Berkshire County locals miss out on Mass. Open golf qualifying at Wahconah
DALTON -- An 11-year-old girl qualifying for U.S. Women's Open. Lydia Ko, at 17, the world's third-ranked female golfer. Lexi Thompson an LPGA major winner at 19. Jordan Spieth all the rage at 20 in a year when youth is an ongoing PGA Tour story.
The trend is obvious, but that doesn't mean guile and experience don't occasionally trump power and youthful verve.
That was the case Wednesday at Wahconah Country Club when Billy Downes, a familiar name for 20-plus years in Western Massachusetts golf circles, shot a steady 1-under-par 70 to tie for medalist honors with New York's Christopher DeForest in a Massachusetts Open qualifier.
The 48-year-old was the only Bay State golfer to earn a spot in next month's Open. Of the Berkshire County hopefuls, Taconic Golf Club head professional and Williams golf coach Josh Hillman came the closest to grabbing one of the six available berths, missing by two shots with a 73.
New York's Bryan Bigley, New Hampshire's Sam Brackett and the Pennsylvania duo of Andrew Turner and Brian Bergstol were the other four qualifiers, shooting 71s. No amateurs qualified.
"It's so much fun to compete against the younger guys," said Downes, the head professional at Hampden Country Club, which is in the midst of a major renovation. ‘I give up quite a bit of yardage. It's good to show them that the guy with the gray hair can still get it around the course."
Downes, who spent five years on the then-Nike Tour (now the Web.com Tour) in the 1990s, worked his way around the 6,545-yard course efficiently on a picture-perfect, windless day.
"Even though I didn't hit it great, I managed my ball around," said Downes, who had two birdies and one bogey. "It's better to be short and straight than short and crooked."
Asked how many Mass. Opens he has played in, Downes had to pause. No wonder -- his best estimate is 16. He said he has finished in the top five a couple of times, so he should know what to expect when he arrives at Weston Country Club.
One of Downes' playing partners was Hillman, who was riding high off a successful U.S. Open local qualifying attempt last week in New York, but admittedly wasn't as sharp at Wahconah.
"I didn't hit it very good out there," he said. "I love to play in my state Open, so it hurts a little, but there are bigger things out there. I am already working to get ready for the [U.S. Open] sectional qualifying."
That will be held June 2 in Purchase, N.Y.
Though he wasn't thrilled with his ball striking, Hillman was still 1 under after 12 before a deadly streak of three bogeys on 13,14 and 15, three holes he admits he considers a little quirky.
"Take those out of the equation and I tie for medalist," Hillman said.
Former Pittsfield High School star Matt Donovan had the next best score for the local contingent with a 75.
"I haven't competed in a while, but that's no excuse," said Donovan, who lives in North Palm Beach, Fla., and caddies at the prestigious Seminole Golf Club. "Today's round was sloppy. I hit my tee ball well, but the rest of my game was sour."
Meanwhile, Worthington's James Patterson shot a 78, Berkshire Hills' Hayden Jarck had an 82 and Wahconah's Paul Briggs, who is recovering from pneumonia, struggled to an 86.
One of the five out-of-state qualifiers, Turner missed by a shot in a U.S. Open qualifying attempt of his own last week.
"I didn't want that to happen again," a relieved Turner said.
Turner, who has qualified for the Mass. Open three times, missed all of last year with an Achilles' injury and said he is using this year as "one last shot" to prove he can move up to the next level as a playing professional.
"My wife and I have decided we'll have an argument about it at the end of the year," joked Turner, who no doubt hopes the Mass. Open will help his case.
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