Sunday May 13, 2012

A winter spent working on his game in Florida and a couple of solid early tournament performances this spring in PGA section events have Milton Torres in a positive frame of mind for Monday's Mass achusetts Open qualifier at Berkshire Hills Country Club.

Torres, an assistant professional at Wahconah Country Club, is one of 13 players in the 58-player field with Berkshire County ties. The top 12 finishers will earn a spot in next month's main event at Walpole Country Club.

Torres and Chris Marinaro, a former St. Joseph's High Sch ool star, were the only two local players to advance in last year's local qualifier, which was also played at Berkshire Hills.

Torres believes a key element in his game is better then when he shot a 2-over 74 to earn a spot in 2011.

"My putting has really im proved," Torres said. "I got to practice and play a lot [in Florida] and I focused more on my short game. That has really helped."

Torres tied for second in the most recent sectional event, shooting an even-par 70 at the Saratoga Polo & Golf Club.

"Knowing that I qualified at Berkshire Hills last year and shooting even par [at Saratoga] give me confidence," Torres said.

He played a practice round at Berkshire Hills with Wahconah member Paul Briggs, one of seven county amateurs in Mon day's field, this week and liked what he saw.

"The greens are spectacular," Torres said. "They are smooth and fast, yet they are also receptive. That's what every pro likes."

In last year's Mass. Open, Torres got off to a strong start and was near the top of the leaderboard when a pushed second shot on the 18th hole at Oak Hill Country Club in Fitchburg hit a tree and led to a triple bogey.

"It was one bad swing," Torres said. "It happened on the wrong hole."

Torres eventually missed the cut. He hopes to get a second chance at Walpole June 5-7.

Another player in the field showing good early form is Wyan tenuck Country Club head professional Tom Sullivan. The smooth-swinging veteran tied for fourth in the first section event and tied with Torres for second at Saratoga.

Last year, the 62-year-old Sullivan lost in the playoff for one of the alternate spots in the Berkshire Hills qualifier.

Others pros with county ties in the field are Marinaro, Jim Salinetti, David Strawn and Donnie Troy.

Salinetti, a three-time Mass. Amateur champion and two-time New England Amateur champion, is in his second year as the head professional at Winchester Country Club in suburban Boston. He struggled in last year's qualifier, but he had precious little practice time as he settled into his new job.

Salinetti has worked with Sullivan, his teacher during his amateur heyday, and is reportedly playing better than a year ago.

Amateurs with county connections in the field are Briggs, Bob Linn, Shane Ortega. Hayden Jarck, Steve Sykes, William Hadden and Aaron Klimchuk.

Ortega, Kilmchuk and Jarck represent the young guard of county players. Ortega is the No. 1 man on the MCLA golf team, Klimchuk plays for Denison College in Ohio and Jarck earned All-Eagle honors for Pittsfield High last fall.

The county is already guaranteed three players in the field at Walpole. Stockbridge Golf Club's Steve Mazzariello won a spot by capturing the Berkshire County Pro Champ ionship in October. Amateur Andy Cong don earned an exemption by winning Mass. Golf As sociation senior player of the year honors for 2011 and Berkshire Hills head professional Josh Hillman got an invitation for hosting the qualifier.

This year's qualifying event is being held two weeks earlier than in previous years because the Mass. Open has also been moved up two weeks. MGA Exec utive Director Joe Sprague said the change was made so the Open wouldn't conflict with the National Professional Championship. That is the biggest national event for club pros and the conflict was denying some of the state's best players the chance to play in both.

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The last of the 11 greens damaged by floods last fall at Stockbridge Golf Club opened for play this week when green superintendent Bruce Packard put the fourth green back in play.