
After finishing with a double-bogey last year, Downes also got some redemption on the final stretch, making an eight-footer for par on the 16th, followed by a birdie on the 17th that just about clinched it for the teenage phenom.
“That was a little boost coming down 18,” Downes said. “It’s such a good feeling — first time leading after two rounds and then winning — so it was a good experience.”
As for rising above another talented field, Downes again leaned on his junior experiences.
“I played a lot against older kids most of my life, and I feel comfortable around them so it’s kind of relaxing,” he said.
After his win, Downes will compete in the 2022 Junior PGA Championships at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Palos Park, Illinois. Certain to be a highly-touted recruit, Downes said the next few weeks will be more than just playing golf.
“I try not to think ahead too far, but I’m definitely going to look at some colleges soon, take a few visits — preferably down south — but we’ll see how everything turns out,” he said.
Through 27 holes this week, three-time Ouimet champion Matt Parziale (2009, 2013, 2017) was worried about even making the cut. After opening with a 3-over 75 on Wednesday, Parziale was 2-over on his front nine Thursday. But then he lit up the back nine with six birdies to shoot 69 and move back to even-par for the championship. On Friday, Parziale made birdie on the 9th and 16th en route to a bogey-free 2-under 69 that was good enough for second place. Parziale will now rest up for the U.S. Amateur Championship, which begins August 15 at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. He’ll be joined by Christian Emmerich (Kernwood Country Club), who also shot 2-under on Friday to finish T9.
Joe Harney (Charles River Country Club) shot even-par 71 to earn solo third place, while Lafayette standout Raymond Dennehy (Oak Hill Country Club) shot 1-under 70 on Friday to earn T4, his best finish in a Mass Golf event. Christopher Bornhorst (Brae Burn Country Club) shot 74 to match Dennehy and round out the top five at even-par for the championship.
Catie Schernecker said her game has been a little up and down this summer. But during this week’s Ouimet Memorial Tournament, she was the model of consistency, shooting a pair of 77s in the opening round.
Moving to Woodland on Friday, where her father and caddie Fred Schernecker was once a member, Schernecker’s picked the right targets all day long, helping her separate from pack, as she was the only golfer to shoot under-par, with a 1-under 70 that included three birdies. That gave her a three-stroke margin of victory over Megan Buck (Thorny Lea Golf Club) and Sana Tufail (Southborough Golf Club).
“I actually made some adjustments early this week and saw them fall into place, so it felt really good to see things come together scoring-wise today,” Schernecker said. “The greens here are a little less dramatic so that helped. As of this week I play a fade so the fades were actually fading today which helped.
“I think I was close to this all week, it just clicked a little bit more today.”
The Women’s Division was added to this event in 2004. With this win, Schernecker joins a short list of women as the only players to win both the Ouimet Memorial Tournament and the Mass Women’s Amateur Championship (Pam Kuong and Jacquelyn Eleey being the others). LPGA pro Megan Khang won the Ouimet as a junior golfer back in 2011 and 2012.
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Schernecker said this win gives her some momentum heading into her title defense at the Mass Women’s Amateur in a couple weeks at Orchards Golf Club.
“It feels good to be under-par. It’s been a while,” Schernecker said. “Nothing feels that different. Hopefully the things I changed early this week will have me heading in the right direction, so I’m just going to keep grinding.”
And to really make the significance of day even more heightened, Schernecker had to rush out of Woodland after accepting the trophy as she had a club championship qualifying round to play at The Country Club.
Tufail, who is originally from Abu Dhabi and used to play for Old Dominion University, kept pace for a while Friday as she stood at 1-under through the first 14 holes. However, a three-putt bogey on the par-3 15th, followed by a bogey on the closing hole kept her from rallying past Schernecker. Buck was also 1-under on the front nine but couldn’t find a birdie down the stretch to rally back into contention.
Keith Smith is runner-up no more in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament. After a staggering four consecutive years of finishing second place in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament, Smith finally broke through with his best round yet at Woodland Golf Club. Smith shot 5-under 66 in the closing round on the strength of five birdies on the front nine (31) and adding two more on the 10th and 11th to run away with a four-stroke victory over Steve Tasho (Thorny Lea Golf Club), his four-ball playing partner and the defending champion.
“There’s a long history with this event, so to have my name associated with it, it’s rewarding,” said Smith, the reigning Mass Golf George M. Cohen Senior Player of the Year.
While Smith said his game, specifically his putting, wasn’t where he wanted it to be through the first two rounds, it didn’t stop him from adding to a spectacular year-plus of golf. This victory follows his wins at the Senior Four-Ball and Mass Senior Amateur in 2021. Smith also qualified for match play last year at the U.S. Senior Amateur and earlier this month played in the British Senior Amateur.
Smith’s strong play was certainly on display Friday as he was 7-under through 11 holes, thanks to “a couple bombs that I wouldn’t necessarily make.”
🚨 59 WATCH 🚨
Keith Smith now 7-under thru 11, and trying to run away with the Lowery Division Title. #MassGolf
Leaderboard: https://t.co/NIWirgde75 pic.twitter.com/akzGOQsBaa
— Mass Golf (@PlayMassGolf) July 29, 2022
Unlike years past when Smith was pretty far out entering the final round, he entered the day two back of Tasho and one behind Godek, to put him in striking distance. With the three paired together, Smith said it was less of a guessing game on where everybody else stood.
“You rarely get to play with all the people that are in it,” Smith said. “We could have stumbled upon ourselves so being able to actually see the people that you’re competing against is good. Dean [Godek] and Steve are wonderful people.”
Frank Vana, the 7-time winner of the event (5 Championship, 2 Lowery), also shot 66 on Friday, shooting a bogey-free 3-under on the back nine to finish solo third place, five off the lead. Godek finished fourth place at 6-over total to round out his debut in the championship.
Every year, it seems like there’s something different to marvel at when the final round of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament is played at Woodland Golf Club.
The club, one of Donald Ross’ earliest designs, is two years removed from a $1.2 renovation project that included filling and redesigning numerous bunkers, changing the designs of several holes, including 2, 8, 14 and 15, and opening the front entrances on a number of fairways to make the course more playable.
But the newest addition for this year’s players were a new sets of back tees, fittingly dubbed the “Ouimet Tees” to recognize the home come course of Francis Ouimet, the Brookline native who won the 1913 U.S. Open as an amateur. These tees were located on holes 10, 11, and 14, with an additional marker placed on the 12th. Those playing from those tees are considered to be playing the Ouimet Course, and the goal is to have them on all back tees soon. The 11th now plays as a 603-yard par-5, followed by the 12th, which typically plays to a par-5 for members, but in the Championship Division it’s a 477-yard par-4.
“That stretch now from holes 8-15 is as good as anything you’ll find anywhere,” said Ted Griffin, Woodland’s head golf professional. ” A golf course like this is surrounded by everything, but [golf course architect] Tyler Rae did a good job finding spots to make it longer.”
Check out the video below to hear more from Tyler Rae, who oversaw some of Woodland’s latest renovations.
If anybody can appreciate playing the final round of the Ouimet at Woodland, it’s Mark Vassalotti (Barnstable Golf).
Growing up on the 17th tee at Woodland, Vassalotti and his brother used to sneak onto the course at night with three clubs in hand, run through the sprinklers, hunt for golf balls and play a few holes. Eventually, Vassalotti went on to become a caddie at Woodland, playing the course from time to time.
“It was just a great time in our lives,” said Vassalotti, now 64. “I loved caddying, I absolutely loved it.”
Though he grew up near such a prestigious club, Vassalotti wasn’t a competitive golfer growing up. In fact, he didn’t begin playing in state amateur events until he turned 55. Last year, he finally locked up his first spot in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament by finishing T5 in the New England Senior Amateur.
Playing in the Ouimet Memorial Tournament for the first time this week, Vassalotti only had one thing in mind during the first two days at GreatHorse. “I just kept saying, ‘I have to get to Woodland’, and I did so that was a bonus,” Vassalotti said.
He succeeded by shooting 79-76 at GreatHorse to move into the top 12 that made the cut in the Lowery Division. Playing the course for the first time in about 20 years, Vassalotti made birdie on the opening hole and then another on the fourth, ultimately shooting 6-over 77 to finish T10. Even with some changes in the past two decades, Vassalotti said he was thrilled that the course still plays how he remembers it.
“The bones of the course are still the same as when I grew up playing,” he said.
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