BLOOMFIELD, Conn. – After making a double-bogey 6 on the first hole as cart mate Chris Tallman had a tap-in birdie, Brian Keiser found himself six strokes back of the Connecticut Section PGA’s best player the past few years.
But Keiser stuck to his game plan of just trying to grind away to put together some kind of challenge and birdied five of eight holes midway through the final round on the way to a second even-par 70 and a one-stroke victory over Tallman in the 89th Connecticut PGA Championship at Wintonbury Hills Golf Course on Tuesday.
Keiser’s stirring comeback came after he four-putted and three-putted the final two holes on Monday to finish with more putts (36) than strokes (34). It also gave Keiser his first victory since he won the Connecticut Section PGA Championship at Wintonbury Hills in 2010.
“It’s nice to come back and win something for the first time in 10 years,” said Keiser, who had a bit of a vagabond lifestyle for a decade before becoming the head pro at Longmeadow (Mass.) Country Club in 2018. “Making six on the first hole didn’t make it any easier because I knew how tough Chris was going to be. But I just told myself to keep grinding because I knew I could make some birdies like the four I made (Monday). I said just grind it out and see what happens, just try to stay in touch with Chris. I figured if he stumbled a bit and I kept playing good, I might have a chance.”
A three-putt bogey at the fourth hole dropped Keiser seven strokes back of Tallman, but then he began his birdie binge with a wedge to a foot and sand wedge to 2 feet at Nos. 5 and 6. After a saving par 3 at the difficult seventh hole, Keiser chipped to a foot and tapped in for another birdie at the par-5 eighth.
Tallman, who began the day three ahead of Keiser and William Street, bogeyed the second hole and then ran off six pars, missing a 4-foot birdie putt at No. 8. But the momentum continued to swing on the difficult 190-yard par-3 ninth hole into the wind, where Keiser three-putted from 50 feet but Tallman hit his tee shot over the green, chipped 25 feet past the pin and three-putted for a double bogey.
Keiser continued his surge and got even with a knockdown wedge to 5 feet for birdie at the 11th hole and a knockdown 7-iron that came within inches of a hole-in-one at No. 12. Keiser and Tallman each missed good birdie chances at the par-5 13th hole, and Keiser took the lead for the first time with a par at No. 14 as Tallman’s second shot from the rough clipped a tree and fell 100 yards short of the green. He wedged to 18 feet but missed his par putt to go 3 over for the day.
Tallman topped his second shot at the 15th hole and missed an 18-foot par putt to fall two behind, but Keiser mishit his approach shot at the 16th hole and couldn’t get up-and-down from 60 yards, cutting his lead to one. Then on the difficult 190-yard par-3 17th hole, both players missed birdie putts from about 35 feet, with Tallman’s bid stopping inches short of the cup, causing him to look to the heavens in disbelief.
“I exorcized some demons on 17,” a smiling Keiser said, alluding to his four-putt double bogey in the first round.
The tournament had an intriguing ending at the 18th hole, where Keiser wanted to hit his drive left to keep it away from out of bounds down the entire right side but hooked his ball 50 yards left of the fairway into the rough to the right of the adjacent 10th hole. He then hit a wedge 35 feet past the pin, nearly holed the birdie try and tapped in for par. Tallman had a 25-foot birdie putt to force a sudden-death playoff but left it short and right, holing a 2-footer for par and 74.
Keiser said he didn’t practice putting after the first round because he had a lot of work to do at the club to prepare for several upcoming tournaments. As it turned out, he didn’t need the practice as he pocketed $4,000 and 75 points in the Player of the Year race.
“I knew I had been putting well and that (Monday) was an anomaly,” Keiser said. “Having 30 putts instead of 36 was a difference maker.”
Keiser, who will turn 40 on Oct. 4, was an assistant pro at Wethersfield CC when he last won. He had a one-year stay at Aronimink CC in Newtown Square, Pa., and then played mini-tours in Florida for two years, trying the PGA Tour qualifying school in 2013. He then worked two years at the Long Cove Club in Hilton Head, S.C., and was an assistant for three years at Weston (Mass.) CC before taking the head job at Longmeadow.
The always personable Tallman made no excuses for his sub-par play that still earned him $2,500.
“I just missed a lot of putts and didn’t hit the ball as well as (Monday) when I put myself in better positions,” said Tallman, the general manager at The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, Mass. “I just didn’t feel confident today and didn’t hit a lot of good shots. I just tried to hang in there but didn’t execute. It was kind of a shaky day, but Brian played steady and deserved to win.”
Some consolation for Tallman after his first look at the course designed by renowned golf architect Pete Dye is that he moved within one win in the Match Play Championship at Pequabuck GC in Bristol on Oct. 5-7 of clinching another Player of the Year title. He won in 2018 and finished second last year to Kyle Bilodeau, who beat Tallman in a playoff to win the prize. Tallman earned 60 points to increase his POY total to 322.50, compared to 222.67 for Street, who got 37.50 points after he shot 76 to tie for fifth at 146 with Jan Wivestad of Crestbrook Park GC in Watertown (72). They each won $1,375. A first-round win in the 32-man Match Play Championship is worth 10 points and would clinch the title for Tallman.
C.J. Konkowski of Hartford Golf Club shot 72 to finish third at 143, two ahead of Mike Martin of Tashua Knolls GC in Trumbull, who also closed with 72. Konkowski earned $2,000 and Martin $1,750. Bob Mucha of Edgewood GC in Southwick, Mass., maintained his lead in the Senior POY standings with 279 points after he tied for seventh at 147 with Marc Bayman of Timberlin GC in Berlin (72) and Adam D’Amario of Indian Hill CC in Newington (74). Mucha earned 29 POY points to increase his total to 279, while Wivestad closed in a bit with 37.50 points for 264.5.
Keiser and Tallman played together for the first time in the final group with Street an hour late after play was delayed for the second straight day because of frost, this time because of temperatures in the high 30s. Tallman was seeking his third consecutive Section PGA win after capturing the Connecticut PGA Professional Championship and Pro-Veteran with four military personnel, but the determined and gritty Keiser eked out a hard-earned victory on a course where he hopes more Section tournaments will be played in the future.