A back-nine, five-hole birdie barrage catapulted James Driscoll to a four-shot victory in the New England Open at The Quechee Club in Vermont. With his 10-under par 134 (68-66), Driscoll, who started the day one back of leaders Ryan Zylstra and Rich Berberian, defeated Zylstra (67-71=138) by four and Berberian (67-72=139) by five. From the purse of $44,000, Driscoll collected $8,000, with $5,000 for second and $3,200 for third.
A field of 102 from all over the Northeast and beyond contested the tournament on the Highland Course, a 6840-yard perennial “Top Ten” pick in Vermont by Golf Digest. In impeccable condition and beautifully manicured, the course forced the pros to find accurate short games and putting strokes to score on the large, subtly undulating bentgrass greens that rolled around 12 on the Stimpmeter.
Although 10 players broke par for the 36 holes, the action revolved around the final pairing of Driscoll, Zylstra, and Berberian. Only four players were close to them when play ended: Shawn Warren, Cape Elizabeth, Maine (71-70) and Chris Fitzpatrick, Wellesley, Massachusetts (68-73) tied at 141; James Smith, Middlebury, Connecticutt (74-68) and Braden Shattuck, Aston, Pennsylvania (69-73) tied at 142.
Driscoll, from Brookline, Massachusetts, and a member at nearby Charles River, dominated amateur golf in New England throughout the 1990’s, played at UVA, turned pro in 2001, and has played since then on the PGA TOUR and the Web.com TOUR. Driscoll won the New England Amateur at Quechee in 1995, prompting him to say at the awards ceremony, “Quechee has been very good to me.”
Zylstra, a Canadian who went to Virginia Commonwealth University, has been playing professionally for more than 10 years, including a few attempts on the PGA TOUR, and is currently a teaching pro at Independence Golf Club in Midlothian, Virginia.
Berberian, the PGA head pro at Windham Country Club, New Hampshire, recently won his second consecutive New England PGA Section Championship. He won the 2012 Vermont Open, has tried to qualify for the Web.com TOUR, and did qualify for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay but missed the cut.
The three all played the front nine well. Berberian and Driscoll were two under, and Zylstra was even; Berberian had the lead by one shot on Driscoll and by two on Zylstra. The back-nine, flawless play of Driscoll, however, precipitated a runaway win for the former TOUR player. His kick-in birdie on 10 and a three-putt bogey by Berberian created the two-shot swing that propelled Driscoll into the lead he would not relinquish.
With two more birdies on 14 and 15, Driscoll opened his lead to three and then birdied 17 and 18 to quash any comeback hopes of the other two. Zylstra played holes 10-17 even and then birdied the par-5 18th to come in second when Berberian, who was two over on the back, missed his 12 footer for birdie on 18.
For Driscoll, the victory was a vindication of sorts, for it “rescued the worst year I’ve had in my whole career.” Driscoll lost his exemption on the Web.com TOUR in 2015 and must qualify to regain his card. He said, “My game is finally coming around. The New England Open was a great boost for me because I finally saw some results for the first time all year. This win definitely gives me some confidence to more forward. I have no status anywhere right now, but I do have a trophy. I want to build on this victory for my return to the Web.com TOUR next year.”
The New England Open, sponsored by Yamaha, The Lincoln Motor Company, Mohegan Sun, and the PGA TOUR, returned to The Quechee Club after a 17-year absence, where from 1980 through 1998, the New England Chapter of the PGA of America had played this event. Head pro Steve Rogers said, “It’s certainly great to have the New England Open back to Quechee. We are looking forward to signing a longer term deal, certainly for next year and as we look toward the future. The tournament is going to flourish again at The Quechee Club.”
(All photography by Vicky MacKay)