- Golfer Benefits
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts – With three spots to the 122nd U.S. Amateur Championship on the line Thursday, 66 was the lucky number. In a field of 76 players, just three were able to shoot 66 in one of their two rounds at U.S. Amateur Qualifying at Berkshire Hills CC. Those three players also happened to be the three to qualify for the U.S. Am.
Jiri Zuska (Czech Republic), the 69th ranked amateur in the world, finished Thursday’s 36-hole qualifier as Medalist with an impressive score of 10-under par. Massachusetts players Brandon Parker (Worcester CC) and James Imai (George Wright GC) finished at 7-under to claim the remaining spots at The Ridgewood CC (Paramus, NJ) in August.
Over the past three weeks Jiri Zuska has spent a lot of time in Massachusetts. A college teammate (Univ. of Louisville) and summer roommate of Chris Francoeur (Amesbury G&CC), Zuska has spent the summer traveling the U.S. competing in USGA® Qualifiers and elite amateur events. The two competed at U.S. Open Final Qualifying in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this summer before heading east for the Northeast Amateur. Zuska has been staying with the Francoeur family in Amesbury for the past three weeks, so some would say he’s an adopted Mass Golfer.
The trip to New Jersey for the U.S. Amateur will be Zuska’s first and last. Being one of the top ranked amateurs in the world, his eyes are set on the next level.
“It’s actually very first and last time I can actually make it just because I’m going to turn pro next summer. but I’m just really excited that’s all I can really say,” said Zuska.
Getting to a score of 10-under over two rounds requires fine play for the entire 36 holes, but Zuska credited his play on the par 5s as the difference.
“I played the par-5s in 8-under and then just made a couple a couple more birdies on par 4s.”
For Brandon Parker (Worcester CC) it’s been over a decade since he last teed it up in a U.S. Amateur Championship. Thanks to a sizzling-hot 66 in his final round, Parker will make his long-awaited return to one of golf’s greatest amateur championships.
“It’s awesome, it’s such a long day, we’ve been out here 10-plus hours, and it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
On a day where Parker would make 13 birdies, many of them came on the same holes. In both the morning and afternoon rounds, Parker carded circles on 2, 4, 10, 11 and 17.
Talking about the rare feat, Parker said, “I tend to move the ball right-to-left so there’s a few more I just felt pretty comfortable on the tee shot. Honestly I just stayed disciplined with a few of them. So like [holes] two and four especially, you really don’t want to go up to the pin because the greens are so severe. So I played it to the front of the green and chipped up to make birdie in both rounds.”
Normally Parker is a scoreboard watcher, but after his opening round he decided to attack a little differently today. Knowing that there were birdies to be had, he just concentrated on getting aggressive.
“I just I saw some low scores out there in the morning. I figured I might as well just make as many birdies that I can and not get too hung up on any different number. I made a bomb on 17 that I wasn’t expecting to go in and had a five footer that I knocked down for birdie on 18.”
James Imai (George Wright GC) hasn’t been playing his best golf this summer, but you would have never known it on Thursday. In the morning, Imai set the pace for the field with an opening round 66 that raised eyebrows all around the golf course. But carrying the weight of the top spot can be difficult, and over the opening nine holes of the afternoon round, Imai carded three bogeys and no birdies. On the 10th tee, Imai gathered himself and delivered a missile of a tee shot that set up a much needed birdie to start his final nine holes.
“I’m just really happy,” Imai said. “The year has been tough for my game, and right now I’m kind of going, I wouldn’t say a swing change, but really doing some good improvements long term.”
The changes seemed to work, especially over the final five holes. Two birdies and a closing eagle proved to be just enough to get Imai back into the U.S. Amateur, an event he competed in last year at Oakmont CC.
“It’s such a long day,” he said. “36 holes, is a lot of golf and I [have] plenty of experience, it’s not over until 18. Literally that’s how it played out today. But you have so much golf you just have to take it a shot at a time.” Speaking about the closing stretch, he added, “I checked the leaderboard on 13th or 14th Tee. I probably shouldn’t have, but I just did it anyway. I thought five or six would at least give me a chance.”
There isn’t a more exciting way to advance than knocking home an eagle putt on the 18th hole.
The three will now head to The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey, in August to compete in the 122nd U.S. Amateur Championship.
QUALIFIERS (Names; Cities)
Jiri Zuska (Czech Republic); (-10) 68, 66
Brandon Parker (Worcester, MA); (-7) 71, 66
James Imai (Brookline, MA); (-7) 66, 71
ALTERNATES (In Order)
Chris Francoeur (Amesbury, MA); (-6) 70, 68
Chris Ruggiero (Greenwich, CT); (-5) 72, 67
The U.S. Amateur was first contested in 1895, making it the oldest USGA championship. The championship was formed after two clubs, Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island and St. Andrew’s Golf Club in New York, each held their own tournament to determine a national amateur champion — leading to two different champions and widespread calls for a unified contest.
Representatives from both clubs, as well as The Country Club, Chicago Golf Club and New York’s Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, met soon thereafter to form a new association for golf in the United States. The USGA was founded in December of 1894 with the intent to serve as the governing body of all U.S. golf clubs, which included running national championships and establishing universal rules.
Charles Blair Macdonald became the first U.S. Amateur Champion the following year. Other notable champions include Bob Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
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