BRISTOL, Conn. – The best player in the Connecticut Section PGA the past few years added to his resume yet again on October 5.
Top-seeded Chris Tallman beat Travelers Championship tournament director Nathan Grube 5 and 4 in the first round of the OMEGA Match Play Championship at Pequabuck Golf Club, clinching his second Player of the Year title in three years.
“It was like Lehigh playing Duke,” quipped Grube, who is in his 15th year running the biggest sporting event in Connecticut at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
Tallman, 33, the general manager at The Orchards Golf Club in Southwick, Mass., never trailed after winning the first two holes with pars. He lost the par-5 third hole when he hit his drive too far into the bushes, and after each birdied the par-5 seventh hole, Tallman won Nos. 8 and 9 with pars to take a 3-up lead at the turn.
Tallman went 4-up when he made an 8-foot, par-saving putt at the 11th hole and Grube, playing the course for the first time, missed from a similar distance. After each parred the next two holes, Tallman clinched the match at No. 14 with a conceded par as Grube made a double-bogey 6.
“I chipped and putted really well,” said Tallman, who finished with one birdie, one bogey and 12 pars. “Though this is a milestone winning another Player of the Year, it’s one of the few (Section) events that I haven’t won, so I’d really like to do it.”
Tallman has finished in the Top 10 in 11 starts in a 2020 season interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic for three months, earning $9,113 and accumulating 357.50 POY points to easily outdistance runner-up William Street of Whitney Farms GC in Monroe. Tallman added 35 points on Monday, assuring he would finish ahead of the second-seeded Street, who beat No. 31 William Wallis (New Haven CC) 5 and 3 and No. 15 Donny Kirkpatrick (Wampanoag CC-West Hartford) 2 and 1 to increase his POY points total to 257.67.
Tallman has four victories this year, and in his previous three outings, he won the Connecticut Section Championship and PGA Pro-Veteran with four military personnel and finished a stroke behind Brian Keiser in the Connecticut PGA Championship. He also won the second Travelers Championship Pre-Qualifying, was low Section finisher in the Western Massachusetts Open, tied for second and fourth in two Mohegan Sun PGA Pro-Ams, tied for fourth in the PGA Pro-Assistant Championship and another Pro-Am and finished seventh in the Walter Lowell PGA Tournament.
In 2019, Tallman finished second to Kyle Bilodeau in the POY race despite finishing in the Top 10 in all 11 starts, including wins in the Spring Stroke Play Championship to qualify for his first Travelers Championship, Connecticut PGA Championship, PGA Pro-Club Champion Championship and the Del Kinney Pro-Pro Championship. He lost a second consecutive POY title when Bilodeau beat him in the semifinals of the season-ending Match Play Championship.
Tallman won his first POY award in 2018, when he had a personal-record 13 Top-10 finishes in 15 starts, including victories in the Connecticut Section Championship and the Senior-Junior Pro-Pro Championship, a tie for second in the Del Kinney Pro-Pro Championship and a tie for third in the Connecticut PGA Championship, Match Play Championship and PGA Pro-Veteran.
“It has been three pretty impressive and special years,” Tallman said. “The first Player of the Year was really special because that had been a goal of mine. Last year was special because I got to play in the Travelers Championship, which was such a great experience for myself and my family.
“This year has been very challenging with the pandemic and all that’s been going on at the club, so to win again is really special. We were shut down for six weeks but have fortunately made up our revenue loss and added 65 new members. Being general manager has more responsibility, so this year has been especially tough with a higher volume of play, one of the few positives of the pandemic.
“Each year has seemed to get a little better from a playing standpoint. This year, my scores have been coming down, so it’s a matter of trying to keep getting better. And I’ve been lucky to have had a lot of help from the members and my fiancée, Kyleigh Welles. We’re getting married on Dec. 12 and going to St. Lucia in the Caribbean for our honeymoon.”
After graduating from the University of South Florida, Tallman worked at Holyoke (Mass.) CC for one year and then spent five years at Cold Spring CC in Belchertown, Mass., before going to The Orchards in 2019.
Tallman continued his recent stellar play in the second round, making seven birdies in 11 holes in an 8-and-7 victory over No. 16 seed Adam D’Amario (Indian Hill CC-Newington), who beat Dan Benedetti (Springfield CC) 2 and 1 in the first round. In the first quarterfinal on Tuesday at 8 a.m., Tallman will play No. 9 Jordan Gosler (Manchester CC), who defeated Brian Phelps (Avon) and Mike Martin (Tashua Knolls GC-Trumbull).
In the other quarterfinals, Street will play No. 10 Bob Mucha (Edgewood GC-Southwick, Mass.), No. 3 Keiser (Longmeadow, Mass., CC) will face No. 3 Fran Marrello (PGA Active Life Member) and No. 20 Billy Downes (GREATHORSE, Hampden, Mass.) will play No. 5 Jan Wivestad (Crestbrook Park GC-Watertown). Keiser won the only playoffs, making par on the second extra hole to defeat No. 27 Bart McCarthy and No. 11 Jason Gobleck. Marrello, the oldest player in the 32-man field at 66, has a record nine Match Play Championship victories among his record 25 major Section individual titles.
The semifinals in the $9,100 event are Tuesday afternoon, and the two winners advance to the 18-hole final on Wednesday, starting at 8 a.m. The champion will earn $2,000 and 100 POY points.
In the Senior Player of the Year race, Mucha leads Wivestad, 250-227. Since there are no Senior POY points available in this event, the Senior POY title will be decided next week in the PGA of America Senior Club Professional Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
The final Section tournaments of the year, which have no POY points, are the Dell Kinney Pro-Pro Championship at Ludlow (Mass.) CC on Oct. 13 and the Lake of Isles PGA Pro-Scratch at Lake of Isles GC in North Stonington on Oct. 19-20.