Forty-two years after winning his first Stockbridge Club championship and 11 years since his most recent, Rick Iemolini captured his 17th club title a week ago Sunday.
You'd think for someone who had won the championship that many times, it would be just another in a long line of victories.
Think again. For several reasons, this might have been the most satisfying win of them all.
"This one is pretty special for me," Iemolini said. "It had been 11 years and I wanted to win for my son [Matthew], who is 12 and hadn't seen me do it."
Iemolini's return to the top is a testament to the 61-year-old's perseverance. He has overcome rotator cuff surgery, a hip replacement and several other health-related issues to get his game back to a level that culminated in his one-shot victory over Chris White.
"My wife [Terri] was my greatest motivator in trying to get back to where I want to be," Iemolini said. "Both my wife and son have been great supporters. The hip replacement was a pretty big deal. It took two or three years to come back from that, but I've felt a lot better this year and have been playing better."
The 50-year Stockbridge member's rehab efforts were also was spurred on by his love for the game.
"Golf itself was a definite motivator," said Iemolini, who is a painting contractor. "I love golf. It's my hobby. I really love to play and compete."
Iemolini started the 54-hole tournament with a 2-over 73 to put himself in a strong position.
"I shot the 73 and then a couple of odd circumstances happened when Jim Finnerty didn't continue to play and Randy Driscoll got sick and had to withdraw," Iemolini said. "A couple of the other top players were also not doing well, so I figured I had a chance."
Iemolini followed up his 73 with a 78 to go into the final round with the lead.
"Somehow I did it," he said. "If I wasn't up by three shots going into the final hole, I wouldn't have done it. I shot an 80, which wasn't good, but I had it in mind to do whatever it took to win by one shot."
Iemolini has experienced plenty of high-pressure golf, including playing in the U.S. Amateur at Muirfield Village in 1992 in a field that included a 16-year-old Tiger Woods. Yet, with his son watching and the belief it might be his last chance to win the club title, he was far from calm.
"That was the most nervous I have ever been," he admitted. "It was special having my son there, which is probably why I put so much pressure on myself."
The victory was one that brought a lot of smiles to club members and many in the Berkshire golfing community.
"It was absolutely a popular win," Stockbridge head professional Steve Mazzariello said. "Everyone was happy for him. He played well in difficult conditions and was definitely the best player over three days. He has worked very hard and is a student of the game."
"Rick is a great guy and one of the most popular golfers in the area," said Finnerty, who is Iemolini's next-door neighbor and a lifetime friend. The two were born 8 hours apart in the same hospital and caddied together as kids at Stockbridge.
The pair's friendship was exhibited when Finnerty qualified for last year's Massachusetts Amateur at Wyantenuck Country Club.
"Rick told me that he wanted to caddie for me," Finnerty said. "With all he has had to deal with, I told him he didn't have to do that, but he insisted. I told Rick we could take a cart, but he said he wanted to carry my bag."
"I absolutely wanted to be there," Iemolini said. "We've been playing golf together since we were 11 and have always rooted for each other. ... Maybe if I had gotten in his face on the last hole, he would have qualified [for match play]." Finnerty came up one shot short of advancing.
Amazingly, Iemolini has now won club championships in his teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, a rare golfing feat to be sure.
"I wasn't keeping track of that," he said. "Other members told me I'd done that."
Being unaware isn't surprising, given Iemolini's self-analysis.
"I've never been a great golfer, just a solid one," he said.
If that's the case, most of us would definitely settle for just being "solid."
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