Eliot, Mahoney take top spots at Massachusetts Amateur Championship qualifier
James Eliot and Jake Mahoney, who were paired together in Monday's Massachusetts Amateur Championship qualifying tournament, had wildly different finishes, but in the end both left the Country Club of Pittsfied with what they came for — spots in the state amateur field.
Eliot (Crumpin-Fox Club) finished in spectacular fashion, making three consecutive birdies to earn medalist honors with an even-par 71. Mahoney, a member at Greenock Country Club in Lee, had bogeys on the final two holes to finish second with a 72.
The playing partners were two of eight in the 46-player field to punch their tickets to Taconic Golf Club in July when Berkshire County will host the Massachusetts Golf Association's biggest amateur event for the first time since 2011.
Taylor Bellemare, who lives in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and lists Waubeeka Golf Links as his home course, shot a 2-over 73 to tie for third place with Longmeadow Country Club veteran Tim Tunstall.
The other qualifiers -- Erik Yarrows (Hickory Ridge GC), Derek Yvon (Great Horse), Matt Perry (Springfield CC) and Cody Miller (The Ledges GC) -- all finished at 3-over 73.
Eliot,19, believes he benefitted from being paired with someone who was also playing well. Before those final three holes, he trailed Mahoney by four shots.
"I knew that he was ahead of me, so it gave me something to strive against," said Eliot, who just finished his freshman golf season at Assumption College.
He says he "really grinded" on those final three holes in an effort to cement his first state amateur berth. That grinding resulted in draining two bombs in a row -- from about 30 feet on the par-5 16th and almost 40 feet on the par-3 17th.
"It was crazy, but the greens were rolling good so I knew if I got them on line they had a chance" said Eliot, who lives in Gill and attended Pioneer Valley Regional High.
On the short par-4 18th, he made a more conventional birdie, stuffing his second shot to within 3 feet and making the putt.
"I was more nervous over the 3-footer," admitted Eliot.
Mahoney, 25, who moved to the Berkshires last year from Newton and will soon be moving to Florida, was playing the course for the first time and got a positive introduction by making a birdie on No. 1, blasting a good drive on the tight par-4 hole and then hitting a 9-iron to about 2 feet.
"Making that birdie was really important for my confidence," said Mahoney, who played college golf at Elon (N.C.) University. "It put a little bounce in my step."
Not many succeed on their first trip around a course that requires precision over power with its elevation changes, tight fairways and well-guarded greens. Mahoney proved to be the exception to that rule.
"It's tricky," said Mahoney, who had his dad along as his caddie. "There are a lot of elevation changes and you really need good distance control. ...It might have been ignorant to hit driver on No. 1."
Mahoney shot a 1-under 34 on the front nine and played the first seven holes on the back at even par. He almost aced the downhill, par-3 13th for his last of three birdies. While the bogeys on the final two holes cost him medalist honors, the goal of getting to Taconic was reached.
"I was pretty steady," said Mahoney, who played in the 2013 Mass. Open but will be playing in his first Mass. Amateur. "I hit 15 greens and was just solid."
Bellemare, 24, a former Iona College golfer, also started with a birdie and was even par at the turn. His back nine included two birdies (Nos. 10 and 14), two bogeys (Nos. 11 and 12) and a double bogey (No. 16) where he found water off the tee.
"I played a practice round Friday and had good vibes about the course," Bellemare said. "I hit it really well today. I only missed two greens and my two bogeys on the back nine came from three putts."
Unlike the top two finishers, Bellemare will head to Taconic, where his grandfather has been a member, with plenty of course knowledge.
"I have played there more than 30 times," said Bellemare, who will also be playing in his first Mass. Amateur. "The greens are tough when they are fast and there are some really good golf holes. You need to use your driver there more than on this course."
Two Taconic golfers — senior standout Bill Hadden and Chad Alibozek, who is also a member at Forest Park Country Club — tied for ninth with 76s to gain alternate status with three others including Tommy Cothern, who lives in eastern Mass. during the school year but has been spending his summers in Hinsdale.
HEADING TO TACONIC
James Eliot 71
Jake Mahoney 72
Taylor Bellemare 73
Tim Tunstall 73
Erik Yarrows 74
Derek Yvon 74
Matt Perry 74
Cody Miller 74
Tommy Cothern 76
Bill Hadden 76
Paul Chmura 76
Chad Alibozek 76
Colin Izzo 76
OTHER COUNTY PLAYERS
Mark Chylinski, 77; Adam Brickle, 79; Matt Scarafoni, 80; Brian Cunningham, 80; Owen Huntger, 81; Matt Ortega, 83; Taylor Foehl, 84; Paul Briggs, 85; Andy Polidoro, 86; Matt Gilardi, 86; Matt Gajda, 88.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.