Berlin (August 21). When Ben Conroy won the 2018 Connecticut Mid-Amateur last August at a steamy Richter Park, making two eagles in the first nine holes of his final-round 67, he clinched Player of the Year honors and put an exclamation point on one of the great individual seasons ever.
Prior to the Mid-Am, Conroy had won the Amateur, finished top 15 in the Open, won the Father Son with dad Jay and, in short, played like the former pro he was, all season long.
Though no player this year is having quite the run Conroy did last, including Conroy, the Mid-Amateur at Shuttle Meadow Country Club August 26-27, might well play the same role in determining the 2019 Player of the Year.
Shuttle Meadow has historically identified great players.
Ranked as one of the nation’s top 200 “Classic” courses this year by GolfWeek, the century-old Willie Park Jr. design has been the site of seven Connecticut Amateur Championships, three Connecticut Opens, and the Connecticut Women’s Open Championship, its latest major, in 2007. This will be Shuttle Meadow’s first Mid-Amateur Championship.
Virtually every winner of a CSGA major at Shuttle Meadow is now in the Hall of Fame, including Robert M. Grant of Wethersfield, who won twice here, and PGA Tour Champions’ Tim Petrovic, who won the 1988 Amateur here. The last CSGA champion, Women’s Open winner Susan Ginter of Rolling Hills, was one of the strongest players of her era, one year both qualifying for and making the cut in the Connecticut men’s Open. She also played on the LPGA Tour.
Shuttle Meadow is not long, measuring just over 6500 yards with the addition, in recent years, of four new tees, but its doglegs and penalty areas—especially its meandering brook—force decisions that cause it to play longer, and take driver out of play. Well-placed bunkers and deftly sized greens add to the challenge. The par 3s are illustrative. The short 13th, at 132 yards, has a tiny green. The par-3 15th is much larger, but then it measures 230 yards. Par 5s vary from the 601-yard eighth, where a new tee was added prior to a U.S. Amateur qualifier six years ago, to the short 492-yard closing hole, which is defended by a triple-tiered green making distance control the key. With three fives on the front, Shuttle Meadow is an unusual par 37-34-71.
“Like most Willie Park Jr. course's this one is less about one's tee shot than about approach shots and putting,” said Tim Gavronski, who has been Shuttle Meadow's head professional for 18 years. “Keep the ball in front of you, keep it on the fairway so you can control your approach, keep it under the hole, and you'll do all right. It's very fair. But I'm always struck by the fact that whenever we have a championship or championship qualifier here, the course really stands up.”
So, who will make his move at Shuttle Meadow? Players to watch:
Of the players who have won individual major championships this year, only one, Public Links Champion Peter Tomlinson, is missing. Rick Dowling, who has won two Connecticut Amateur championships in the past three years, rides a very strong year. He leads Player of the Year competition by 375 points over Ben Conroy. Prior to his Amateur win at Fox Hopyard in the Amateur, Dowling, with partner Nick Taylor, won his second consecutive Connecticut Two Man Championship and the Wilson Cup in New York. He was top 10 in and low Connecticut player in the New England Amateur Championship, and reached the quarterfinals in the Met Amateur Championship. A win for Dowling would produce a season close to Conroy’s last year.
The Bens, Conroy and Day
Defending champion Ben Conroy is back, and back on his game, and is the only player with a outside chance to catch Dowling. Also back is fellow U.S. Mid-Am qualifier and Conroy’s 2018 winning Connecticut Four Ball partner Ben Day. They both shot 68 at New Haven Country Club this month to qualify for the national Mid-Am near Denver September 14-19. It will Conroy's first USGA championship. Conroy was second by a shot at this year’s Russell C. Palmer Cup and T12 at the Open at Torrington. Day, who is going to his second consecutive U.S. Mid-Am, and who has played in three U.S. Four-Ball events, was T8 in the Palmer Cup and made match play in the Amateur.
It seems like Jamie Sheltman is always there: He was second at last year’s Connecticut Mid-Amateur, T3 at last year’s Public Links, T6 at this year’s Palmer Cup, made match play at Fox Hopyard in the Amateur (losing to Dowling), was T16 at the Open and T4 at Wintonbury Hills in the Public Links. He is fourth in Player of the Year point standings. The odds are that Sheltman, of Alling Memorial, will break through and win a major championship soon. Jamie is a supervisor with Amtrak. One could argue that his train is due.
Pat Griffin of Indian Hill Country Club was T3 at last year’s Mid-Amateur, later won the Tournament of Champions and qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur. This year, he tied sixth at the Palmer Cup, made the round of 16 at the Amateur, and has won four One Day Series events, one by seven shots, and finished second in three others. Like Sheltman, you feel that he might soon win a major.
The Russell C. Palmer Cup champion did not play in either the Amateur or the Open. Hayes, who plays out of Silver Spring Country Club in Ridgefield, defeated Conroy by a shot in the Palmer Cup at the Country Club of Waterbury. As he proved there, the former Colgate star is always a threat.
Other Usual Suspects
Kyle Nolin, the 2016 Public Links Champion from Tallwood Country Club, joins 2017 Mid-Amateur Champion Mike Kennedy in this group. Add Glen Boggini, who qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur last year, and Seth Egnasko, the Amateur semi-finalist who was sixth at the Public Links. Nick Waddington, who tied for eighth at the Palmer Cup and 7th at the Public Links and Dan Murphy of H. Smith Richardson, who was T3 last year, are also often in the hunt. Michael Thompson, who teamed with Justin Beal to shoot 5 under par at Yale in the Four Ball—they were runners-up—is part of the field, as is Jason Jaworski of Shorehaven Golf Club, who was sixth at Richter Park.
Beginning with Bill Hermanson, who won this championship in 2001 and finished T3 last year, there are a group of seniors who don’t play like old guys and could well contend. They will be competing for Senior Player of the Year honors as well. That race is now led by Mark Vasington, the 2014 Senior Amateur Champion and this year’s Senior Match Play champion. Dave Szewczul is third. Szewczul, of Tunxis Country Club, the multi-major champion who won the Mid-Am in 2016, is still recovering from last year’s surgery, but getting closer. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur here in 2015. Pat McGuiness, the 2017 Senior Amateur Champion and 2018 Senior Match Play Champion is here. As is Bruce Kraczkowsky, the 2016 Senior Match Play Champion, and Jack Bracken of Hartford Golf Club, the 2017 Senior Amateur Champion. Richard Stevens, the 2007 Connecticut Senior Amateur champion who in late July won the Connecticut Super Seniors Championship, is a factor as well.
On a course as playable, well-designed and even-handed as Shuttle Meadow, you can be sure of one thing. It will be a fair fight.