HARTFORD, Conn. – Cody Paladino was so consistent in pandemic-ridden 2020 that he earned Connecticut State Golf Association Dick Tettlebach Player of the Year without a single victory.
But Paladino also came within five strokes of winning every CSGA major championship. He lost to Chris Fosdick on the final hole of the title match of the CSGA Amateur despite shooting 9-under-par for 36 holes. He lost a playoff to Ben Conroy in the Mid-Amateur, tied for second in the Palmer Cup and was runner-up by a shot in the Tournament of Champions. He also swept his individual and team matches in the Julius Boros Challenge Cup and compiled a stroke-play average of 70.25 in his first full year back as an amateur.
The calendar turned to 2021, but the near-misses continued. Paladino lost in the CSGA Amateur final to the same opponent on the same hole, fell short in sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open and then failed to qualify for the U.S. Amateur by a stroke on Monday. That hardly put Paladino in the best frame of mind for the New England Amateur that began the next day at Great River Golf Club in Milford, but the classy reinstated amateur played like a pro on Thursday and fittingly ended years of frustration by a stroke.
Paladino, of Wampanoag Country Club in West Hartford, overtook second-round leader and 2019 champion Xavier Marcoux early and then held off fast-closing Caleb Manuel with a 3-under-par 69 for a 54-hole total of 10-under 206. But the victory didn’t come easy as Manuel made two birdies and an eagle 3 at No. 17 in the final six holes in shooting 68 for 207.
“To have such an awesome year last year with all of those close calls and not be able to put my hands on a trophy, then to start this year doing the exact same thing at the Connecticut Amateur, for that putt to go in the hole, to know that I won, even with all of that disappointment, I somehow felt vindicated,” Paladino said.
Paladino, 32, celebrated with an embrace with swing coach Tom Rosati, the Great River pro, and then was teary-eyed as he hugged his mother, Cindy, and others surrounding the 18th hole who appreciated how he had persevered better than most. A reinstated amateur after five years in the pro ranks, Paladino edged Manuel, a sophomore-to-be at the University of Connecticut from Brunswick Golf Club in Maine, after he pulled away from Marcoux, of Nashawtuc CC in Concord, Mass. Marcoux had two double bogeys in the first 11 holes on the way to 77 and a tie for sixth with Nick Waddington, of Manchester CC, who had four birdies and an eagle on the back nine in shooting 66, the low score of the final round by two strokes.
“When you hear people win a big event they say, ‘You know I can’t really put it into words.’ That is probably the best way to summarize how I feel,” Paladino said. “I can’t even count how many second-place finishes that I’ve had, and I think I’m up to four or five or six. So, you know, it just it’s amazing to finally have a victory.”
— NEGA (@NEGA_Golf) July 22, 2021
Paladino started the day one stroke behind Marcoux and took the lead when he birdied the first hole while Marcoux was making a bogey. But the results were reversed at the par-5 third hole, putting the Massachusetts player back in front. After each player parred the next two holes, Paladino took the lead for good when Marcoux made a bogey and double bogey on Nos. 6 and 7, then fell out contention with a double bogey and bogey on the 11th and 12th holes.
Paladino solidified his position with birdies at the 12th and 15th holes but got a scare from Manuel, who birdied the 13th and 15th holes and made the eagle at No. 17 before missing a 15-foot birdie putt at the 18th to force a playoff.
“If you told me I was going to shoot 9-under on the last two days, I would have taken it,” said Manuel, 19, who finished third in 2020 and won his first Maine Amateur last week. “I knew 9- or 10-under was going to win at the beginning of the day. I gave myself a chance.”
Paladino normally likes to know where he stands and had an idea that he was close or in the lead throughout the back nine. But it wasn’t until after his second shot on the 18th hole that he asked Rosati what he needed to do. Rosati said he needed two putts to win, and Paladino did just that from 14 feet.
Paladino became the first state player to win the tournament since John VanDerLaan in 2014 and the first to capture the event in Connecticut since J.J. Henry at New Haven CC in 1998. Paladino’s older brother Brent won the title in 2007.
Paladino considers his victory in the 2015 Connecticut Open with Brent caddying for him as his best as a pro, but this had to be his best as an amateur considering the recent past. Paladino turned pro in 2015 before regaining his amateur status in April 2020 in a bittersweet call.
“It was a very tough decision. It was excruciatingly tough,” Paladino said. “But over time, the travel, the pressure, constantly being concerned about finances, it takes a toll. And as time went on, the related stress and strain wears on you. ‘Why haven’t I made it?’ You’re feeling so unstable about your life. Does that affect what’s happening on the course? I don’t know, but I know it’s hard to separate the two. And in the end, I knew there were other things I wanted to do with my life.”
Paladino made his decision in October 2018 after his fourth season on the PGA Tour LatinoAmericana. In five years as a pro, including events on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, the Korn Ferry Tour, the Asian Developmental Tour, Northeastern tournaments and nearly a full season in China and some 70 mini-tour events, Paladino played in 125 events in 22 countries. Four attempts to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour came up short, and his one victory was in the 2015 Connecticut Open.
After talking to close friends and relatives, including some of the Wethersfield Country Club members who had supported his LLC, he joined boyhood friend Kevin Josephson, a good amateur player himself, at Lyle Health, a health industry placement company in Farmington. In October 2019, he married Anna Pfau, a commercial real estate financial officer.
Paladino played the 2019 Connecticut Open as a pending amateur and finished seventh. It was a return to an incredible amateur career that included victories in the CSGA Public Links (2006), Palmer Cup (2013), CSGA Amateur (2013) and Tournament of Champions (2013). He was the CSGA Player of the Year in 2006 and 2013.
In 2007, Paladino finished runner-up at the U.S. Public Links Championship, losing to soon-to-be tour professional Colt Knost. The following year he was eliminated in the round of 32 by a young Californian named Rickie Fowler. He competed in multiple U.S. Junior Amateurs and the U.S. Amateur and finished in the Top 20 in the prestigious Northeast Amateur at Wannamoissett CC in Rumford, R.I.
As a 15-year-old, Paladino was the youngest player to be the Connecticut Section PGA Junior Player of the Year. He also won two Northern Junior championships, the tournament he and Brent started to honor their grandfather, Stan Trojanowski, who introduced them to the game. Paladino played at Baylor, where as a linguistics major, he was an academic All-American for three years before turning pro.
Connecticut Section PGA Hall of Famers Chuck Lasher and Lindsey Hansen were instrumental in the development of the Paladino brothers while working at Timberlin GC in Berlin, but Cody has said there wasn’t any one part of his game that didn’t measure up while he was a pro.
“It came down to consistency,” he said. “I had a couple of fantastic weeks every year. Some weeks I’d say, ‘Wow this is it. I’ve figured it out.’ I played as well as guys I knew were really good,” mentioning three young PGA Tour players, Keith Mitchell, Martin Trainer and Adam Long, his roommate his first year on tour. “I’d be toe-to-toe one week, and the next week I would just not be bringing much to the table.”
Paladino considers his first year, 2014, his best as a professional. In the final event of the PGA Tour Latinoamerica season, he needed a Top 15 finish to end the year inside the Top 60 on the Order of Merit and keep his card. He shot 67 to tie for 14th and finished 58th.
If the competitive stress was difficult, the traveling lifestyle was not. Fluent in Spanish, Paladino took advantage of his travel, especially in Latin America.
“I absolutely loved it. Loved to travel. Loved to experience new cultures,” he said. “There was a pack of guys that stuck together, but for me, that was like never leaving the U.S. I loved to go off by myself and just see a market or a mall and talk to people. You learn a lot about yourself when you travel alone.”
Paladino still occasionally dreams about playing on the PGA Tour, but he’s content doing what he’s doing.
“I mean, this is what I’ve been doing for 25, 26, 27 years,” he said. “From the time I even knew what a Tour player was, I wanted to be one. I wanted to play on the PGA Tour, I wanted to win on the PGA Tour. How do I say to myself that I didn’t accomplish that? I still think I have the game, but it’s nice to think back on it all and feel proud of what I accomplished and was able to experience. The bitterness and disappointment I felt when I first stopped playing has definitely subsided, and I’m incredibly grateful to have had to the opportunity to do what I did.”
Paladino will be among the favorites in the $60,000 Connecticut Open at the Country Club of Darien on Monday through Wednesday. Defending champion is Max Theodorakis, who pulled away at the end last year for his first professional victory on his home course, Ridgefield Country Club in Danbury. Since then, he has had several good finishes in mini-tour events and finished one shot of a playoff in the Massachusetts Open.
After missing the tournament last year, 2019 champion Rasmey Kong is scheduled to compete, along with Peter Ballo, who tied for second last year and played in the PGA Championship in May, Kyle Gallo and Frank Bensel, who have won four and three titles, and a strong amateur contingent that includes Fosdick and top-ranked junior Ben James, who qualified for match play in this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur.
Other past champions in the 144-man field are Adam Rainaud, Jeff Curl, Mike Gilmore and Jim Becker, who won as an amateur in 1975 and 1976. Other title contenders include Mike Ballo Jr., former PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour Champions player Bobby Gage and Fran Marrello, winner of record 25 Connecticut Section PGA individual major titles who has played in four majors on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions.
GOODE CAPTURES CSGA JUNIOR TITLE
Connor Goode never trailed in beating defending champion Matt Doyle 4 and 2 in the CSGA Junior Amateur final at Watertown GC.
Goode, who plays out of Glastonbury Hills CC, built a 4-up lead after 12 holes by winning the third, ninth and 12th holes with pars and No. 7 with a birdie. Doyle won the 13th hole with a par, and after each bogeyed No. 15, Goode made eagle 3 on the 16th hole to beat Doyle’s birdie and win the match.
“Winning the Connecticut Junior Amateur means everything to me,” said Goode. “I think it opens up a lot of doors and opportunities in the future for playing college golf.”