josh shepard

Josh Shepard tees off on the 18th hole at Berkshire Hills Country Club. Shepard shot a 3-under 213 to claim the 66th Singles Championship.

PITTSFIELD — Josh Shepard’s second shot from the 18th fairway at Berkshire Hills Country Club on Sunday afternoon landed him in a sand trap. A clearing wedge later, he shorted his birdie putt.

It mattered incredibly little, however, because of how he had set himself up throughout the weekend-long, 54-hole Singles Championship tournament.

Shepard led wire-to-wire and finished five strokes clear of the field to claim his first Singles Championship title with a 68-74-71—213. He was 3-under par for the weekend.

“I just figured if I went out and played my game, stayed in the moment, I was going to be hard to catch,” said Shepard, a member at Country Club of Pittsfield. “I thought at 1-under, nobody was going to catch me, and if they did, good for them.

“Hit one good shot at a time, keep it simple.”

He was able to have that mindset thanks to an opening round of 4-under 68, which included four birdies and an eagle on that par-5 18th hole. He had four bogeys and two birdies in a 2-over 74 on Saturday and took a two-stroke lead into Sunday. He made the turn in the final round at 1-over 36 after bogeying No. 9, but quickly righted the ship with birdies on Nos. 10 and 12. Shepard birdied the 10th hole in all three of his rounds.

“Honestly, came into this week just focused on my mental game. I’ve been hitting it well. I figured if I used my head, had some good thoughts throughout the weekend, I’d play well,” said Shepard, who won the Stockbridge Trophy earlier this summer with Mike Schopp. “Played with some confidence and stayed present and focused.”

When he cleared off the final green as a light drizzle started to fall, a pack of four golfers were left looking up to him from 2-over 218.

One of those 218s, Mike Kays, played in the final grouping with Shepard and Jeff Puleri on Sunday.

Kays, a rising senior at American International College and former Taconic High standout, shot an opening-round 69 to set him up well to be in the mix. He finished with a 75 on Saturday and 74 on Sunday.

“I was a little nervous playing in the last group yesterday, so today I wasn’t as nervous,” said Kays. “It was fun. Good competition, good experience.”

Kays worked the scorer’s desk for the Pewter Cup at Berkshire Hills, but was excited to get out to swing with the more seasoned players this weekend.

“I’m always confident in myself, but I think I turned a few heads this weekend,” said Kays, who won the Berkshire Classic in 2017 for Taconic. “I just wanted to have some fun. Thought maybe an even-par would win it, but Josh just wouldn’t budge. He made zero mistakes all weekend.”

Joining Kays at 2-over for the weekend were Country Club of Pittsfield’s Matt Gilardi and Matthew Scarafoni, along with John Del Priore, a 21-year-old out of Hollow Brook Golf Club in New York.

Puleri, who is president of the Board of Directors at BHCC and the 2018 Singles Champion, dropped off on Sunday with a 77, following back-to-back days of even-par golf. He entered the final round 2-back with Kays, but had a double-bogey on No. 2 and battled uphill from there. Puleri did birdie Nos. 15 and 18 to close.

“Always good to play with Jeff,” said Shepard, who shared a cart with Puleri Sunday. “Figure you have to play a tough match with him all the way till the end. He’s a class guy to play with even when he’s not at his best.”

On the weekend as a whole, given the weeks of steady rain Berkshire County had been dealt of late, Puleri was more than pleased with how the Singles Championship turned out.

“This is a tremendous weekend for Berkshire Hills. The course showcased really well, a lot of really good players here. Scoring was great, playing was great. Got it all in on kind of an iffy day,” he said after finishing 5-over 221 in a tie with Chad Stoffer — the 2019 Singles Champion out of Colonie, N.Y. — for seventh place. “All in all, really a home run. Happy to put on an event for the Berkshires and beyond. We drew a lot of people from out of the region as well, hopefully it continues to grow.

“Josh is a great champion, deserves it all the way.”

Aaron Nackoul, who won the Pewter Cup with Andy Brickle a couple weeks ago, finished alone in sixth in 3-over 219. Brady Allbritton and Clint Lange rounded out the top 10 in a 6-over tie.

Winning the Senior First Flight was Bob Linn of the host course, whose 7-over 223 would put him 11th in the Championship Flight. Linn had one double-bogey in three rounds, and birdied Nos. 4, 13 and 18 on Sunday. Don Richardson took the Senior Second Flight in 240.

Kean Toomey and Lancelot Hope shared the First Flight in 11-over 227. Andrew Cimini ran away with Second Flight in 17-over 233. Joe Andrews earned a one-stroke victory in Third Flight in 242, edging Charles Crall and David Izzo. The Fourth Flight went to Kevin buck Clark in 237. Kevin Carrozza won Fifth Flight in 243. Bob Massetti won the Sixth Flight in 259.

Asked if there was any rivalry between his home CCoP and Berkshire Hills across town, Shepard pointed to the rising tide. Of the top five golfers this weekend, three play out of CCoP.

”I don’t know about that, I just think that we’re pushing each other so much. We have so many good players. I can go there, I’ve got a match on Tuesday and there’s a good chance I don’t win,” said Shepard. “I think one of us has had a hand in winning four tournaments this year. We are all playing good golf, and we all get along so well too. They’re all there waiting for me after the round, it’s a cool feeling.”

Mike Walsh can be reached at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6240. On Twitter:

@WalshWrites89.

Sports Editor

Mike Walsh is sports editor at The Berkshire Eagle. He's been with The Eagle since 2017. Walsh also authors the NENPA-winning Powder Report column. He's an avid snowboarder, runner, homebrewer, and he used to play a pretty mean sousaphone.