HARTFORD, Conn. – After traveling the world for five years playing on four mini-tours on four continents in 32 countries such as golfing outposts China, Malaysia, Thailand, Columbia, Chile and Paraguay, Cody Paladino decided he had had enough time on the road struggling to make a living.
Paladino, one of the most decorated players in Connecticut golf history, became a reinstated amateur in March but had his competitive career put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since returning to action in June, Paladino has seriously challenged in three starts but is still looking for a victory.
In his latest outing in the Connecticut State Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship at Madison Country Club, Paladino forged a four-stroke lead with eight holes to go but ended up losing another playoff when Ben Conroy made a 2-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole, the par-4 eighth.
“It was the perfect lob wedge,” Conroy, of New Haven Country Club, said of his decisive approach from 93 yards. “I didn’t have to kill it, but it was a nice full swing. I know how hard it is to close.”
After an even-par 70 in the opening round of a 36-hole windup, Conroy closed with a 66, the low round of the tournament, to finish at 4-under 206 for 54 holes. The former pro needed the stellar finish and help from Paladino to add to his 2018 Mid-Amateur title. Paladino bogeyed the 11th, 12th and 13th holes and fell into a tie for the lead when Conroy birdied No. 14. Paladino made five pars down the stretch to shoot 70 after a second-round 68, which matched his opening round that put him in a three-way tie for the lead.
Paladino, of the Country Club of Farmington, nearly won on the final hole of regulation, but his 6-foot birdie putt lipped out.
“I played it on the right edge and needed a little higher line,” Paladino said.
Two holes later, Paladino had another narrow defeat after he lost to Chris Fosdick in a playoff in the final of the CSGA Amateur Championship in July and then tied for second in the Russell C. Palmer Cup last week in his first two events as a reinstated amateur.
Two 68s gave Paladino a three-stroke advantage over Jeff Riley and four over Conroy after 36 holes. Paladino maintained his edge with birdies on three of the first six holes in the final round, while Conroy got within three shots with birdies on four of the first 10 holes as Riley fell out of contention when he shot 2-over 37 on the front nine and then made a double-bogey 5 at No. 11.
A bogey 4 at the 11th hole slowed Conroy’s charge, but Paladino made only his second bogey of the tournament at No. 9 before a birdie at the 10th restored his three-stroke lead. But Paladino bogeyed the next three holes to fall into a tie at 4 under with Conroy, who had birdied the 10th hole, bogeyed No. 11 and birdied the 14th. Conroy and Paladino each made pars down the stretch to reach the playoff.
Conroy said pausing on his swing that helped his tempo and a putting change that he devised between rounds were keys to the closing 66.
“I made an adjustment to my head position that got me hitting the ball more on my line,” Conroy said.
The changed helped the 2018 CSGA Player of the Year start quickly with birdies on the third, fifth and seventh holes that led to a 3-under 32 at the turn. Paladino shot 33, but the three consecutive bogeys proved decisive, capped by a missed 5-foot, par-saving putt at No. 13.
“That hurt,” Paladino said. “I didn’t really know where things stood at that point, and then I looked at some point on 14 or 15 and saw that Benny was obviously have a great round. I had my chances coming in. I had a good look on 16 and obviously the one at 18 in regulation. I just didn’t play a high enough line.”
Conroy knows about lost leads in the Mid-Amateur, having in a playoff to Mike Kennedy in 2017. His comeback Tuesday was one stroke more than what he lost three years ago.
Riley, from the Black Hall Club in Old Lyme, closed with 72 to finish third at 2-over 212, one ahead of Austin Cilley of Lake of Isles GC in North Stonington, who shot 73-71 in the double-round windup. Defending champion Ben Day shot 73-77 to tie for ninth at 221.
The Mid-Amateur is open to amateurs who reached the age of 25 by the first day of the championship and had handicap indices of 8.4 or less. There were 107 players in the starting field, and 39 made the cut of 73.