Brendan Hunter wins Mass. Amateur golf championship at Taconic
WILLIAMSTOWN >> When Brendan Hunter arrived in Berkshire County Sunday for the 108th Massachusetts Amateur golf championship, he admitted he just wanted to get into match play. Five days of golf later and the Groton resident is the best amateur golfer in the state of Massachusetts.
"I started off playing junior golf for the fun of it. I fell in love with tournament golf, and once I started playing junior tournaments with [the Massachusetts Golf Association], I always wanted to see how far I could make it in the Amateur," Hunter said before being awarded the championship trophy. "It's kind of surreal to make it this far."
Hunter, who plays out of the Red Tail Golf Club, beat John Kelly of East Longmeadow and Twin Hills Country Club 4 and 3 after 33 of the 36 scheduled holes of the final at Taconic Golf Club. The pair halved the final two holes, and Kelly could not catch up.
It was Hunter's first Mass. Amateur title, while Kelly, who played at the University of Rhode Island, was seeking to win his first title since 2014.
"Like I said [Thursday], I only brought three outfits. I'm just happy to be here," Hunter said.
Hunter entered match play as the No. 9 seed and beat his St. Thomas Aquinas College teammate Christopher Gentile in the first round.
Kelly was the 27th seed in match play and he knocked off a St. Thomas Aquinas player, Kevin Gately of Pembroke, in the round of 16. But Kelly could not get the better of Hunter, Gately's college teammate.
"He played pretty good. I didn't play very well today," Kelly said as he walked back toward the clubhouse. "You get out of position here and you're fighting for your life really.
"I tried to hang in there as much as I could, but he definitely played better today."
And Hunter definitely played better on two particular holes along the back nine that gave him a commanding lead.
Hunter was 1 up on Kelly after the first 18 holes of the day, and couldn't seem to pull away over the first eight holes of the second round. That changed on the ninth.
The ninth hole is one of the more spectator-friendly holes on the Taconic layout, what with its "stadium" green. The par-3 hole had the flag placed near the front of the green. Both golfers hit the green but Kelly's birdie putt missed by about a foot. Hunter had the more makeable putt, an 8-footer, and drained it to go two up after 27 holes.
Here was where the wheels kind of came off for Kelly.
On the 10th hole, Kelly found himself in the rough on the right side after he hit a shorter tee shot than Hunter. Kelly's second shot found sand to the front left of the 10th's elevated green. Kelly's first shot out of the bunker didn't clear the top of the hill and rolled back down. A second attempt did the same, and that led to Hunter winning the hole and going 3 up.
"That's how match play goes," said Kelly. "You know he's going to make a little bit of a run. I just had to play better, that's all."
For his part, Hunter said he knew the door was open at that point.
"I didn't drop any putts on the first 26 holes," said the new champion. "On 9, I finally got one to lip in and it kind of got me on a roll. It gave me a little more confidence on the green to two-putt most of them."
There were five putts for birdie in the 33 holes of match play golf. Both Hunter and Kelly admitted that on Friday, Taconic was a very unforgiving golf course, especially on the greens.
"They were like sheets of ice out there. [Putts] were moving quick," said Hunter. "Every downhill, I played the absolute most break I could possibly see and just kind of coast it down every time."
The first 18 holes kind of looked like Kelly's 1 up win over Dan Cappucci in Thursday's semifinal round. While he never led, Kelly never trailed by more than two holes against Hunter.
"I was scrambling like a maniac all day. After that many holes, it feels like I played 200 holes," Kelly said. "It's a lot, and trying to grind out every hole takes its toll. If I had hit the ball better, it would have been more relaxing, but I didn't. That is why he won."
For his part, Hunter said the win capped off a great week, and a very nice spring.
"I had never made match play before. Just being here is phenomenal," he said. "I got my first collegiate win this spring. That just gave me some confidence," the newest Mass. Amateur champion said. "I came in here swinging well, and I'm just happy to make it all the way."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.
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