- Golfer Benefits
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts – Herbie Aikens and Robbie Keyes have a mile-high feeling after qualifying for the 123th U.S. Amateur Championship on Wednesday at Berkshire Hills Country Club. And it’s not just because they were playing in the mountains.
At various points in the past few years, both have had doubts about their games and questioned their future with competitive golf. But both found a spark on Wednesday and were overwhelmed after they each earned a spot in this year’s U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in the Greater Denver area.
Aikens, a 41-year-old member Kingston resident and member of Old Sandwich Golf Club, will make his first U.S. Amateur appearance since 2011. His spectacular rounds of 66 and 68 carried him to medalist honors with a 10-under-par total of 134. Keyes, a former Division III New York University golfer from Louisville, Kentucky, had to battle through four holes of a 3-for-1 playoff with Wellesley’s John Broderick (Dedham Country & Polo Club) and Vermont’s Jared Nelson, the reining New England Amateur champion. Still, he prevailed with a birdie putt on the 4th playoff hole, the 40th of the day.
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For the past three years, Aikens said the joy in his game was just about gone. As a family man and business owner (President of Lighthouse Electrical Contracting, Inc), life will do that to you. But the passion to play well still burned for Aikens, a past state Mid-Amateur and Public Links champion, as well as USGA qualifier. It just wasn’t showing up in his individual results.
“I was in a dark place with golf…I didn’t know if I could play decently anymore,” said Aikens after his play Wednesday. “It was a lot of bad shots in three years. I saw things I haven’t before, and it’s been a lot to work through that.”
The turning point a few months ago when he sat down with his wife at a bar and Boston and talked through things. They decided it would be beneficial to spend a few days with his instructor Andrew Park in Florida, who worked with Aikens for three days in May.
“He’s always been my North Star when it comes to golf,” Aikens said of Park. “I came home completely different with something to work on each day. I found out it wasn’t just me. I could fix the problems in my game.”
Playing with renewed spirt, Aikens turned heads when he shot a 32 on his opening nine with four birdies and an eagle on the 18th en route to a 6-under 66.
Both Broderick and Nelson had the lead for most of the afternoon round, as Broderick shot a competitive course record (back tees) of 64 in the morning, and at one point, he and Nelson sat at 10-under. Aikens made birdie on holes 1 and 4 but seemed to be stuck neutral. But when those guys dropped back to the pack, Aikens answered the call. His birdies on holes 10 and 16 gave him the solo lead at 10-under, and he stepped to the 18th with Broderick, Keyes and Nelson all in at 9-under.
Until that point, Aikens hadn’t looked at his score since the turn, but seeing he was in front with a hole to go, he didn’t want to let up. He didn’t make it easy, though, as he found the right rough off the tee with his driver, and hit his third into a greenside bunker, forcing him to get up and down to maintain his lead. Playing from the back lip, Aikens got it to release nicely to about five feet. And with the nerve of a veteran, he sank the par putt and pumped his fist twice, celebrating what he previously wasn’t sure was possible anymore.
“I’m beyond excited,” said Aikens, who played the last 22 holes bogey-free. “This was not something I was expecting. I always believe I can play well, and today it just really clicked. I thought I might be rusty, but to swing smooth, make a few shots and stay within was a lot of fun. I was feeling happy regardless if I got in or not.”
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Another player uncertain of his future entering Wednesday was Robbie Keyes. The 24-year-old NYU graduate had also contemplated holding back on his competitive golf pursuits prior to this season. But while holding the certificate that signifies his first U.S. Amateur birth, he was holding back tears instead.
“It’s been quite the journey coming from Division III, then working a job in the city not playing much golf, then getting a new job in Kentucky and doubt if I’d ever be good ever,” said Keyes, who shot 83 at U.S. Open Local Qualifying earlier this year. “Today just shows that for me maybe the best is yet to come.”
Keyes certainly had to hold his nerves against two of New England’s best, one (Nelson) a former UConn standout, and another (Broderick) a rising star at Vanderbilt. Before the playoff, he put himself in contention with a difficult 15-footer to get to 9-under on the 35th hole of the day. After hitting to the far left side of the uphill 9th, he nearly got his birdie bid to go, which would have made a playoff for the two spots unnecessary.
“That two hours or so waiting for that playoff was miserable,” Keyes said.
Fortunately for Keyes, he entered the playoff ready. Nelson was eliminated on the first after hitting his drive out of bounds on the left on the par-4 1st, as Keyes and Broderick both got in for par. After making matching pars on the 5th and again on the 1st, Keyes finally struck the decisive blow. His shot on the par-3 5th landed about 15 feet pin high right and was just outside of Broderick’s shot below the hole. But he put the pressure on by stepping up confidently and sinking the birdie putt, which Broderick was unable to counter.
“It felt good, I felt confident over that one,” Keyes said of the final putt. “I felt like I had a good guideline, but I’m just so glad I came out on top. It was a lot of deep breathing and just staying in the moment.”
And now the “cherry” on top is both will be competing with the world’s best amateurs in Colorado from August 15-20.
Mass Golf will host another U.S. Amateur qualifier on July 24 at Nashawtuc Country Club in Concord.
QUALIFIERS (Names; Cities)
Herbie Aikens (Kingston, MA); (-10) 66, 68
*Robbie Keyes (Louisville, KY); (-9) 68, 67
ALTERNATES (In Order)
**John Broderick (Wellesley, MA); (-9) 64, 71
Jared Nelson (Rutland, VT); (-9) 66, 69
*Advanced in 3-for-1 playoff
**Advanced further in playoff
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.
Berkshire Hills Country Club has a special place in Massachusetts as it’s the only one designed by World Golf Hall of Famer A.W. Tillinghast. Its location is Pittsfield, the home of General Electric. During the Roaring 20s, company leaders and community members invested in bringing Tillinghast, to Western Massachusetts. Tillinghast, responsible for gold age classics such as Winged Foot, Bethpage Black, and Baltusrol, also was the mastermind behind Berkshire Hills’ spectacular layout with breathtaking mountain views unlike many in the state.
In 2021, Golf.com referred to Berkshire Hills Country Club as “the best course you’ve never heard of” citing Tillinghast’s brilliant routing to fit the landscape. Berkshire Hills features two dramatic par-5s (2 and 4) that play into a valley and back up, as well as its enormous and well-countered greens.
This is the second straight year Berkshire Hills has hosted U.S. Amateur Qualifying, but it has also held qualifying events for the U.S. Open, U.S. Mid-Amateur, and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. The club also hosted the 2021 Massachusetts Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship for the Keyes Cup.
Last year, the club also received attention when longtime member Annie Hayes competed in the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open.
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