(May 18, 2021) – Late in the final round of the 2020 Russell C. Palmer Cup presented by Chris Cote’s Golf Shop it was anybody’s ball game. Among those with a chance on the final nine at the Country Club of Waterbury were some of the biggest names in Connecticut golf. 36-hole leader Ben Day had one hand on the trophy, two-time Connecticut Amateur champion Rick Dowling along with 2020 Connecticut Amateur winner Chris Fosdick, and 2020 Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year winner Cody Paladino were all in the mix.
However, when the dust settled it was Dowling following a flawless 4-under 30 on the back nine who was hoisting the trophy. He highlighted his stellar final nine with a long birdie putt on the par-4 17th hole and punctuated the moment with an emphatic fist pump.
“It means a lot to be a Palmer Cup champion,” Dowling said. “Having heard all of the stories from Roger Everin, Bill Hermanson, and Dave Szewczul about the former CSGA stroke play event and its rich history. Combine that with Mr. Palmer's legacy and it's certainly humbling to be a part of that group of players.” The Palmer Cup was first played in 2004 and is named after former CSGA Executive Director (1986-1995) and 1997 Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame inductee, Russell C. Palmer.
Postponed until mid-August due to Covid-19 last year, the Palmer Cup returns to its May spot on the calendar and marks the first major of the CSGA season. On May 24-25 an elite field will be welcomed to the Donald Ross designed CC of Waterbury for the 18th playing of the Palmer Cup. The field of 96 will include the last three champions and five of the last eight. First round play will begin on Monday with the field being cut to the top 39 and ties ahead of the second and third rounds on Tuesday.
Players feel the grandeur of the course as they stand perched atop the elevated first tee. “I love walking onto the first tee – you can see most of the finishing holes, and pick up on some design nuances you may not notice by just walking the course. You can also see 11 tee box – it's a really cool start to a round of golf,” Dowling said. “ After that, I enjoy the puzzle it lays out for the player. You really have to try to think one shot ahead as being able to shape your ball into a certain area of the fairway enables easier and safer placement of your approach shots to some of the pin locations you get.”
Recently ranked in the top-10 of Connecticut golf courses for the first time by Golf Digest, the CC of Waterbury opened in 1899 and plays to a par-69 with just one par-5, the downhill 512 yard 9th hole. “If you don't make a birdie or better you are losing a shot or more to the field,” said 30 year CC of Waterbury head professional Tom Gleeton.
The field will be challenged from tee to green throughout each round but there may be no bigger challenge than navigating the course's variable par-3s which Gleeton calls, “the most difficult part of the course.” None could be more demanding than the 234 yard par-3 14th hole. The hole comes at a crucial point in the round and requires a precise tee shot. If a player misses the green getting up and down to save par will be difficult.
“The players like playing the club, it is a good test of golf,” said Gleeton who will retire after this season. “It is a fun course to play. The course isn't really tricked up. Usually, the course stands by itself.”
Following the 14th there is no let-up on the way into the clubhouse as the field will face four par-4s, including two of the most demanding of the course. Players will need to display diverse shot-making as they make their way through the final stretch of the course.
“At Waterbury there is no gimme hole out there. Every shot has the potential to put you in a situation that’s hard to recover from,” said 2015 Palmer Cup winner Ben Day. “It has a difficult start, a difficult finish. It has holes that turn left and holes that turn right. You have shots above your feet below your feet. You have to play and keep your wits about you. It’s just a heavyweight that keeps punching.”
Notes on the Field:
Number of Players: 96
Past Champions: Cody Paladino (2013), Ben Day (2015), Brian Ahern (2018), Rick Hayes (2019), Rick Dowling (2020)
Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year Winners: Bill Hermanson (1991), Brian Ahern (1999), Cody Paladino (2006, 2013, 2020), Dave Szewczul (2012, 2017), Ben Conroy (2018), Rick Dowling (2019)
Dick Siderowf Senior Player of the Year Winners: Dick Stevens (2017), Dave Szewczul (10-times), Bill Hermanson (2015)
Players to Watch:
Brian Ahern (Wampanoag Country Club) – The 2018 Palmer Cup champion finished T16 last year and is always a threat at the CC of Waterbury. Ahern has long been one of the top players in the state winning the 1999 Connecticut Amateur also at the CC of Waterbury.
Christopher Ayers (Goodwin Golf Club) – Last year Ayers put together an impressive season recording three top-10 finishes. His best showing came at the Public Links where he was the runner-up while at the Palmer Cup he finished in fifth place. Ayers just completed his senior season on the Old Dominion University golf team.
Patrick Casey (Torrington Country Club) – Last year Casey shared third at the Palmer Cup and by way of his T8 at the Connecticut Open he tied for low amateur honors.
Ben Conroy (New Haven Country Club) – Conroy won the 2018 Connecticut Amateur at Waterbury, and added to his trophy case last year with a win at the Mid-Amateur on the second playoff hole. The victory capped off a season that included three top-10 finishes and a run to the Round of 16 at the Connecticut Amateur. Conroy, the runner-up in 2019, was T7 at the 2020 Palmer Cup.
Ben Day (New Haven Country Club) – Last year the 2015 winner nearly claimed his second Palmer Cup title. Day led after the second round before settling for a T2 finish. The 2019 Mid-Amateur champion reached the semifinals at the Connecticut Amateur and notched a T9 at the 2020 Mid-Amateur.
Rick Dowling (EClub of Connecticut) – The defending champion already has a win this season capturing the Two Man Championship alongside Nick Taylor. Dowling was third in the Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year standings in 2020.
Chris Fosdick (Wallingford Country Club) – After a successful freshman season on the University of Virginia golf team, Fosdick is back in Connecticut looking to put together another banner season. Fosdick not only won the Connecticut Amateur last year at Shorehaven GC but also won the Tournament of Champions, tied for second at the Palmer Cup, and finished second in the Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year standings.
Rick Hayes (Silver Spring Country Club) – Hayes won the title in 2019 and followed that up with a top-20 finish in 2020.
Bill Hermanson (Black Hall Club) – A Connecticut Golf Hall of Famer Bill Hermanson has won nearly every event on the CSGA schedule. Most recently he won the 2019 Senior Amateur at his home course, the Black Hall Club.
Mike Kennedy (New Haven Country Club) – The 2017 Connecticut Mid-Amateur winner is always a threat. Last year he reached match play at the Connecticut Amateur and finished third at the Two Man Championship.
Dan Murphy (H. Smith Richardson Golf Club) – Making his Palmer Cup debut last year Murphy came storming out of the gates with a 2-under 67 that put him one shot off the lead after the first round. Murphy faded on day two but his first round play showed what he's capable of at the CC of Waterbury. Murphy’s 2020 season was highlighted by a run to the quarterfinals of the Connecticut Amateur and a T10 showing at the Public Links.
Cody Paladino (Wampanoag Country Club) – Last year was a season of near misses for Paladino and although the 2013 Palmer Cup champion didn’t lift a trophy he did earn Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year honors. Paladino began 2021 with a second place finish at the Two Man Championship.
Chris Pieper (TPC River Highlands) – The 18-year-old has jump started his 2021 season in a big way. First, he was the medalist at Palmer Cup qualifying then one week later he followed that up by earning medalist honors at U.S. Open Local Qualifying. He played those 36 holes without recording a single bogey.
Jamie Sheltman (Alling Memorial Golf Club) – Each of the last three years Sheltman has earned a top-20 finish at the Palmer Cup. His best showing came in 2019 when he was T6. Last year Sheltman’s season was highlighted by a T5 at the Connecticut Public Links.
Dave Szewczul (TPC River Highlands) – Last year Szewczul won his 10th Dick Siderowf Senior Player of the Year award. Szewczul picked up wins at the Senior Match Play, Tournament of Champions, Senior Four-Ball, and the Super Senior Championship.
About the Russell C. Palmer Cup
The Russell C. Palmer Cup, presented by Chris Cote’s Golf Shop, is the state’s premier stroke-play championship. It comprises 54 holes, with a cut to the low 39 and ties after round one, and thirty-six holes on day two. It is named for Russell C. Palmer, former CSGA Executive Director (1986-1995) and inductee into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame (1997). Mr. Palmer’s numerous accomplishments include establishing the use of GHIN throughout CSGA member clubs and initiating the purchase of the “Connecticut Golf House” which for 30 years has served as the home of the CSGA.
About the Connecticut State Golf Association
The Russell C. Palmer Cup presented by Chris Cote’s Golf Shop is one of 19 championships conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association. The CSGA 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. For more information, visit csgalinks.org.