- Golfer Benefits
LAKEVILLE, Massachusetts – Jake Bauer woke up feeling nervous this morning. It’s hard to blame him as Wednesday was his first big-time competitive golf tournament in two years — the U.S. Open Local Qualifier at his home course of LeBaron Hills Country Club.
Feeling he had a greater purpose beyond professional aspirations, he regained his amateur status this year and now is an academic coordinator at Boston College. His student-athletes and fellow LeBaron Hills members will be proud after he turned in one of his most meaningful rounds to date.
Bauer shot a bogey-free 5-under-par 67 to split co-medalist honors with Milton’s Ben Spitz (George Wright Golf Course) and advance to U.S. Open Final Qualifying for the first time.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Bauer, the 2018 Rhode Island amateur winner, who graduated from Johnson & Wales University – North Miami. “My mentality now that I’ve done the pro circuit has been that my life’s not going to change because I had a bad round. I enjoy my job. All my students are great, and I think it’s great that I have a chance at being in the U.S. Open.”
Bauer and Spitz advanced along with fellow Bay State amateurs Matt Parziale (Thorny Lea Golf Club), of Brockton; previous local qualifier Kevin Gately (Harmon Golf), of Pembroke; and University of Michigan junior Jack O’Donnell (Boston Golf Club), of Cohasset. All the players said they’ll likely select Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, New Jersey, for Final Qualifying on June 5.
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Wednesday’s conditions set up well for scoring. Greens had softened from rain accumulation over the past few days, and the winds, while swirling in places, were relatively calm compared to usual.
While Bauer may have possessed some home-course advantage, he said it was far from comfortable for him out there.
“This was different than it usual plays for me because of how soft it is,” he said. “It’s longer, the wind was in a different direction than usual. I was nervous going shot-by-shot, but it worked out.
“I really love the course,” he added. “It fits my game, there’s great facilities, and a good pro. It’s been a good spot.”
Bauer said his nerves eased after making birdie on the second hole, and he made another one the seventh. Though he couldn’t score on the 9th and 10th, each par-5s, he got his third birdie on the 11th and added two more to put him well above the cutline.
After the round, Bauer opened up about transitioning out of pro golf and how it’s benefited his path forward.
“When I played the Waterloo open, I had two bogey-free rounds and missed the cut, and it was getting to be a real grind with the travel, so I thought there was a bigger purpose for me,” he said. “I feel like to relate on my experience being a student-athlete is a bigger purpose rather than shooting 63.”
Unlike Bauer, Ben Spitz is no stranger to local qualifying. For the third straight year, the 39-year-old lefty has made it into Final Qualifying after putting together his own round of 5-under 67.
“Hopefully third time’s the charm,” said Spitz, who came up short in previous Final Qualifying experience at Century & Old Oaks (NY). “I haven’t been close the last few times. It’s different this year with it being in New Jersey, so hopefully with different scenery I’ll play better and make something happen.”
Playing in the first group off hole 10 with Kevin Gately and Herbie Aikens, Spitz hit a solid downhill putt on the 18th (9th hole of the day), his fourth birdie of the day to turn at 3-under. Like Bauer, he went 2-under on the front nine but saved his best shot for last. Sitting at 4-under, he hit his third into a greenside collection area but was able to get up-and-down and become the first in the clubhouse at 5-under. Spitz said he favored Wednesday’s conditions.
“It’s always helpful especially on mishits or wide shots,” Spitz said. “The greens hold, they’re not bouncing off. The ball’s sticking on fairways. I thought this course played as easy as it could’ve. When I played it a couple weeks ago it was 30mph winds and played a little firm. It was a good day and didn’t make any mistakes, just kept hitting it where I should have and made some putts.”
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Gately and Matt Parziale are also heading back to Final Qualifying after turning in solid rounds of 68. Gately had to sweat it out a bit after three-putting the par-5 9th for par. But his solid round that included six birdies was enough to hold on.
“It was a punch in the gut missing that putt knowing the conditions were good and scorable, so I’m just happy I’m here now and moving on,” Gately said of playing the 9th. “I’m very happy I get to go back this year because I wasn’t happy with the performance last year. But I think it’ll help me going in.”
Save for a double-bogey on the difficult par-4 6th, Parziale was on his game as he attempted to qualify for his third U.S. Open (previously qualified in 2018 and 2019). The two-time reigning Mass Golf Richard D. Haskell Player of the Year made seven birdies, including five on the front nine to play himself into the Final Qualifying round.
Perhaps the most clutch shot of the day came from Jack O’Donnell, who just finished his junior year in Ann Arbor. Sitting at 1-under on the final tee (9th hole), O’Donnell hit the middle of the fairway with about 215 yards to go. He contemplated a 4 or 5 iron and opted for the longer club. The risk paid off, as he left his second shot to a foot, leaving him a tap-in eagle to move to 3-under and get him the fifth and final spot.
“I hit it right at it, but I didn’t know where it landed, and it ended up going to a foot somehow,” O’Donnell described. “I was definitely happy when I saw it. I figured it be close, but didn’t think it’d be a foot.”
O’Donnell, who is advancing to Final Qualifying for the first time, said he hadn’t been getting the results he was looking for since starting college. But playing LeBaron Hills without a practice round, he showed there’s plenty of potential in his game.
“I switched some things with my coaches, especially this spring,” he said. “I’ve been posting good rounds and feeling more confident, which is getting me more excited to play more and more.”
Westford’s Molly Smith (Vesper Country Club) came painstakingly close to getting herself into U.S. Open Final Qualifying. The 18-year-old University of Central Florida commit shot bogey-free 2-under on the back nine and despite a bogey on the second hole, got back to 2-under on the sixth to make things interesting. After getting up and down on the 8th to save par, Smith bladed her third shot to the back of the green but was able to two-putt to save par and get into a playoff for the alternate spot.
According to the USGA, Smith would’ve been the first female to advance to Final Qualifying since Michelle Wie West did so in May 2006 in Hawaii.
Despite coming up short for the alternate spot in the playoff, Smith said she enjoys these opportunities to play against the men as it prepares her for big-time competition down the road.
“A lot of high-level women’s events are getting longer,” said Smith, who came a stroke shy of qualifying for the Mass Open last year, also at LeBaron Hills. “The LPGA’s Chevron Championship just played 6,800 yards. Going forward, this caliber of course is what we’ll be facing, so I like to challenge myself.”
QUALIFIERS (Names; Cities)
Ben Spitz* (Milton, MA); (-5) 67
Jake Bauer* (Lakeville, MA); (-5) 67
Kevin Gately* (Pembroke, MA); (-4) 68
Matt Parziale* (Brockton, MA); (-4) 68
Jack O’Donnell* (Cohasset, MA); (-3) 69
ALTERNATES (In Order)
Shuvam Bhaumik* (Canton, MA); (-2) 70
Mathew Gover* (Atkinson, NH); (-2) 70
*denotes amateur player
Five more qualifying spots and two alternate spots will be up for grabs Tuesday, May 9 at Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley. Kirkbrae Country Club (Lincoln, Rhode Island) will also host U.S. Open local qualifying on May 16. All local qualifiers will feature 18 holes of competition.
Orchards Golf Club U.S. Open Local Qualifier | May 9, 2023 | 5 Qualifying Spots, 2 Alternate Spots
FINAL QUALIFYING SCHEDULE
Walton Heath Golf Club (Surrey, England)
Ibaraki Golf Course (Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan)
Northwood Club and Bent Tree Country Club (Dallas, Texas)
Lambton Golf & Country Club (Ontario, Canada)
Hillcrest Country Club (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Pine Tree Country Club (Boynton Beach, Fla.)
Hawks Ridge Golf Club (Ball Ground, Ga.)
Woodmont Country Club (North Course) (Rockville, Md.)
Canoe Brook Country Club (Summit, N.J.)
Lakes Golf & Country Club /Brookside Golf & C.C. (Columbus, Ohio)
Springfield C.C. (Springfield, Ohio)
Old Chatham Golf Club (Durham, N.C.)
Tacoma Country & Golf Club (Lakewood, Wash.)