No doubt, in the 113-year history of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship there have been some great performances, but it might be hard to find one better than 19-year-old phenom Michael Thorbjornsen produced last week at historic Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton.
The 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion shot a course record-tying 8-under 64 on his way to earning the No. 2 seed in the 32-player match-play field. He followed that up with four easy victories to set up a 36-hole final against four-time Mass. Golf Player of the Year Matt Parziale, the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion.
Then, in the first Mass. Am. final ever between two USGA champions, Brockton’s Parziale found out just how talented the Stanford sophomore is — losing the final 8-and-6 Saturday despite shooting a 5-under 67 over his first 18 holes. Thornbjornsen shot a 10-under 62 to set a new course record.
In addition to beating the Parziale, Thorbjornsen’s victory was the first for a teenager since Lee native Jim Salinetti won his first of three Mass. Amateurs in 1997 as a 19-year-old. That’s 24 years between teen winners in the state’s biggest amateur event. Salinetti, currently the head professional at Winchester Country Club, finished his spectacular Mass. Am. career with a 15-1 match-play record and titles in 1997, ‘98 and 2000.
“He’s a world-beater,” Parziale said of Thorbjornsen after his loss. “He’s incredible. I met him a few years ago. He’s a great kid, he’s got all the talent in the world. I’m rooting for him, and it’s his to take. He has a bright future if he keeps going in this space.”
It didn’t take long for Parziale to know it was going to be a tough day. Thorbjornsen, taking advantage of his length off the tee (the first three holes at Brae Burn are all under 360 yards), birdied the first five holes. In all, the Wellesley Country Club member birdied a mind-boggling 12 of the first 16 holes and finished with 18 birdies in 30 holes on the day.
“I feel like with the distance that I have, I kind of overpowered it a bit,” Thorbjornsen said. “I understand, that there are a lot of birdies out there, so just staying patient and then knowing that every par-5 is reachable, it’s just a long par-4, and that there are three par-4s that are drivable, just makes me feel comfortable.”
Reigning Mass. Super Senior champion Bob Linn, who missed the cut at Brae Burn, was amazed when he saw Thorbjornsen scorecard and the ease with which he dispatched the state’s best amateur.
“It’s just not that easy,” said the 67-year-old Linn of Brae Burn. “Some of the scores the kids shot this week (the top six qualifiers for match play all broke 70 in the second round) were ridiculous. There are some short par 4s, but there are probably six to eight blind approach shots that even if you are hitting wedges, you need an innate feel to get the distance right. ... You can’t shoot that score without being really good with your wedge and your putter.”
Obviously, for Thorbjornsen all aspects of his game were spot-on, but he said his quick start proved decisive.
“Those first five just came up on me pretty quickly,” Thorbjornsen said. “Just driving the green, two-putting, and then having some tap-ins the next couple of holes just feels really good. And then birdieing the first five, it’s just kind of tough to compete against whoever you’re playing, so I feel like that’s what really set me up well later on.”
The Berkshire Hills Singles tournament at Berkshire Hills Country Club always draws a strong field, and this year’s tournament that tees off Friday morning will be no different with no less than 22 golfers in the 138-player field having handicaps of scratch or better.
Last year’s champion, Wyantenuck Country Club legend Andy Congdon, will look to capture his eighth Singles title at age 67 against a strong contingent of veteran amateurs from all over the region and the county, many of whom are considerably younger than he is.
Among the out-of-county visitors with Singles experience who have shown the ability to contend for Championship Flight honors include 2019 champion Michael Mertes (Crumpin’ Fox Club) as well as Chad Stofer, Clint Lange, Lancelot Hope and James Welch. A newcomer in the field, Thorny Lea Golf Club’s Brady Albritton, sports a plus-2 handicap and is another potential title threat.
The Berkshire County golfers are led by Congdon along with strong contingents from the host club and the Country Club of Pittsfield. Berkshire Hills members with a chance to walk away with the title include Aaron Nackoul, Steve Sykes and Jeff Puleri, while the CC of Pittsfield’s Adam Brickle, Matt Gilardi, Josh Shepard and Matt Scarafoni are a strong foursome.
The Senior Division should also be well-contested with the likes of reigning Mass. Super Senior champion Bob Linn, fellow Berkshire Hills member Ralph Dastoli as well as Ivan Lendl — yes, Tennis Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl — and Dale Dirk are all capable of going low. Lendl and Dirk are members at Torrington Country Club in Connecticut.
Puleri, the president at Berkshire Hills, says that the course will be playing long as a result of the massive amounts of rain the Berkshire has dealt with in recent weeks.
“The rough is going to be thick and wet and the course is going to be playing soft,” Puleri said.
The 54-hole tournament will conclude on Sunday with the Championship Flight golfers scheduled to go off around 2 p.m.