A week that didn't start out so well turned out just fine for Country Club of Pittsfield member Josh Shepard.
The talented amateur opened his two-tournament week with a disappointing 79 at Great Horse in Hampden in the opening round of the Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship on Sept. 9, meaning just making the cut to the low 30-and-ties was going to be a challenge.
Fast-forward to last Sunday, five days later, and the 37-year-old had earned himself a spot in next year's Mid-Amateur by finishing in the top 15 at Great Horse, and then partnered with Wyantenuck Country Club member Mike Schopp to win the 36-hole Stockbridge Trophy best-ball tournament by three shots.
One of the keys to Shepard's memorable week came a little earlier, when he and Schopp decided to team up for the first time in the Trophy, which was originally scheduled for June but was pushed back to September because of the state's COVID-19 rules.
"We were both looking for partners and we have similar games," Shepard said. "It was a good fit. Mike's game is really good all-around. He was the one that made more of the tough pars the few times we were looking at bogey."
Take away the difficult par-4 ninth hole where they went bogey, double bogey — "we were 0-for-4 on our tee shots and didn't execute any shots well," Shepard said — the pairing was rock-solid with both making contributions. Shepard produced six birdies and an eagle, while Schopp, who won last year's Stockbridge Invitational with Davis Mullany, made four birdies and those crucial par saves.
Shepard credits one of Schopp's birdies as being particularly meaningful. It came just after that ugly double bogey on the nine.
"Mike made an awesome birdie on No. 10, especially considering what we had just done on 9, hitting a great iron to about 10 feet and making the putt" Shepard said.
The duo had started the final round one shot behind defending champions James Ryan and Aidan Brownlie, who opened with a 6-under 65, and one shot ahead of Stockbridge's Chris Shields and Berkshire Hills Country Club's Randy Driscoll, always title threats considering their handful of victories together in the Trophy.
Ryan, a member at the Links at Worthington, and Brownlie, Ryan's nephew and a Brooklyn, N.Y. resident, struggled on Sunday, settling for a 72 and eventually finishing fifth with a 36-hole total of 5-under 137.
Schoop's birdie on 10 and Shepard's eagle on the par-5 15th put the duo in a good position, though they didn't know exactly where they stood. By the time the partners reached the 18th tee, that had changed.
"We were 1 up on James and Aidan at the turn, but we didn't know anything about Chris and Randy or anyone else, though we didn't see any pep in the steps of those in front of us, so when we birdied No. 17 to go to 9 under, we felt pretty good."
Shepard hit a 6-iron on about 15 feet on the dogleg-right par 4 and drained the putt. One hole and a par later, they were champions by three shots over two teams, Driscoll and Shields, who fired a final-round 69, and Berkshire Hills member Mark Chylinski and his Albany-NY.-area partner Glenn Stopera, who shot a pair of 68s.
"It's been a couple of years (since winning), so it feels pretty good," Shepard said. "I've had a rough year putting and winning usually comes down to making putts."
Which, of course, he did over the weekend. It's no coincidence that his confidence was high following his 73 at Great Horse — it was the fourth-best round that day — especially since he made clutch birdie putts on Nos. 16 and 17 to seal that spot in next year's Mid-Amateur.
"It was a good comeback and a great experience," said Shepard, who finished in the top 15 despite a triple-bogey 8 in his opening-round 79 and two double bogeys during his second-round 76. "It gave me a good feeling to make those birdies and that momentum definitely carried over to Stockbridge."
REMEMBERING DOUG EVANS
The golf professionals who work at Berkshire County courses and their colleagues across the border in New York are in mourning following the news that Doug Evans, the tournament director for the Northeast New York PGA section, suffered a heart attack and died while giving Player Ability Tests at Schenectady (N.Y.) Municipal Golf Course on Friday.
According to an announcement from the NENY section, despite efforts made on site and those performed at nearby Ellis Hospital, Evans was not able to be revived.
As a member and chairman on several NENY committees over the past 12 years, Taconic Golf Club head professional Josh Hillman has worked closely with Evans and was stunned by the sad news about his good friend.
"Obviously, this is a big shock to me, to all the pros and everyone who knew Doug well," Hillman said in a phone interview. "I had just spoke to him at 12:16 today, and then at 4 o'clock we get the text telling us that he had died."
Hillman said he didn't believe Evans, who was an assistant pro at Hartford Golf Club before joining the NENY section, was dealing with any major medical issues prior to Friday's heart attack.
As for his work, I can certainly attest to his communication skills. During the golf season, his tournament coverage and emails seemed to show up almost daily, making my job easier whenever I was trying to report on section tournaments and news.
"He really knew his stuff and was a class act," Hillman said. "He always had the best interest of the golf pros at heart and he was very personable and really funny. Even my 10-year-old son Jacob said he was going to miss him."
My condolences go to the Evans family and to Doug's large Northeast New York PGA Section family.
SENNETT 3RD IN NEW YORK
Country Club of Pittsfield assistant professional Thomas Sennett earned the second alternate spot on Monday in the Northeast New York PGA Section's qualifier for the National Car Rental Assistants Championship.
Sennett had rounds 72 and 71 to finish at 1-under 143 to finish behind section kingpin Scott Berliner and Chris Ferraro, who both finished at 3-under 141. Berliner prevailed in a six-hole marathon playoff to earn the one guaranteed spot into the national tournament.
Ferraro will be the first alternate while Justin Hearley earned the third alternate position for finishing third with a 151 total.
Sennett was also an alternate last year while Berliner ended up finishing third in the national tournament in Port St. Lucie, Fla. This year's championship will also be played at Port St. Lucie. It is scheduled for Nov. 12-15.
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