What a difference a month and a new putting grip can make.
Herbie Aikens, who missed reaching match play at the Massachusetts Amateur Championship at nearby Taconic Golf Club in early July largely because of poor putting, shot a 3-under 68 on Sunday to take the opening round lead in the Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship at Waubeeka Golf Links.
Aikens, the 2014 Public Links champion, shot an opening nine of 1-under 35, but suffered a pair of bogeys to start his back nine before draining a 40-foot birdie using his new crosshanded grip on the short par-4 13th, which happens to be the most undulating and dangerous green on the par-71 course.
"That gave me some momentum," said Aikens.
Indeed, he birdied the par-5 15th and eagled the par-5 17th to grab a one-shot lead over a pair of college golfers — Crumpin-Fox Club member Cody Booska (Johnson & Wales University in Florida) and Wachusett Country Club's Owen Quinn (Lehigh University).
Tekoa Country Club's James Patterson, a former Worthington Golf Club member who has played a lot of tournament golf in the Berkshires, and Cyprian Keys Golf Club member Nick Bendiak are tied for fourth place at 1-under 70.
The cut to 66 players came a 7-over 78 with both Berkshire County golfers in the field falling short. Waubeeka's Jeff Bourdon shot an 83 while Wahconah County Club's Paul Briggs struggled home with an 89.
For Bourdon, however, it was still a memorable day. A large gallery gave him a rousing ovation as he stepped to the first tee.
"It added a little bit of nerves, but it was really nice," said Bourdon. "It was a lot of fun, and I am thankful that they all came out to watch."
The fact that his home club, which almost went out of business before it was sold to Mike Deep in March 2014, was hosting a Massachusetts Golf Association championship event hit home with the 31-year-old former Drury High athlete.
"It is definitely amazing," said Bourdon. "Most of the people who get out here don't even realize that this part of Massachusetts exists. It is a good showcase for the course, for [course owner Deep] and the superintendent [Brian Bartlett] and for everyone to see how great of a course we have out here."
Aikens, who played two practice rounds before Sunday, agrees with Bourdon about the picturesque layout.
"It is a great golf course," said Aikens. "It is not overly long, but it can be penal. Some of these shots you have to work it both ways. You have to hit some cut shots and you have to hit some draws and every hole has beautiful views. You get up on the par-3 14th, and I just don't know if there is a better view in the state."
Aikens and partner Matt Parziale started the season by capturing the Mass. FourBall title, but after that his putter went AWOL at the Mass. Am and several other events before Pinehills Golf Club pro John Tuffin talked him into going lefthand low after a particularly frustrating round in the Ouiment Memorial Tournament on Cape Cod.
"I have putted 1,000 times better since then," said Aikens. "All of a sudden I am hitting lines, and I am confident again. I feel like if I have a 12-footer I have a legit chance of making it. It has been a lot more fun playing golf the past few days."
He will try to keep the flat stick hot today and will need to with 14 golfers bunched between 68 and 72 as he attempts to win his seventh MGA state championship.
In addition to his Public Links title, the 34-year-old won the 2014 Mass. Mid-Amateur and he has won four Mass. FourBall titles, this year's with Parziale and three with Ryan Riley.
The 20-year-old Booska, who lives in Turners Falls, has had more than one good round at Waubeeka to his credit, having earned medalist honors in a Public Links qualifier at the Williamstown course last year.
""It fits my game well," said Booska, who had nines of 35 and 34. "When I played here last year, I shot 41 on the front and 31 on the back so I figured that if I could get a good round going on the front starting today I could get something good going."
The 18-year-old Quinn also seemed to find a comfort level at Waubeeka.
""It's a nice layout out here," said Quinn. "It's tough to get to but once you are here it's a nice spot with great views. It's right in front of you and you can definitely score here. The par 5s are all getable the greens rolled nice. It's a nice place to play."
Aikens, Booska and Quinn will tee off in the final group at 9:40 a.m.
Information from mga.org was used in this report.
1. Herbie Aikens — 68 (-3). T2. Cody Booska — 69 (-2). T2. Owen Quinn — 69 (-2). T4. Nick Bendiak — 70 (-1). T4. James Patterson — 70 (-1). 6. Christian Jensen — 71 (E). T7. Mark Millay — 72 (+1). T7. Jesse Morgan — 72 (+1). T7. Matt Cowgill — 72 (+1). T7. John Salerno — 72 (+1). T7. Stephen Larson — 72 (+1). T7. Matthew Flanagan — 72 (+1). T7. Billy Van Stratum — 72 (+1). T7. Damon Lusk — 72 (+1). T15. Ryan Clancy — 73 (+2). T15. Ben Jenkins — 73 (+2). T15. John Clancy — 73 (+2). T15. Jacob Zaranek — 73 (+2). T15. Michael Mertes — 73 (+2). T15. Dave Houghton — 73 (+2). T15. Kip Webber — 73 (+2).