Sunday July 1, 2012

Sometimes, when you least expect it, the crazy game of golf rewards you with a round to remember. That was the case when professional golfer Matt Donovan flew north from Florida to help his brother Dave celebrate his 40th birthday recently.

"I was up at 4 a.m. to get on a a plane and was home with my dad, and Dave at noon," said the former Pittsfield High School golfer.

Some eight hours later, having gone to the Country Club of Pittsfield for a quick nine with dad, Dave and longtime friend Michael Mazzeo before dinner, Donovan had tied the course record -- a mark he already held -- with a 9-under-par 62.

The performance came with a big assist -- and some insistence -- from veteran CC of Pittsfield head professional Brad Benson.

"Matt comes in after playing nine to thank me before leaving," Benson said. "I said, ‘How did you play?' He says, ‘Well, I just shot 30.' I said, ‘That's 6 under, brother. You're going on, right?' He said, ‘It's late.' He didn't want me to have to stay. I told him I still had some work to do, and told him ‘You've got to go.' "

The dinner plans were put on hold and it was off to the first tee -- the foursome had played the back nine first.

"Brad says you've got to keep playing," Donovan said. "It was 7 o'clock, but my dad says ‘Sure, let's go.' We played fast."

Donovan birdied No. 1 and 2, giving him an amazing eight birdies in his first 11 holes. After a pair of pars, he birdied the short, uphill par-4 fifth.


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"So, I'm 9 under with four holes to go and I need to get to 10 to set the record," Donovan said. "Then I missed a good birdie chance on No. 6 and ended up bogeying No. 7."

Donovan popped up his drive on the uphill, 405-yard seventh, leaving himself a long approach shot. He missed the green -- the only one he missed in regulation.

"I almost got it up and down," he said.

So, Donovan needed a birdie-birdie finish to set a new record and one birdie to tie it.

"[The par-5] eighth is a good birdie chance, but I didn't get it up and down," as he settled for a par.

Well, tying the record wouldn't be bad either, and he did it with a clutch 20-foot putt on the par-3 ninth that fronts South Street.

Of the two rounds, this one was more special for a couple of reasons.

"The first time [in October 2007], it was rainy and wet and we were playing ball-in-hand, giving that round an asterisk," Donovan said. "To do it playing with my father, brother and a great family friend is a great way to come home. It was just a fun day. I haven't been playing at that level for the last couple of years."

The 34-year-old has had an up-and-down run on mini-tours and most recently South Africa's Sunshine Tour, but he's hasn't given up hopes of playing on the PGA Tour. The round at his home course shows he still has game.

"I've been making changes and haven't played much [in tournaments], he said. "I want to get better before I go out. Maybe this can be a steppingstone. ... It's a grind, but I am still grinding. Tour qualifying school is always a goal."

Donovan has been spending his winters caddying at Sem inole Golf Club, one of the country's best clubs and most challenging courses, and one frequented by tour players in the offseason.

"Being at Seminole, he sees a lot of top-notch tour players and he has to be saying to himself, ‘Man, I can play with them,' " Benson said. "He's a great player. He has the game. It tells you how hard it is."

Donovan expects to play in some events this summer as he looks for a least one more run at the big time.

"Time is ticking, but I haven't given up," he said. "It's a tough gig and it hasn't pan ned out recently. But I still love the game. The light at the end of the tunnel is very bright if you can find something that clicks."

To contact Richard Lord:
rlord@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6236.