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Tough to Beat: Zach Zaback Captures 2016 Player of the Year Title

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As the late Arnold Palmer once said, “the road to success is always under construction.”  For Zach Zaback this is nothing short of the truth. A recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, Zaback earned his second Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year award this past season, also earning the honor in 2014. After a successful senior season at UConn, that saw him earn five top 10 finishes, Zaback embarked on what would become one of the finest tournament stretches in his young career.

“I was very satisfied with my senior season at UConn, my scoring average was about two strokes better than previous years,” Zaback stated, when discussing what gave him confidence heading into the summer. Upon entering his senior year at UConn, Zach made several key changes that he attributes to his summer success; “I really wanted to focus on becoming a more rounded player. This included working the ball both ways, developing a more consistent short game, and improving physically and mentally.” 

Fresh off receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Communications, Zaback captured the 13th Russell C. Palmer Cup held annually at the Country Club of Waterbury. Zaback held the overnight lead after a first round 66, and despite challenges from former UConn teammates Corey Birch and Eric Dietrich, Zaback used his new found consistency to charge up the leaderboard, eventually winning by six strokes. “It’s really special for me to win this event,” Zaback said at the time; “I set my goals very high going into the summer… I felt that my game was in a good place, and I have a very determined mindset.” 

Zaback would certainly prove that determination just a few weeks later when he went on to capture his second Connecticut Amateur Championship title in record fashion, a title he also captured in 2014. After earning the sixth seed during the 36 holes of stroke play qualifying, Zaback marched his way to the final match, defeating the likes of Rasmey Kong, Thomas Dandrea, Steve Gettings, and Brent Dietz. The 36 hole Championship match would prove to be nothing short of exceptional for Zaback, as he marched to an 9 and 7 victory over former teammate Corey Birch. 

Six birdies and an eagle gave Zaback a 6 up lead over Birch after the first eighteen holes of the match. The two competitors stood on the 1st tee of the afternoon round and watched as Zaback’s drive bounced up the fairway and into the hole for a hole-in-one. Not only was this Zaback’s first ever hole-in-one, but it was the first recorded ace on the 1st hole in the 100 year history of Wethersfield Country Club. Aside from the long list of CSGA championships held at Wethersfield CC, the club famously hosted the Insurance City Open (now the Travelers Championship) from 1952 to 1983. Throughout the years of hosting the best players in the state and across the world, no player has ever recorded an ace on the opening hole. When all was said and done, Zaback played nearly perfect golf, recording eleven birdies, one eagle and one double-eagle, matched with just one bogey. Zaback’s fourteen under-par for twenty-nine holes will certainly go down as one of the greatest performances in Connecticut Amateur history.

While capturing two of Connecticut’s biggest amateur championships in one summer might satisfy most players, Zaback was not finished with his stellar play. Just four short weeks after capturing the Connecticut Amateur title, Zaback finished runner-up in the New England Amateur held at Hartford Golf Club. Posting rounds of 72-71-69-66, Zaback polished off what would end up being his final championship as an amateur at a course he was all too familiar with. Zaback worked as a caddie at Hartford GC during his time at UConn, and received the support of many of the Hartford GC members during the event. “It was very exciting to have the New England Amateur held at Hartford,” Zaback stated, “my time as a caddie there gave me significant knowledge of the course, and the support I received from the members I had caddied for was really special to me.”

Despite one of the most consistent summers of his career, Zaback failed to qualify for the United States Amateur Championship, sparking his decision to turn professional. As Zaback put it, “the goal was to play the entire summer as an amateur… There was some disappointment not qualifying for the US Amateur, it was a bit of a letdown not performing my best at that time.” The disappointment of not earning a trip to Oakland Hills certainly didn’t affect his professional debut, as Zaback earned a tie for eighth at the 82nd Connecticut Open hosted by Woodway Country Club. When asked why it was the right time for him to turn professional, the answer was easy, “the Connecticut Open has always been one of my favorite events, and I felt it was a great time to make my professional debut.” 

With his professional debut behind him, Zaback prepares for what he hopes is a promising professional career, and like many other young professionals is heading South. “I am moving to Florida to pursue my professional career,” says Zaback when asked about his plans, ”hopefully I will be one step closer to gaining status on the Web.com tour, with my long term goal of playing on the PGA Tour.” With his amateur accolades to rest on, Zaback can now set his sights on a different Player of the Year honor.