Week of May 1st Tee Times

A Q&A with Ben Carpenter and Rick Dowling about the 120th Connecticut Amateur Final

Ben Carpenter (left) and Rick Dowling (right) shake hands on the 37th hole of the title match.

(February 17, 2023) – The 120th Connecticut Amateur championship match between Ben Carpenter and Rick Dowling was one to remember. Still tied after 36-holes at Ridgewood Country Club the title match went to a playoff for the first time since 2006. On the first extra hole, Ben Carpenter’s par finally sealed the deal. A few months after the epic title match Carpenter and Dowling recalled their memories from the 2022 Connecticut Amateur.   

CSGA: Heading into the week what were you thinking and what was the state of your game?

Ben Carpenter: Heading into that week I had taken two weeks off after a long spring season and beginning to the summer season. I was just hoping for a good ball-striking week. A week to build positives on. My goal for the tournament was to make match play and to make it as far as I could. Obviously, it isn’t completely up to me how far I make it, my opponent is a big factor too but I just wanted to play my best.

Rick Dowling: I think it was similar where I had taken a little bit of a break. I knew Ridgewood was going to be playing tougher than people thought so I was trying to go in rested. I wanted to get through stroke play as best as I could to get a good draw. Really just taking it one day at a time.

2022 Connecticut Amateur Bracket

CSGA: Rick you are a two-time Connecticut Amateur champion. How do you approach the stroke play portion of the week?

RD: I think I usually try to figure out how the course is going to play which gives you some sort of moving target but you never know with golf. I think in my experiences when I did play well in match play I did have a higher seed but something tells me it is luck of the draw and it is how people are playing. When I have gone far I have had a better seed.

CSGA: Ben how do you approach stroke play?

BC: For me, stroke play is just survive and advance. Anything can happen in match play. Like Rick said, being a higher seed gives you a much better draw which definitely benefited me in the first few matches. After day one of stroke play, I didn’t have a great day and I was right on the cut line for match play and in the second round I played pretty flawless golf and was able to make my way back to the top of the leaderboard. Then I was able to piece together some good rounds in my first couple of matches and get some momentum going.

CSGA: Ben what do you remember about your early round matches?

BC: Coming off the second round of stroke play I had a great ball striking day and I was putting well. I remember the first round of match play, the Round of 32, it was foggy, rainy, a little chilly and I was thinking in my head that everyone probably wasn’t too happy with the weather but I can’t let that affect me. I am just going to play my game. I don’t think I made a bogey in my first round, made a few birdies, and won pretty handily. Same with the second round. It was pretty stress-free until day two of matches.

As I got deeper into the event I felt more comfortable and it helped to see the course, at least the first 15 holes. I played the course pretty aggressively all week. Especially in match play. I hit driver on most of the holes that were questionable lay-up holes. I felt confident in my tee shots to have a wedge in hand and stick it close.

CSGA: Rick you handled your first couple of matches fairly easily but had to rally late to defeat 32-seed Jackson Roman in the semifinals. What do you remember about that match?

RD: I think that is the cool thing about the amateur. If you get through stroke play anything can happen but then you start to get comfortable and the amount of detail you know about your game just heightens as the week goes. The Jackson match was interesting. He played really solid. I didn’t have my best stuff for sure and I thought a door was closing on me late. But I did know that he was in a position that he had never been in before and that might force him to do some things uncharacteristically coming down the stretch the last few holes so I just tried to play smart.

Believe it or not, playing second off the tee worked a little bit to my advantage, knowing where he was. Then the closing birdie was pretty big. It was just kind of like a see what happens. I have to take my hat off to him if he beats me but I am going to give him my best shots the last couple of holes.

CSGA: Rick you have played in the championship match three times. Do you have a routine for preparing for the 36-hole title match?

RD: I try to do the same thing each night. Eat well, get some good sleep, get up early, and start the engine. When it comes to the golf just stretch a lot, warm up, and drink a lot of water. Get the speed of the greens and take the first six holes as just getting ready and seeing how the course will play for the day. I think Ben and I took the first 18 holes to see how we were doing!

But the first 18, even the first 24 are really just that old train game that you see at the baseball stadiums. It is up and down and back and forth but nobody is usually pulling away so then it comes down to the last 12-14 holes.

CSGA: For you Ben this was your first Connecticut Amateur final. How did you prepare the night before? And you had some adversity of sorts to overcome when you got to the course and realized you had forgotten your golf shoes?

BC: I knew it was going to be a hot day and I knew we were going to be on the course for 10 hours so I made sure to hydrate the night before and have a good meal. I just tried to keep my head clear and not fill it with anything that didn’t need to be there.

Forgetting the shoes was one of the more stressful parts of the morning. I got to the course, opened my trunk, and was getting my push cart ready. And my caddie looks at my shoes and said, ‘Are those new golf shoes?’ I looked down and immediately knew that I didn’t bring golf shoes. I had to buy some in the pro shop and my dad raced home to get mine. The first few holes I hit a few bad shots and got myself out of position and then I got my golf shoes back and started playing a little better.

Overall the morning round was stressful but fun and I knew the second round would be much more entertaining.

CSGA: Did either of you make any adjustments going into the afternoon round?

RD: I think we were both just a little off. I don’t remember being erratic or anything I was just a little sloppy. I had some opportunities and Ben would probably admit that I played a little better than him in the morning but I didn’t really pull away. I think we were both relieved to take a break and reset which I think then turned on the jets.

BC: I definitely hit some poor golf shots in the morning round which I wasn’t thrilled about so after the round I went to the range and hit some balls to try to sort a few things out. I felt much better going into the second round and got off to a quick start. Then Rick bounced back with a few birdies and that is where the match really began.

CSGA: Ben you took a quick 3 up lead in the second round with birdies on Nos. 3 and 4. What were you thinking in that moment?

BC: I felt like I was taking control of the match at that point. Those birdies were pretty seamless and I thought okay here is the run I need. Then I made a few mediocre shots and next you thing you know we were tied again.

CSGA: Rick it didn’t take long for you to respond birdieing Nos. 5-7 to tie the match. Take me through that stretch of holes.

RD: I needed to get it back to something manageable at the turn. Ben played the first four holes of the second round pretty well but then I was just marginally in a better position the next three or four holes and I actually threw away a hole on No. 8. We both made birdies on No. 9 and it was really fun actually and that is when I realized this is going to be a really special finish.

He started playing really solid and throwing in some darts for birdies and I started as well so that was cool.

CSGA: Was there a moment where you looked at each other or talked during the match and said this is a fun match to be a part of?

RD: To my recollection on No. 11 we had just fought back and forth on the front. I gave him a little scare from 40 feet on the 10th and then we basically both hit the same shot into the 11th green. He was probably six inches out and he drained his putt and then I made it. Then it is a long walk to the 12th tee and we both said, ‘that was cool.’ But I think obviously still all business.

CSGA: Jumping ahead to the par-5 15th the match is still tied and Ben you caught maybe the break of the match. Your second shot into the green hit off the cart path and rather than bouncing out of bounds it hit a fence post and stayed in play.

BC: That is probably the hardest tee shot for me as a cut player but I hit a great tee shot. Right after I hit the tee shot I was thinking okay another hard shot coming up don’t mess it up which you should not be thinking about. I didn’t have good thoughts in my head over that ball and I hit a bad shot. I ended up three feet left of the cart path and I drew a decent lie and hit a good shot from there.

CSGA: Ben ended up getting up and down for birdie. Now it was on Rick to respond after seemingly being in the driver’s seat on the hole.

RD: In match play, you take the information as it comes. If you start to hope or expect the ball of your opponent to go awry you are going to be disappointed more often than not. So I was going to have to make that two-putt birdie whether he was in or out of the hole so I think honestly it just adds to the story. He had to make a great up and down from over there and I put pressure on him and he did it.

CSGA: You were still tied as you teed off the closing par-5. Take me through the hole.

RD: I think with that hole you really have to play it you versus the hole. I didn’t think either of us were going to get home in two with the way the wind was. My priority was either center of the fairway or left. I saw too many people hit it right and that second shot is one of the toughest on the course. So I just threaded it so from there it is a birdie hole.

BC: My goal was to set myself up for the best chance to make birdie. On my drive, I got the ball a little too high on the club face with a little too much cut spin and it sailed off right. I left myself with a really tricky shot around the tree. It was either layup around the tree and leave myself either 200 or 210 or hit a hook and get myself to a wedge distance. I tried to hit the hook, I pull hooked it, and ended up in a flower bed. I ended up with a drop and had a tricky 156 yards to the pin over a rock for my third shot. At first, I thought it was a 52-degree wedge but my caddie, my former high school teammate, thought I should hit the 56-degree wedge and I hit the full swing 56. I hit a great shot. For me the harder I swing it from the rough the more confidence I have and honestly that might have been my best shot of the tournament under that pressure.

RD: Funny story about my third shot. I had 112 yards but my caddie told me I had 108 yards because he knew I was going to hit it further than I did and I still hit it over the green. Like Ben was saying under the circumstances that pressure is real. There was a gallery there and there was an end in sight. I had a chance but I hit it right over the stick.

CSGA: You both ended up parring the hole and for the first time since 2006 the title match of the Connecticut Amateur went to a playoff hole. What were you thinking as the playoff began?

BC: I was definitely filled with adrenaline when the playoff began. On that hole, I had hit driver every round. A few rounds I had hit it poorly but I knew if I hit it well enough and got past the trees on the right even though the fairway narrows up I knew I would be fine. Even if I ended up in the rough, I would rather be in the rough 60 yards away than the fairway 120 out. I ripped driver and I ended up being in a great spot for a left pin.

RD: I just tugged my drive a little bit in the playoff off the tee on No. 1 and that fairway canters left and I ran into a tree so that was an opening for sure.

CSGA: Rick unfortunately the playoff didn’t go how you would have liked but since 2017 you have won the Connecticut Amateur twice and also have been a finalist. What has your success in the Connecticut Amateur meant to your golf career?

RD: The first one was really cool because it made me realize that I still have something to pursue. It really opened a lot of friendships and relationships and even strengthened my love for the game. It opened competitive doors for me. I look forward to the amateur every year. I look forward to getting back into match play and then trying to play my best golf and getting through. So I really enjoyed being in the finals and playing with Ben. He is a worthy champion. I have a really fond memory of this year’s final.

CSGA: Ben you ended up with two putts on the first playoff hole to win the championship. After all the back and forth throughout the day how did you compose yourself for that moment?

BC: On the playoff hole I think I had 8 feet for birdie and I needed two putts to win. I wanted to make it but I knew I couldn’t hit it too far by.

RD: Yeah after I missed my par putt I think I saw a little bit of a smile.

CSGA: What has the win meant to you Ben?

BC: It was incredible. It was definitely a huge jump in my career. Before the tournament, I wasn’t expecting to win. I just wanted to have a good week myself. I didn’t really care about the results because I was coming off a long break. The win was great and I am really excited to defend on my home turf, the Country Club of Darien in 2023.

CSGA: Now that you have had a few months to reflect on the title match, how do you remember getting to play in such a special match?

RD: There isn’t a much better feeling than being the last two standing so there is an accomplishment just making it to the finals. You have gotten yourself all the way to where you wanted to be and you can’t really expect to win but you want to win. Then to have such an epic duel with such a great player on such a great golf course, to be the last two out playing ourselves and tossing some birdies and playing really good golf in front of people, our friends, and family, it is one of my favorite memories.

BC: It was incredible. In the heat of the moment, I was just trying to win but looking back it was a crazy day beginning with leaving my golf shoes at home 40 minutes away. It was a long 11 hours in the sun. I remember my face was so sun-beaten and red. I remember thinking I’m going to have to stay out of the sun for a week. But it was a really fun week looking back on it. It is always fun to think about and reflect about with my caddie and really good friend Thomas.

About the Connecticut State Golf Association

The Connecticut State Golf Association functions as an extension of the USGA and provides stewardship for amateur golf in Connecticut. Founded in 1899, it is the country’s oldest state golf association and conducts over 60 Championships, Qualifiers, and One Day Tournaments throughout the year.