Richard Lord | Tee to Green: Josh Hillman to represent Berkshire County at Mass. Open
Taconic Golf Club head professional Josh Hillman will be the only Berkshire County golfer in the field when the 107th Massachusetts Open Championship gets underway Monday at Worcester Country Club.
While he will be the lone local participant, Hillman heads east with the knowledge that he played well at the historic course in the 2000 Massachusetts Amateur Championship and that a Berkshire County product and former college teammate captured that championship.
Jim Salinetti, then a member at Stockbridge Golf Club and currently the head pro at Winchester Country Club, won in 2000 while Hillman reached the semifinals. The victory was Salinetti's third in four year's in the state's top amateur tournament.
Three of the four finalists were University of Rhode Island teammates — Salinetti, Hillman and Mike Carbone. Hillman lost to Carbone in the match-play semifinals, who was then beaten by Salinetti in the championship match.
Hillman, who also tied for sixth in the Mass. Open that same year as an amateur, got a fresh look at the classic Donald Ross course earlier this week in his lone practice round.
"Since 2000, they have removed thousands of trees and the place looks amazing," said Hillman. "It's in great shape, which I expected. ... It's a typical Ross course. You don't want to go long or miss it left or right. There are a lot of good holes."
Though it will play at around 6,700 yards — short by today's pro tournament standards — Hillman doesn't expect the par-70 layout, which will be hosting the tournament for a record seventh time, to be a pushover despite what is annually one of the best fields in any state open.
"I think even par will be a good score, I don't think anybody will rip it up," Hillman said.
Though he hasn't played much tournament golf recently, Hillman isn't going to Worcester just to say he played in the 54-hole, $75,000 event or just to make the cut to 50 players after the second round.
"I feel pretty confident about my game," said Hillman, who tied for second as the host pro in the recent Northeast New York PGA Section Stoke Play Championship at Taconic. "I am going to compete and expect to be around on Wednesday afternoon."
Still, he knows he's now in the veteran category as he takes on the long-hitting youngsters who will be part of the field this week.
"I'm approaching 40," he said. "I played my practice round with a couple of 19-year-olds."
Hillman will be paired with amateur legend Frank Vana Jr., the nine-time Massachusetts Golf Association player of the year. Vana captured his first Mass. Amateur title at Taconic, which will host this year's amateur.
"I don't know if the MGA made that pairing on purpose because we are hosting the amateur, but I am excited about playing with Frank," Hillman said. "I've played with him a number of times and Jeff Martin [who will fill out the threesome] is also a good player."
There will be 10 former champions in the field, including defending champion Joe Harney, six-time champion Geoffrey Sisk and Fran Quinn Jr., who won the tournament way back in 1990 but has shown he still has game recently on the Champions Tour.
Getting your name on this trophy, considering the tournament's 106-year history, is a big deal. In the first half of the 20th century, some of golf's biggest names annually made the trip to the state to compete. Course designer Ross won the first title in 1905 and other past champions include amateur legend Francis Ouimet, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Julius Boros.
To win at Worcester CC would also be the special. It is the only course to host a U.S. Open (1925), Ryder Cup (1927) and U.S. Women's Open (1960).
The Open was a classic, with amateur great Bobby Jones losing a four-shot lead on the final nine holes to lose by one to Willie McFarlane in a 36-hole playoff. McFarlane shot a 33 on the final nine. Ouimet and Sarazen finished one shot back.
Jones would have won outright if he had not called a one-shot penalty on himself when a ball moved as he addressed it. Nobody else saw the ball move. He had a classic answer — which is repeated on a plaque on the 11th tee — when he was praised by reporters for calling the penalty on himself.
"You might as well praise me for not robbing a bank," he said. "There is only one way to play the game of golf."
Worthington Golf Club's Ed Figiela took top low gross honors in the A Division of the first event of the Berkshire County Senior Golf Association season at Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort.
Fiegiela shot an 83 to edge Doug Reed, also of Worthington, by one shot.
The other division winners were Wyantenuck Golf Club's Steve Bernstein (Division B), Worthington's Doug Link (Division C) and Tom Halstead (Division D).
The next association event is on July 25 at Wahconah Country Club.