Salem, MA — It may have taken him three days to get there, but 15-year-old James Imai (George Wright GC) finally posted an under-par round at Kernwood Country Club and his prize for doing such was the 98th Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship title.
It marks a continuation of what has been a memorable summer of golf for Imai who just last week claimed first place at the New England Junior PGA Championship.
98th MGA Junior Amateur – Day 3 Quick Links
“Definitely feels really good,” said Imai. “I can’t really describe it. I’ve been trying for the past two years and this year, I was finally able to get it.”
For two straight days, the Donald Ross designed Kernwood Country Club did not relent. No one in the starting field of 144 was able to fire a score better than even par 70 through 36 holes.
With the top 11 competitors through 36 holes separated by just five strokes heading into the third and final round, there was a sense in the clubhouse that the person who could conquer this layout on day three would be the victor.
“The key things I was focusing on today was one shot at a time,” said Imai. “On a course like this, you never know what is going to happen because of its difficulty. I know I can score here. I know I can make birdie. It was just a matter of making good decisions, trusting my decisions and just fighting as hard as I can. A few putts went in, and I had a couple good breaks here and there.”
In the end, that victor was Imai who carded a 1-under par 69 on Wednesday and a three-round winning score of 4-over par 214. He was the only competitor in the field to post a number in the 60s.
As a result of his victory, Imai becomes only the fourth Pre-Junior Division player (one who is 14-15 years old) in 24 years to capture the overall title.
“That’s really cool,” said Imai. “Obviously, you don’t really think about that when you are playing, but all things said it sounds really cool. I definitely feel honored. These are some greats and a few made it on Tour, so just to be able to say that I won the same tournament as they did is pretty cool.”
James Driscoll, the two-time Massachusetts Amateur Champion and current Web.com Tour player, accomplished that feat in 1993 while Nat Hoopes following suite in 1996.Nick McLaughlin, the 2015 Massachusetts Amateur and 2015 New England Amateur Champion who now competes on the mini-tour circuit, was the last pre-junior to win the title in 2009.
And with two more years of eligibility in this MGA event left for Imai (he turns 16 years old in December), the advantage is surely his in 2017 and beyond.
“I’m probably not going to think about [the next two years] until the times comes,” said Imai. “But in the meantime, I’m definitely going to enjoy this.”
Imai began the final day three strokes off the lead, but got off to a strong start by making birdie on the first hole. A double bogey on the 418-yard par 4 3rd hole, however, derailed his momentum and sent him further down the leaderboard.
With his focus on staying calm, Imai bounced back by playing 2-under par golf through his next six holes. That impressive stretch featured birdies on the 6th and 9th holes.
“On six, I just hit a nice wedge to nine feet below the hole for a straight up the hill putt,” said Imai. “On nine, I had another straight 18-footer, just a tiny bit left to right middle of the cup. Nothing too special.”
With no knowledge of what the others ahead or behind him were doing, Imai stayed steady and was 1-under par through his final eight holes after a bogey on the 10th hole. He missed the fairway on the final hole, chipped to 2 and a half feet and sank his par putt.
“My last birdie was on 13,” said Imai. “I hit it to five feet past the hole. It was fast, but I just tapped it in. It felt good.”
Unbeknownst to him at the time, that putt has all but sealed his victory. The threesome who entered the final day ahead of him on the leaderboard had fallen back and Imai was the only name sitting at the very top of the leaderboard when the final scorecard was signed.
“Honestly out there, there are no leaderboards so you don’t know where you are at,” said Imai.
Finishing tied for second were Jack Boulger (Walpole CC) and Thomas Roberts (Wianno Club) with scores of 6-over par 216.
News & Notes
Jimmy Walker Hit His Phone Up?: Minutes before he began his second round at Kernwood CC, Jared Winiarz (NEPGA JR TOUR) had to check his phone and send out a quick text before he put his phone away. After all, when the 2016 PGA Championship winner hits your phone up, you have to respond. Back in 2010, Winiarz, who lives in Norton, was walking alongside Jimmy Walker during the Deutsche Bank Championship Pro-Am. Walker noticed Winiarz and invited him inside the ropes. The two became kindred spirits and to this day Walker and his wife make time to swing by the Winiarz house during Deutsche Bank Championship week for a fun dinner with old friends. Despite his success on the PGA Tour, Walker still makes time – even while basking in his first career major victory – to send Winiarz well wishes as he competes here in Salem.
A Junior Springboard: Two years ago, Matthew Naumec captured his first major junior title at Nashawtuc Country Club. It was a special victory for Naumec during what was the 100th year of the MGA Junior Amateur Championship [click here to read about the history of this event]. Just last week, Naumec took another major step in his amateur career by claiming the 2016 Ouimet Memorial Tournament title. Naumec will be entering his second season at Boston College in the fall. One of his Eagles golf coaches – Drew Kayser – has been here both days walking the course and looking for future Naumecs to join the team.
A Day Off Well Spent: Golf professionals don’t get many days off, but Kevin Piecuch wasn’t going to miss this event. Piecuch, the head golf professional at CC of Greenfield, made the 100-plus mile drive to Kernwood CC with his son Connor and was an avid spectator from start to finish. Two years ago, Piecuch was honored by the Western Mass. Tee Party for his commitment and service to golf in Western Massachusetts. Piecuch turned professional in 1989, joined CC of Greenfield as an assistant three years later and has been head golf professional there since 1996. But for these three days, Piecuch was happy to just be called “dad”.
Like Brother, Like Brother: For those who follow the local amateur circuit, there were some very familiar last names on the tee sheet. Many of the competitors are the younger siblings of amateur competitors who have dominated local headlines as of late. Included in that list would be Matthew Umphrey (Tatnuck CC) and Dan Frodigh (Dedham C&PC). Both Timothy Umphrey and Patrick Frodigh advanced to match play at the 2016 Massachusetts Amateur Championship. Timothy will be attending the University of Connecticut in the fall, while Patrick will be taking part in his senior season the University of Louisville.
Giving Back Is the Kernwood Way: The Kernwood CC web states that “community responsibility is at the founding core” of its values. That mission has remained a fundamental part of the club culture. Its club-based caddie scholarship program is said to be one of the first established in the nation and each year the club raises more than $100,000 for local charities. This past month, the club hosted two major events to raise funds for The Jimmy Fund.
101 and Still Fabulous: This event celebrated its 100th year in 2014. In honor of that momentous occasion, the cover and feature story in the fall issue of MassGolfer magazine was dedicated to the Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship. CLICK HERE to read that feature entitled “Having Their Day… Still”
Fun Junior Fact From 1976: On August 15, 1976 a golfer by the name of Greg Orlik won this title on what was his 18th birthday. Although he would have normally been ineligible to win because of his age, he was eligible that year only because Hurricane Belle had struck the East Coast and delayed the tournament, which ended on a Saturday. Capturing the Pre-Junior title that year was a 15-year-old out of Eastward Ho! by the name of Brad Faxon, who went on to enjoy a remarkable professional career.
Hall of Fame Worthy: The first two-time champion of the Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship was Frederick J. Wright, Jr. who won the title in 1915 and 1916. Wright is one of six who was inducted into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame in 2014 (Click here to learn more about Wright and the rest of the Hall of Fame inductees). Over 101 years, only six individuals have captured this title in back-to-back years. Those champions are as follows – Wright, Jr. (1915-16), Edward Lowery (1919-20), Robert Barclay(1961-62), Arthur Burke, III (1968-69), Rick Karbowski (1971-72) and Antonio Grillo (2006-07).
The First Ever – The first Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship was contested on July 2, 1914. Raymond Ouimet – brother of Francis Ouimet – captured the inaugural title at Oakley Country Club when it was an 18-hole, match-play event. The MGA introduced the Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship that year because there was no “schoolboy tournament” scheduled and the MGA officers decided that “the youngsters should have their day”.
War-Time Break – While this year marks the 102nd year of the event, it is not the 102nd playing since the championship was not held in 1917 and then again from 1942 through 1946 during World War II.
A Launching Pad – Capturing this championship has proven to be a launch pad for greatness in other major events. Here is a list of former Massachusetts Junior Amateur Champions who went on to win either the Massachusetts Open Championship and Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
- 1915 & 1916: Fred Wright – won 1920, 1926, 1928-31, 1938 Massachusetts Amateur
- 1919 & 1920: Eddie Lowery – won 1927 Massachusetts Amateur
- 1922: Clark Hodder – won 1936 Massachusetts Amateur
- 1927: Joseph P. Lynch – won 1933 Massachusetts Amateur
- 1951: John Tosca, Jr. – won 1959 & 1970 Massachusetts Amateur
- 1956: Jay Dolan – won 1979 Massachusetts Open
- 1984: Kevin Johnson – won 1987 & 1988 Massachusetts Amateur
- 1984: Kevin Johnson – won 1986 Massachusetts Open
- 1993: James Driscoll – won 1996 & 1998 Massachusetts Amateur
- 2000: Ben Spitz – won 2006 Massachusetts Amateur
- 2005: Evan Harmeling – won 2013 Massachusetts Open
- 2009, 2011: Nick McLaughlin – won the 2015 Massachusetts Amateur & 2015 New England Amateur
- 2015: Matthew Naumec – won the 2016 Ouimet Memorial Tournament
Round 3: Daily Course Statistics
Here is a rundown on course statistics from Wednesday, August 3.
Day 3 Course Statistics
Average Score: 77.148
Low Score: 69
High Score: 90
Total # of Eagles: 2
Total # of Birdies: 79
Total # of Bogeys: 291
Total # of Pars: 520
Hardest Hole: #16 (average score was 4.815)
Easiest Hole: #1 (average score was 4.963)