What started as 144 competitors in the field at the beginning of the day Tuesday quickly narrowed down to the top-33 competitors in the field as the final round of stroke play was held at The Country Club. Following the completion of Tuesday’s second round of play, the field for the match play portion of the Championship Proper is set to begin. The match play portion will begin with the Rounds of 32 and the Round of 16 on Wednesday, the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds on Thursday and the final 36-hole Championship match slated for Friday.
Due to the forecasted weather for Wednesday, tee times have been moved up one hour with the Round of 32 matches now beginning at 7:00 a.m. off the first tee. A playoff to determine the No. 32 seed will be held starting at 7:00 a.m. Wednesday between Matt Parziale and Mark Turner on the 16th hole.
Kingston’s Herbie Aikens, who entered Tuesday’s second round of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship one spot behind day-one leader Chris Francoeur, fired a day best 4-under 67 in the last round of stroke play to secure the No. 1 seed heading into tomorrow’s first round of match play. The 37-year old Aikens, who has now made the match play portion of the competition in four of the past five years, recorded five birdies en route to his two-day total of 7-under 135, three strokes ahead of Hopkinton’s Jimmy Hervol.
He finished Monday’s first round with a 3-under 68 mark which saw him tied for second with Halifax’s Dillon Brown and with a little shifting among the top leaders following Tuesday’s rounds, he now holds a five stroke lead over Brown, who shot a 1-over 72. Francoeur shot a 1-over 72 as well, while Walpole’s Jack Boulger shot a 2-under to move into a T3 spot on the leaderboard.
“I just came out today trying to do the same things as yesterday and not get too far ahead of myself and just not try to do anything dumb,” said Aikens following his second round performance. “And make some putts again,” he added.
Starting on The Country Club’s 10th tee to begin his second round, Aikens parred the first hole and quickly went below par by birdying the par-5 11th hole and the succeeding par-3 12th hole. It was that early start that helped him get into a consistent rhythm for the remainder of the day.
“That definitely settled me down quick,” said Aikens of his start, which also included a birdie on the par-5 14th hole. “When you come out of the gate, and I didn’t even hit them that close, that is a good way to get going and it kind of takes the edge off and you just zone in and play golf. That is all it comes down to.”
He added, “From there, you make a couple of putts and you get some confidence. They might not all go in but you make a couple crucial ones and you can relax a little bit and feel like you can make good shots on the green and give yourself attempts and you don’t have to force anything.”
After making the birdie on The Country Club’s 14th hole, his fifth hole of the day, Aikens made par on the remainder of his front nine and made the turn at 3-under 33.
Playing much more consistently than he did on Monday, where he was forced to make birdies to erase three bogeys and stay in contention, Aikens only set back Tuesday came on the par-4 second hole – where he says a poor choice of club selection forced him to take a bogey.
“I tried to hit driver on two and just pulled it a little bit,” explained Aikens. “I think I just played a little bit smarter. I wasn’t firing at pins. You usually don’t make as many birdies but you kind of keep the drama down.”
He registered back-to-back birdies following the bogey on two, then parred out the remainder of the round.On being able to return to match play, at such a historic venue nonetheless, Aikens says this opportunity is one he is excited for.
“In the first place, this place is special when you come here,” said Aikens of TCC. “The greens are smaller. I tend to be a better ball striker than other parts of my game, so getting on the green isn’t normally as stressful for me. I feel that if I get on the green, I get a putt attempt and I like the speeds of them and I feel like I can read them pretty well. They have been going in. Hopefully it stays like that all week.”
Aikens will look to become only the third competitor since 1999 to win the Amateur Championship as the No. 1 seed. Most recently in 2015 at Oak Hill Country Club, Nick McLaughlin won the championship as the No. 1 seed. Prior to that, John Hadges captured the 2008 Amateur championship at The Kittansett Club as the No. 1 seed. This marks the fourth time in the last five years that Aikens has advanced to the match play round.
Harry B. McCracken Stroke Play Medalist
For the third straight year, Mass Golf has awarded the competitor with the lowest combined 36-hole stroke play score at the Massachusetts Amateur Championship with the Harry B. McCracken Stroke Play Medalist. Named after McCracken, who has been a fixture at Mass Golf, New England Golf Association (NEGA) and United States Golf Association (USGA) events since 1969 and currently serves as executive secretary/treasurer of the NEGA. It was originally awarded to Swampscott’s Steven DiLisio following the stroke play portion of the 2017 Amateur Championship held at Charles River Country Club, McCracken’s home club. In 2018, the stroke-play medalist honors were awarded to Andrew O’Leary and Jack Lang at George Wright Golf Course, after each carding 4-under 136 scores over two days at George Wright and William J. Devine Golf Course at Franklin Park, respectively.
“It is really special,” said Aikens of capturing the Harry B. McCracken Stroke Play Medalist honors. “It is something I have never done before and this tournament means so much. Having never won it before and being so close last year, it is a great way to start the week. I am just going to try and focus on match play now.
“I am thrilled and honored to have my name on that, especially because where it is named after Harry. Harry is the best and it is a true honor. He is a legend among legends. We will see how it goes but I am going to try and focus on match play because whether you are a medalist or 32, it doesn’t really matter. It all starts over tomorrow.”
At the completion of the second round of stroke play Tuesday, eight competitors found themselves in a tie for 31st place at 6-over 148. With only two spots up to Wednesday’s Round of 32 matches, the eight teed off in two groups of four to determine the final spots. Following the playoff, which included Doug Clapp, Mark Turner, Matt Parziale, Matthew Maloney, Charlie Dubiel, Collin Fitzpatrick, Jason Cook and Xavier Marcoux. Dubiel captured the No. 31 seed and following a playoff that lasted one hour and 25 minutes, the playoff was called at 8:45 p.m. Remaining players are Matt Parziale, the 2017 Amateur champion, and Mark Turner. The playoff will begin on the 16th hole at 7:00 a.m. and the winner will face No. 1 seeded Aikens.
When hosting a major five-day event such as the Massachusetts Amateur, the support of club staff, the membership, and volunteers at The Country Club is an integral part of running a smooth Championship Proper.
This week, nearly 40 club members are volunteering to make sure the Proper remains one of the best run Amateur golf championships in the country. Among the many roles that volunteers have this week, live three-hole scoring, crowd control, spotting and parking have been some of the major tasks that have been maintained this week by the volunteers corps. These volunteers are in addition to the more than two dozen Mass Golf volunteers who are assisting in the event operation as rules officials, starters and official scorers.
“It’s been outstanding to see the member support for an event like this,” said TCC Golf Administrator Gordy Stanton, who has been managed the volunteer operations to ensure that each volunteer task is accomplished.
While the support from club members have been tremendous this week, not all volunteers are members. In fact, several of the youngest volunteers are children of The Country Club staff members, such as Head Golf Professional Brendan Walsh, and Golf Course Superintendent Dave Johnson.
“We have people stationed at some of the holes for live scoring updates, some staff members children are involved,” said Stanton. “Brendan Walsh’s daughters were out here yesterday and Dave Johnson has his girls are out there today doing live scoring. It’s nice to see from both a member and staff perspective.”
Along with the outpouring of volunteer support, all club employees this week have a hectic schedule. The Country Club grounds crew, comprised of 18 full-time staff members, have been working long days leading up to and during the Championship Proper to keep the golf course as beautiful as possible. The professional staff, which included seven golf professionals in addition to Walsh, are all putting in extra time, while the club also employs seven interns who are also assisting in the operation of the Amateur Championship.
“They’re working long days, added Stanton. “I think yesterday they were here in the morning pretty early and then they were following the last groups out in the afternoon, getting a bit of water on the greens. It’s not something they’re typically used to, but they relish an opportunity like this to showcase what the golf course looks like. The conditions have been fantastic.”
This is the 11th time The Country Club has hosted the Massachusetts Amateur Championship, the most times the event has been held at a single club. TCC has always been at the forefront in their support of both amateur and local golf, most recently hosting the United States Amateur Championship in 2013, won by England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick. The club has savored the opportunity to host some of the best amateur players in the Commonwealth this year.
“It’s been fascinating to see guys like Matt Parziale, a lot of the great amateur players in the state that we do have, and just directing people where to go,” said Stanton. “People are asking questions and we’re here with a smile to greet them. The families are great, the players have been great. It started really with the practice round. I was in charge of scheduling those with the guys and they could not have been more respectful and appreciative of the opportunity to play here. We’re more than happy to host here. We love it.”
Get Your TCC Gear
As one of the few events where the public is welcome to attend The Country Club without a ticket or a membership, this week’s Massachusetts Amateur Championship has provided the opportunity for golf fans of all ages to stock up on some highly desired TCC merchandise at the club’s pro shop.
The famous TCC squirrel logo is on nearly every item in various shapes, sizes and colors, and the popular merchandise has been flying off the shelves thanks to players, caddies, family and friends of the competitors, as well as the general public who have come to check out the grounds this week.
As part of the club’s preparation for this week, which has been circled on the Mass Golf calendar for the better part of five years, TCC staff ordered special Massachusetts Amateur inspired hats and polos to commemorate the 111th Massachusetts championship here at the club this week. Specialty blue, green and white hats feature the newly minted Massachusetts Amateur Championship / TCC logo, while the specialty polos featuring the TCC squirrel on the front left breast are available in navy, green and white.
In addition to the “Mass Am” themed merchandise, other popular items available for purchase reference the many historic events held at The Country Club, such as the 1999 Ryder Cup and the recent U.S. Amateur Championship in 2013.
All items in the pro shop are available while supplies last and the pro shop will be open to the general public through Friday’s Championship match. Credit cards is the only method purchased accepted.
U.S. Junior Updates
Following the 12 qualifiers that were held across the Bay State leading up to this week’s Massachusetts Amateur Championship, nine golfers that were originally listed as alternates received the good news that they would be given the opportunity to compete in this week’s field. While alternates are often called upon to fill the remaining spots needed to complete the 144-player field, one spot that was originally saved for an exempt competitor was made available thanks in part to the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, which is being contested this week at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
Brookline’s James Imai, a recent graduate of Brookline High School who will play golf at Northwestern University beginning this fall, was exempt into this week’s Massachusetts Amateur Championship field as a result of his Massachusetts Junior Amateur championship win last August, his Mass Golf Junior Player of the Year accolades from last year and the fact that he had advanced to the 2018 U.S. Amateur championship.
This week in Ohio, the 18-year old Imai finished the 36-hole portion of stroke play at 2-over 144, including an even-par 71 on Tuesday’s second round. Playing in his third career Junior Amateur championship (2018, 2015), Imai sealed his ticket to match play portion of the by finished at T16 on the leaderboard.
The Country Club, the home course for Brookline High School matches in the fall, has been very favorable to Imai. As the team’s captain this past fall, he captured the MIAA Boys’ Fall Golf Division I State Championship individual title.
At the U.S. Junior, fellow Bay Staters Michael Thorbjornsen, of Wellesley, and the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion, and Cohasset’s Jack O’Donnell were also representing Massachusetts on the national stage. Thorbjornsen fired a 3-under 68 on Tuesday to finished T4 on the leaderboard while O’Donnell rebounded from a first round 5-over mark with a 3-over on Tuesday. At the time of publication, both Imai and Thorbjornsen had clinched spots to the match play round. Jack O’Donnell, at T58, was slated to be part of an 8-for-7 playoff for match play.
Photos by David Colt Photography