A field of 112 teams ready to compete in 38th Pewter Cup golf tournament this weekend
A few months ago, or perhaps even a month ago, it looked like the 38th Pewter Cup golf tournament might not happen in 2020. Fortunately, that hasn't turned out to be the case.
On Friday, admittedly with a slightly different vibe than usual with some COVID-19 restrictions still in place, a full field of 112 teams will tee of at Berkshire Hills County Club in the club's annual 54-hole, best-ball event. The tournament will run through Sunday at Berkshire Hills. The leaders will tee off around 2 p.m. in Sunday's final round.
Given the lack of tournament competition early this season as a result of the ongoing pandemic, the field filled up in record time and has arguably produced the strongest Championship Flight in recent memory, led by three-time champions (2014, '16' '17) John Kelly and Billy McDonald. The former University of Rhode Island teammates skipped the event the past two years after blowing away the field in 2017 with rounds of 67, 66 and 67.
"I think everyone is excited to finally get to compete," said Berkshire Hills Club President Jeff Puleri, who will team with his brother, Rick, in taking on the 27 other teams in the top flight. "I believe the field is as good as it's ever been. I don't know what their recent form is, but you would have to put John and Billy at the top of the favorite's list given their past performances, but I think there are at least eight to 10 teams that have a legit shot."
Given that, it's unlikely Kelly and McDonald will have it as easy as they did in 2017 when you consider that the top four teams from last year all return, led by defending champions Joe Wilson and Michael Mertes. The Pioneer Valley partners edged out Josh Shepard (CC of Pittsfield) and Jamie Cimini (Granite Links) to take the title. Shepard and Cimini, longtime friends and former Pittsfield High teammates, qualified for and played in the 2019 U.S. Four-Ball Championship together.
Last year's third-place team, Steve Sykes (Berkshire Hills CC) and Andy Dastoli (The Orchards), have already proved they can win, capturing the Cup in 2018 while the fourth-place team, Matt Scarafoni and Chad Alibozek both have the ability to fill their scorecards with circles and are in the early stages of a multi-generational partnership (Scarafoni is 48, Alibozek is 25) that both think has great potential.
"We've played in about four tournaments and have had a couple of close calls, but we have yet to play our best," said Alibozek, who joined Scarafoni as a member at the Country Club of Pittsfield this year. "I think we can really move the needle making birdies."
"The key thing is, we have fun playing together," said Scarafoni, a 16-time club champion on South Street. "From a partnership standpoint, Chad has the ability to make a ton of birdies and we both love to play tournament golf. We grind for four hours and both play at 100 miles per hour trying to make things happen. We are looking to be special and that can be great, but it can also lead to us either being on fire or flat.
It's likely to be more on fire than flat as they gain experience as a team.
"At first for me, it's playing with Matt, who's won a million times and won however many club championships, so I just felt honored that he saw potential in me," said Alibozek, who is in his second year serving as the general manager at Forest Park Country Club in Adams when he isn't honing his game. "He got me to come over to the Country Club and he's helping me on the course. I look forward to learning more from him. He likes my game and that builds my confidence.
While getting more playing time with Scarafoni was a motivating factor in moving his membership from Taconic Golf Club, the club's emergence since the arrival of head professional Eric Mabee as a home for a host of younger, low-handicap players was another.
"It's unbelievable, we have 12 players with handicaps of two or lower," Alibozek said. "I have nothing but good things to say about Taconic, but I couldn't find enough [low handicap] players to play with. Here, we have Sunday matches with guys like Matt, Jake Driscoll, Eric [Mabee] and Adam Brickle that are really great for all of us."
"We've got about 20 young guys that can play, the Country Club has turned into a golfing club," confirms Scarafoni, who has obviously been around the club for decades.
Starting Friday, the Country Club duo will focus their attention across town, to the par-72 A.W. Tillinghast layout that Puleri reports is in great shape and should be firm and fast.
"I won a MASCAC (Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference) tournament there," said Alibozek, who had an excellent college career at Salem State after winning All-Eagle MVP honors in an outstanding high school career at Hoosac Valley. "I've had my fair share of decent rounds there, but also a few others that weren't so good."
Alibozek believes he knows why the duo came up short in 2019.
"You have five par-5 holes, and we didn't take advantage of them," he said. "We can hit the par 5s in two and we have to do that. We can't give anything away."
Especially with this field.
In addition to the previously mentioned teams, there are plenty of others capable of making noise including Mark Chylinski and Jim Mueller, Bob Linn and Jim Patterson, Kevin Quinto and Mike Kays as well as the Wyantenuck Country Club team of Davis Mullany, who reached the round of 16 in the 2011 Mass. Amateur, and Ben Schopp.
Chylinski, coming off a strong 2019 campaign that included a second-place finish in the Massachusetts Senior Four-Ball Championship with Ralph Dastoli, and Mueller have won the Cup four times, spanning from 1988 to 2013. The 66-year-old Linn, also a Berkshire Hills member, recently qualified for the Mass. Amateur in the qualifier at Stockbridge Golf Club and is paired with Patterson, a long hitter and former member at the Links at Worthington.
Quinto, a former All-Eagle golfer at Pittsfield High and Berkshire Hills member, earned NCAA Division III honorable mention All-American honors at Christopher Newport University during this past pandemic-shortened college season while former Taconic rival Kays plays college golf at American International College in Springfield.
And don't be surprised if someone not listed above is in contention come Sunday because there are perhaps a half-dozen other duos capable to sneaking to the top of the leader board.
Because of the rules regarding COVID-19, golfers will find a few things different this year, including the one-cart rule, no rakes in the traps and "noodles" in the hole to fish the ball out.
"It will be lift, clean and place in the bunkers and the noodles in the holes have been working very well," Puleri said. "The state did give us use of he clubhouse for eating, as we expected they would allow in this phase, so that is nice. There will be no scoreboard, scoring will be done electronically so people won't hang around together. Aside from the scoreboard and the bar, it's all systems go."
Let the birdies begin.
"I think with the course firm and fast it's going to take low numbers to win," Puleri said. "Of course, I thought that would be the case last year and it didn't happen. I guess that's why we are called amateurs."
Wyantenuck Country Club head professional Tom Sullivan totaled 38 points in the Stableford format to take Legends Division honors in a recent Northeast New York PGA Section event at Columbia (N.Y.) Country Club.
Sullivan finished four points ahead of PGA Life Member John Duncan. The 71-year-old showed that he's still got game, firing a 1-over par 71 that included three birdies and four bogeys.
In the main event, Chris Ferraro rang up 41 points to defeat section kingpin Scott Berliner by three points.
Links at Worthington
1. Aaron Punska, Meaghan Sullivan, Scott King, Dennis Sullivan, 58 (won on tiebreaker). 2. (tie) Trevor Hathaway, Carl Zurrin, Nick Greenleaf, Matt Lynch, 58; Mike Jemilo, Jared Carey, Gabe Crane, Jim Blascek, 58. 3. Jake Parson, Shane Hollenbrook, Greg Miller, Kyle Delude, 59. 4. (tie) Steve Magargal, Chuck Baker, Jay Nomakeo, Kevin Henderson, 60; Scott Preston, Jeremy Stachowicz, Liz Kay, Dee Racz, 60. 5. James Ryan, Ned Jalbert, Wally Fritz III, Diane Magargal, 61.
Paul Vallee, on the 141-yard eighth hole at GEAA with a hybrid club. Witnesses: Bob Mayard, Kevin Leighton, Doc Gian.
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