Spitz Captures Championship
Plymouth, MA — It took eleven years but Ben Spitz (George Wright GC) can once again call himself a champion.
Following a one-hole, sudden death playoff against Cody Booska (CC of Greenfield) at Pinehills Golf Club on Wednesday, Spitz captured the 36th Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship title.
His latest victory comes more than a decade after he won the 2006 Massachusetts Amateur Championship at Worcester Country Club when he was just 22 years old.
“It’s tough,” said Spitz, who is now 33 years old and a father of three young childen. “There are so many good players here. On any given day they can take control of the tournament. I was fortunate enough that not everyone had their best. Cody obviously played unbelievable, but I was fortunate to make the playoff. It was a good win.”
It was both a good and a dramatic win that saw the eventual playoff contenders starting the day well back of the first-round leaders.
Spitz and Booska began the final round three and five shots back, respectively, but both delivered stellar rounds on Wednesday to finish deadlocked at 5-under par 139 following the 36 holes of regulation.
For a short time, it appeared that a playoff would not be necessary. Spitz was in the middle of the 18th hole fairway with a one-shot lead over Booska, who was already in the clubhouse after a posting a tournament-low round of 7-under par 65.
With Booska and his caddy watching from afar, Spitz’s approach faded left and dropped into the hazard. Spitz got up and down for bogey to force a playoff.
On that first sudden-death playoff, both players found the fairway and both decided to stay far away from the trouble that loomed left of the green. Spitz’s approach landed in the right greenside bunker, while Booska’s second shot settled into the thick right rough.
“The previous 18 was a little bit too much in my head,” said Spitz. “I knew that I had to go at it pretty hard so I hit a 7 iron which was one more than in the earlier round. I knew I had to hit it hard, but I hit it a little too hard, but it’s not the worst spot. I kind of chunked it out of the bunker and it ran down to the hole.”
Spitz’s third shot came to rest 12 feet past the hole. Booska was inside of Spitz, but in the end it was Spitz who made his putt and Booska had to settle as runner up for the second straight year. One year ago, Booska lost to Matt Cowgill (Wayland CC) in a three-hole playoff at Waubeeka Golf Links.
“I knew that if I came out today and gave it my all I could give it a good run,” said Booska. “I did all I could do.”
On most days what Booska did on day two would have been enough. Unfortunately he was facing one of the Bay State’s best short-game players.
“As long as I am still in the hole I am still in the hole,” said the southpaw Spitz. “I have a good short game, and when I get it around the green I always think that I can get up and down. The bunker shot was ok but the putt was a lot better. All in all, I’ll take a par.”
And now he can also take home another MGA title.
After posting an even par 72 on Tuesday, Ben Spitz knew that he had to come up with something special on the final day and he did just that.
Spitz, who entered the final round three strokes back of the leader, posted a final-round score of 5-under par 67 on Wednesday.
“I had to go pretty low, so I was just trying to make some birdies,” said Spitz. “I didn’t start off well. I bogeyed the second hole, and was 1 over and feeling ok but not great and then I just started to make some birdies and feel more comfortable.”
Spitz was 1-over par through his first five holes before he carded what would be the first of eight birdies made over an 11-hole stretch.
“I wasn’t scrambling too much,” said Spitz. “I hit a lot of good iron shots and kept it in play on the fairways. It was steady, and I had a lot of opportunities. I hit my wedges pretty close.”
He made the turn at 1-under par 35 after getting up and down for birdie on the 535-yard, par 5 6th hole and then hitting a wedge approach to four feet on the 406-yard, par 4 8th hole.
The back nine is where he made his move as he made birdie on the 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th and 16th holes. When he stepped onto the 17th tee he held a one shot leader over Booska who was already in the clubhouse at 5-under par.
“It is a little more open and a bit more comfortable off the tee,” said Spitz of the Pinehill GC back nine which he played at 6-under par through 36 holes this week. “You can kind of rip it off the tee on 10 and 11. There are some birdie holes and the par 5s are reachable. The par 3s are 8 and 7 irons and it fits the eye a little bit better.”
After settling his second shot on the 16th hole just shot of the green, Spitz chipped to 10 feet and made what would be his final birdie of the day. He would go on to miss a birdie attempt on 17 and victory appeared to be in his sights.
A beautiful drive off the 18th tee set Spitz up for what appeared to be a perfect shot onto the green to a back left hole location. A perfect ending – at least not at that moment – was not meant to be.
Spitz’s approach faded left and fell into the hazard. He took a drop and made a remarkable chip from off the green to a foot for bogey.
“I was just trying to get it to the middle of the green,” said Spitz about his approach on the 18th green. “It was a pretty straight ball and if it fades a little bit than that’s good. I just pushed it. It pushed faded a little bit too much, and it got into the wind and didn’t stop going left basically.”
Thirty minutes later, the bogey was a distant memory as Spitz made par on that same hole to claim victory.
He may have come up just short, but Cody Booska left Pinehills Golf Club knowing that he had done all he could do.
Following a first-round score of 2-over par 74 on Tuesday – which included a double bogey on the 18th hole – Booska entered Wednesday’s round five shots back of the leaders.
In what was the best round of golf played this week, Booska found his way to the top of the leaderboard by 2:00 p.m. when he signed a scorecard of 7-under par 65. His round included eight birdies and just one bogey.
“I knew that I had to do it to give myself a chance,” said Booska, a rising senior at Johnson & Wales University (Miami), “I was a little disappointed with yesterday’s round. I played awesome and just didn’t score well and made a double on 18 coming in. I was a little frustrated but I knew that this place was getable and that this place fit my game pretty well.”
On Wednesday, his game fit the Nicklaus Course like a glove. He began his round with a birdie on the 2nd hole and then a bogey on the 3rd hole. It wasn’t the start he wanted, but it turned out to be the fuel he needed.
“My plan after that bogey was to get a couple on the front and try to get my overall score back to even and I achieved that goal,” said Booska. “We reached 10 and I said that it’s go time. We were just trying to fire at all flags and find fairways and I did that. I think that I missed two or three greens today and didn’t miss a fairway all day. If you do that things come together.”
They came together in a big way. Booska made five straight birdies beginning on that 10th hole. He capped off his round with four straight pars, but Booska’s game was sharp until the very end as he had birdie opportunities on all four holes.
“My ball striking today and yesterday were both awesome. I couldn’t have asked for better ball striking,” said Booska. “I was hitting it pretty tight. I couldn’t get putts to fall at all yesterday and early this morning I couldn’t either. I made a couple that got my confidence back up and they just kept falling for me and it was a great feeling.”
Booska’s performance today was a continuation of what has been an outstanding season for the Turners Fall resident. In June, Booska posted a course record round of 8-under par 64 at Country Club of Wilbraham to qualify as medalist for the Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
He went on to advance to the quarterfinals of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship and then netted a T21 finish at the New England Amateur Championship.
Today’s round of 65 represents Booska’s second lowest round ever posted in competition, second only to his 64 back in June in Wilbraham.
“Mental toughness has been the biggest thing that I have learned,” said Booska about the difference maker this past season. “I never realized how big it was in the game of golf. I learned that attitude does nothing good for your game. If you have an attitude over a bad shot it just brings you down even more. You have to keep grinding no matter what happens. Yeah I made the bogey but I knew that if I made a couple before the front nine ended I would be in good shape and I did just that and I am pretty proud of myself for that this summer.”
Although he walked away – for the second straight year – as a Massachusetts Amateur Public Links runner up – Booska’s head was still held high and with very good reason.
“I knew that if I came out today and gave it my all I could give it a good run,” said Booska. “I did all I could do.”
It seemed only fitting the final day of the Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship was a near perfect golf day. Temperatures were in the 80s, there was a slight and comfortable breeze and the sun was shining down on the Plymouth layout.
“I love this place,” said Brian Sears, the co-leader following round one. “From the moment I came here I just fell in love with the place.”
Sears was not alone in his praise for Pinehills Golf Club. Although this marks the first time that the 36-hole facility has hosted an MGA Championship, the club has generously opened its doors to U.S. Open Local Qualifying rounds in seven of the last eight years.
“Pinehills Golf Club offers an incredible challenge and experience for competitors,” said Kevin Eldridge, director of rules & competition. “In terms of golf course set up, we have the ability to use different tee boxes and hole locations to give the competitors a different feel each round.”
The first 18 holes – the Jones Course – at Pinehills Golf Club opened for play in 2001. A Rees Jones original design, the course was constructed on a hilly, sandy site and was “derived from native ridges, dramatic valleys, and natural hazard locations.”
One year later, the second 18 holes – Nicklaus Course – opened for play. In an article that appeared in the Boston Globe that year, golf writer Jim McCabe wrote this about the Nicklaus Course:
It’s an outstanding piece of work that pulls off that demanding litmus test we ask of courses: challenging for the better players, playable for the mid- to high-handicappers, enjoyable for all, and defined by a number of memorable holes that require good, but not impossible, shots.
Without a doubt, it’s a perfect companion to the Jones Course, which golfers started embracing from the day it opened a year ago. Now, those golfers have double the options at a facility that gives the daily-fee player a serious private-club experience.
One competitor who understands how special this week’s host club is would be Herbie Aikens, who has been affiliated with the public-access course since 2006.
“From the amenities to the staff and the people who are here it is really second to none for a public golf course,” said Aikens. “It makes you feel like it’s private club every day you show up.”
The first words that appear on the club’s web site are: “Be a Member For a Day”.
As the competitors and spectators departed Pinehills Golf Club on Wednesday, they fully understood the meaning of that phrase because that is exactly how they were treated this week.
For more information about Pinehills Golf Club, visit www.pinehillsgolf.com.
It may not have the been the finish that he had been dreaming about, but Herbie Aikens (Pinehills GC) was still a champion in the eyes of his fellow clubmates whom he also calls friends at his home course of Pinehills Golf Club.
With the pressure of competing on his home layout and being a past champion (he won this event in 2014), Aikens made a valiant run at the title. He followed up his day-one score of 2-under par 70 with a 1-over par 73. He finished T3 overall, but his memories of the week will still be sweet.
“It was definitely special, and I wanted it bad,” said Aikens. “I have been thinking about this ever since I found out that it would be held here. It was nice to showcase how great of a place this is. Everyone I talked to was shocked by how great it is.”
A member at the club since 2006, Aikens has competed in numerous U.S. Open Local Qualifying rounds here in Plymouth, but this week represented the biggest stage of them all. It marked the first time that Pinehills Golf Club had hosted an MGA Championship and the first time that Aikens had a chance to play in a multi-day competition at a course that was just 15 minutes from his home in Kingston.
“It is amazing shape,” said Aikens. “As I was walking down 16 and as miserable as I was feeling at the time knowing that I was out of it, I was looking at the fairways and thinking that there wasn’t a divot out there. It looks like a private course. Even being here as long as I have I took notice.
“Joe Felicetti and is staff are truly amazing. They have a magic wand, and I don’t know how they do it. They have outings here and then it’s magically fixed. And everyone here makes you feel welcome, so it’s a cool spot and I am glad that people got to see that.”
As the competitors readied for the final round of the Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship, they were able to get a sneak peak at one of the premier holes on the Pinehills Golf Club’s Nicklaus Course.
Keith Pearson of the Boston Herald featured the par-4 14th in Tuesday’s edition. Special thanks to Head Golf Professional John Tuffin for his insight.
When those in contention at today’s final round of the MGA Amateur Public Links Championship on the Nicklaus Course at Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth get to the 14th tee box, their standing on the leaderboard will certainly figure into how they play the hole.
Head professional John Tuffin said the par-4 14th will play about 300 yards this week. Depending on the tees being used, all public players get to take a crack at it anywhere from 251 to 345 yards.
For someone trailing, the 14th provides an eagle opportunity to quickly make up some ground. The best line is over the top of the three bunkers (out of four) that cut in on the right side.
“You can hit a 200- or 220-yard shot off the tee and stay short of some penal bunkers and leave yourself a wedge into the green,” Tuffin said. “Or, what I think a lot of players are going to do, you can drive the green. You probably have to carry it 250, 260 to carry that bunker, and it kind of kicks downhill from there and heads toward the green.”
To take the bunkers out of play and make it a 2-shot hole, aim left for the fat part of the fairway. There are two traps to contend with should anyone go too far down the left side.
The approach is not easy, with significant contouring to the green highlighted by a steep slope on the front-right section.
“If you get on the wrong side of that slope, it is a very, very challenging putt or chip, and that applies if you’re trying to drive the green,” Tuffin said. “If you’re trying to chip down to that pin, if it’s in the front right, it is almost impossible to stop it on the green.”
In a championship setting, No. 14 can provide a jolt to the leaderboard. For those in a leisurely round, reaching the green off the tee makes for a good discussion at the water cooler.
Eagle Sighting: Eagles were hard to come by this week. The only eagle recorded by any of the 120 competitors through 36 holes came on Tuesday. Jac Bentley from the Meadow at Peabody made an eagle “2” on the 369-yard, par 4 9th hole on Tuesday. That eagle came in dramatic fashion as it came on his final hole of the day (he started on the 10th hole) for a final score of 5-over par 77 which placed him right above the cut line.
Members Now! Fun: In addition to being a Championship Proper host, Pinehills Golf Club is also one of 42 clubs that are part of the MGA’s Member Now! program which allows golfers to connect with public, municipal and semi private facilities by obtaining an MGA USGA/GHIN number online. It is also an easy way to connect with our Member Clubs and immediately begin taking advantage of all of the benefits that are offered through the MGA.
Brothers Who Play Together Stay Together: A total of three brother pairs were in this year’s field and all six competitors advanced to the second round. Those advancing with first-round scores noted in () were: Ben Spitz (72), David Spitz (74), Bill Drohen (74), Andy Drohen (74), Carter Fasick (75) and Jon Fasick (74).
Hometown Favorite: Matthew Cornuet returned to his place of work on Wednesday but he was not reporting for duty that morning. Cornuet, who serves as an assistant superintendent at Pinehills Golf Club, fired an even par 72 on Tuesday to advance to the second and final round of play. On Tuesday, Cornuet had an afternoon tee time so during the morning hours he could be found cutting grass.
Playing for 2018: There was extra incentive to play well on day two. After all, the 10 lowest scorers and ties from the 2017 Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship are exempt into the 2018 Championship Proper.
Drive, Chip & Putt Fun in August: Youth talent will be on display at Pinehills Golf Club on August 16th when the course will host the Drive, Chip & Putt Sub-Regional Qualifier. Those who advance from Pinehills GC will move onto the Regionals and then the Nationals which will be held next April at Augusta National Golf Club.
Qualifying Shout Out: Special thanks to those Member Clubs that hosted Massachusetts Amateur Public Links qualifying rounds this season: Sandy Burr CC, Gardner Municipal GC, Cranberry Valley GC, The Ledges GC, Bradford CC and D.W. Field GC.
Like Father Like Son: Immediately after Paul Ferraro signed his scorecard, he went back onto the course. The reason he did that was because he wanted to watch his son – Stephen Ferraro – finish his round. Both Paul and Stephen made the first-round cut. Paul finished T16, while Stephen postd a final round score of 1-under par 71 to finish T8.
6 of 8: Six of the eight past champions in this year’s starting field advanced to the second round. Included in that list are: Matt Cowgill (2016), Herbie Aikens (2014), Andy Drohen (2012), Ryan Riley (2009), Bill Drohen (2004, 2006, 2007) and Jon Fasick.
Next Up: The MGA Championship team will be heading to Andover Country Club next week for the 41st Massachusetts Father & Son Championship. The senior division teams will compete on August 15, while the junior division teams will head to Andover on August 16.