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NORTON, Massachusetts – When the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship begins on Saturday, Massachusetts residents will have no shortage of hometown players to follow. In total, six men from the Bay State are slated to tee it up in the Championship Proper.
The competitors are Darin Eddy (Marshfield Country Club), Dean Godek (Agawam Municipal Golf Course), Daniel Harding (Wellesley Country Club), Mike McKenna (Far Corner Golf Course), Keith Smith (Franklin Country Club), and Frank Vana, Jr. (Marlborough Country Club).
The U.S. Senior Amateur Championship is being held from August 28 to September 2 at the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan. The Championship Proper is open to any golfer who is 55 years of age as of August 28 and whose Handicap Index does not exceed 7.4.
Club: Marshfield Country Club
How He Got In: Shot a 73 at Marshfield Country Club on August 3 to finish T2 and survived a 3-for-2 playoff to earn a spot
Tee Time: 2:10 p.m. Saturday off Hole 1
Club: Agawam Municipal Golf Course
How He Got In: Shot a 69 at Connecticut National Golf Club on July 22 to finish solo first and earn medalist honors on his way to a Championship Proper appearance
Tee Time: 8:20 a.m. Saturday off Hole 10
Club: Wellesley Country Club
How He Got In: Shot a 72 to split medalist honors and earn his spot during the August 3 qualifier at Marshfield Country Club
Tee Time: 8:40 a.m. Saturday off Hole 10
Club: Far Corner Golf Course
How He Got In: Shot a 72 and split medalist honors in his qualifier at Manchester Country Club in Vermont on July 27
Tee Time: 7:30 a.m. Saturday off Hole 10
Club: Franklin Country Club
How He Got In: Shot a 72 at August 3 qualifier at Marshfield Country Club to split medalist honors with Harding
Tee Time: 8:30 a.m. Saturday off Hole 10
Club: Marlborough Country Club
How He Got In: Shot 73 at Marshfield Country Club on August 3 to finish T2 and, like Eddy, survived a 3-for-2 playoff to earn a spot
Tee Time: 9:10 a.m. Saturday off Hole 10
It’s certainly an indication of the talent level in Massachusetts that six seniors from the state made their way into a USGA Championship. What’s even more impressive than the total number is the various ways spots were earned and the range of experience and age that will be attending.
Four of the men came from the same qualifier at Marshfield Country Club on August 3. Daniel Harding and Keith Smith got into the Championship Proper comfortably with scores of 2-over-par 72. It was Frank Vana and Darin Eddy who had to survive playoffs after shooting 3-over-73 to qualify.
Elsewhere, Mike McKenna traveled to Vermont on July 27 and buried three birdies at Manchester Country Club on his way to split-medalist honors. Much further south in Putnam, Connecticut, Dean Godek went 2-under 69 to take medalist honors at Connecticut National Golf Club on July 22.
As it stands, Eddy, Godek, and Harding are all in at the minimum age of 55 for the U.S. Senior Amateur. McKenna (58), Vana (59), and Smith (63) all have a few more years on their counterparts.
In terms of actual USGA experience, no one tops Vana who has been in over 20 USGA events. Smith played in the U.S. Senior Amateur back in 2019, his only USGA experience, and he made match play at the event. The field is diverse, talented, and a reflection of just how talented amateur golfers are across the state.
“It’s very much an outstanding thing,” Smith said of the Bay State seniors in the field. “We’ve got some great players here in the state, not just seniors, but mid-amateurs as well, and obviously the young kids are just phenomenal. We’ve got a deep class of players up here, so it’s really not that surprising.”
Vana echoed Smith in regards to the golf success within the state. He pointed to recent national victories such as Matt Parziale winning the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur, Shannon Johnson winning the 2018 U.S. Women’s Mid Amateur, and Michael Thorbjornsen winning the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur as a display of the talent the Bay State has seen in recent years.
The local talent is certainly strong, but USGA events and championships are a whole different animal. They require focus, grit, and high-level shots time and time again.
As mentioned, Smith made it into match play when he competed in the 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, North Carolina. “Anytime you can go to a USGA event it’s a treat because they treat you really well,” Smith said.
“It’s an achievement that nobody can really expect because it’s hard to get in. There’s a good chance to go and test yourself against the best and be part of a big national event. It’s a lot of fun.”
Smith also noted that one of the best aspects of competing in USGA events isn’t just the competitive field, but the challenge of playing a championship-level course.
“Here we are the seniors and in 2019 they played us at 7,150 yards,” Smith said. “At a player’s reception last time in 2019, they said we make no apologies for the length of the rough and for the distance of the holes. They’re here to identify who’s the best senior golfer and length is part of the strategy.”
“They make the course tough, and they sent out an email saying they intend to make the course as firm as possible. It’s a different challenge because most of the senior events that we play around the state are going to be more in the 6,400 to 6,500-yard range. They really make you bring your A-game if you’re going to compete.”
Vana reminisced about his experience at these events over the years.
“The golf courses are all strong and it amazes me,” Vana said. “From when I played my first one in 1993 until now, you used to kind of be able to pick the pins, now there are no easy days with pins. I used to think during the qualifying that the pins would be a little easier to get everybody through, that’s not the case at all.”
“The pins are hard every day. Over the last 10 years, the pins really surprised me and it just speaks to how good the competition is. Between the level of play, the deep rough, the greens being fast, and the courses are top courses. For the most part, you get the best guys in the country at these events. Ultimately, it makes for a wonderful event, but it makes for hard golf. You have to play well,” Vana added.
Vana also noted that calming down the nerves and quieting the big stage of a full-scale USGA event is key to finding success.
“Once you get used to handling that, you can kind of settle down and play golf,” Vana said. “Whether it’s the first one I played or whatever number this one is, you still get the butterflies, it gets your blood flowing, and you get the juices going.”
“That’s kind of why we do it. If you can get to that level where you can kind of just focus and play and do that, that’s a big benefit. You don’t want to come here and not play well. You feel bad about that and believe me, I’ve done it many, many times. The more prepared you can be, just get here and be focused on golf and be relaxed and get comfortable with the course and play, the better you’re going to do,” Vana said.
The event is a true test of golf skill as it should be, but luckily for the golfers from Massachusetts, they see plenty of good competition around the state in the summers. They can only hope to carry over that momentum when the bright lights shine starting on Saturday.
This year will be the 66th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship and as mentioned, the event will be played from August 28 to September 2 at the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan.
The schedule of play for the Championship is as follows:
Next year, the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship will be coming to Massachusetts. The event is slated to be held at The Kittansett Club in Marion from August 27 to September 1.
Check out some more U.S. Senior Amateur fast facts before the six Massachusetts men tee it up this year.
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