Geoff Vartelas of Lyman Orchards Golf Club made his way around the Country Club of Waterbury with a round of four under-par round of 61 to grab the first round lead at the 12th Russell C. Palmer Cup. He holds a one stroke lead over Michael Masso of Lake of Isles.
Conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association, the Russell C. Palmer Cup is a three round stroke play competition being played at the Country Club of Waterbury on Monday and Tuesday, May 18th and 19th. Named for former Executive Director of the CSGA and Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame Member Russell C. Palmer, the event features Connecticut's top amateur golfers who are vying for the state's amateur stroke play title.
A chilly New England spring day greeted the players for the opening round, with chilly temperatures and a cool breeze that made scoring conditions challenging for the field of 86 players. Vartelas began the day in search of capturing his first CSGA major championship, and for the 21-year-old, an opening round of four under-par 61 brought him one step closer to that goal.
After opening with a birdie-bogey start on holes 1 and 2, Vartelas made birdie on the short par-4 fourth before hitting the shot of the day on the par-4 fifth, holing his second shot on the long 471-yard par-4 fifth hole for an eagle two. He would go on to make three more birdies, including closing with a pair of birdies on 16 and 17 to grab the clubhouse lead.
Vartelas finished ninth in last year’s Russell C. Palmer Cup, shooting rounds of 74-70-73—217 to wind up just six shots behind eventual champion Blake Morris. He was also a semifinalist in the 2012 Connecticut Amateur Championship and advanced to the Round of 16 in last year’s Connecticut Amateur at Lake of Isles.
Standing in second place just one shot behind Vartelas is Michael Masso of Lake of Isles, who made an eagle of his own on the par-5 ninth hole to turn the front nine in just 32 strokes. A recent graduate of the Univeristy of Connecticut, he would go on to make two more birdies, matched with a pair of bogies on Holes 12 and 14 to finish at three under-par and a spot in the final pairing. He will be playing in the final group with UCONN teammate Corey Birch of Silver Spring Country Club, who shot the only bogey-free round of the day, a two under-par round of 63.
With 34 holes remaining, a pair of familiar names in Zach Zaback of TPC River Highlands and Addison Owens of Washington Club sit well within striking distance after rounds of one under-par 64. Owens was a member of this year’s Julius Boros Challenge Cup, and Zaback is the reigning CSGA Player of the Year and 2014 Connecticut Amateur Champion. Zaback, who finished sixth in the Russell C. Palmer Cup last year, made just two bogies matched with three birdies to jump into a tie for fourth.
“I just tried to stay patient all day, because I know making par out here is always a good score,” said Zaback. “Coming into today, I felt like my game has been close and I tried to take the positives from my spring season at UCONN and carry it into the summer. Going into tomorrow, I just need to focus on my own game and score and hopefully at the end of the day it will be enough.”
In somewhat unusual fashion, the Russell C. Palmer Cup is being contested over 51 holes of stroke play, with the competitors playing 17 holes in each round due to the agronomic issues on the 10th hole. The course will be played at a par of 65 for each round and a total of 6,001 yards.
This year’s starting field of 86 players was trimmed to just 40 competitors following the conclusion of play on Monday, with the cut line falling at five over-par 70. Players who made the cut will play 18-holes in the morning and 18-holes in the afternoon, with the lowest 51-hole total claiming the title. Starting times begin at 7:30 a.m. off the 1st and 10th tees, with the leaders teeing off at 8:30 a.m. Live hole-by-hole scoring will be available for the leading groups online at CTPalmerCup.com.