HARTFORD, Conn. – Connor Roche begins military training in November, and he’ll have a state golf championship title to take with him.
Roche overcame admitted nerves to shoot 6-under-par 138 for 36 holes and beat Chris Ayers by a stroke in the Connecticut State Golf Association Public Links Championship at Simsbury Farms Golf Course in Simsbury.
“I felt pressure from the first tee on,” said Roche, who bogeyed the first hole of the final round but held on at the end. “There were a few putts where I was shaking, but I just tried to stroke it along my line.”
The 22-year-old Roche, who is heading for Air Force training in November, acknowledged some of the pressure was self-inflicted. But it was understandable considering it was the biggest victory of his golfing life on the course where he learned the game, played high school golf and even trained for his job as a performance coach.
“It is very special to win here,” he said to a group of fellow competitors and family members, including his mother Pam Roche. “I grew up here. I could walk to the fourth hole from my house.”
Roche birdied that hole and the fifth, 14th and 15th on the way to a second 69, which was the score that he predicted he would need to win after the first round.
Though Roche is headed for an extended training period, he says golf will always be part of his life. He’ll train for two months in San Antonio, Texas, and then for a year in Seattle, where he’ll be part of the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) special ops program in which he’ll learn to train pilots and other Air Force personnel at risk of capture and isolation. The unit’s mantra is “Train Others to Survive,” and he chose the Air Force program because it was understated or at least less promoted than some of the other services, which matched his personality.
Ayers, the Old Dominion standout from Goodwin Park Golf Course in Hartford, won’t be playing college golf in the fall due to COVID-19 restrictions at the university but will continue virtual learning. He closed with a 68, missing a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole that curled left of the cup.
“My goal was to give myself a putt to win or tie at the end, and I did that,” said Ayers, whose father, Stephen, caddied for him. “But let’s face it, I wanted to win. Yesterday I gave myself a lot of makeable putts that just missed. That really was the difference. I could have gone really low yesterday and I didn’t.”
Seth Jainchill of Keney Park GC in Hartford finished third at 138, one ahead of Dave Dell of the host club.
DOWNES SNARES SENIOR TITLE
Billy Downes (GREATHORSE-Hampden, Mass.) shot 1-under 141 for 36 holes to capture the Connecticut Section PGA Senior Championship at Mill River CC in Stratford. Downes finished two strokes ahead of Bob Mucha (Edgewood GC-Southwick, Mass.) and three in front of Jan Wivestad (Crestbrook GC-Watertown). Seven-time and defending champion Fran Marrello (Canaan CC) was fourth at 145, two better than Dan Benedetti (Springfield CC). Downes and Mucha advanced to the Senior PGA Professional Championship, which will have a 264-player field from 41 sections nationwide vying for $300,000 on Oct. 15-18 at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The top 35 finishers in the national event earn berths in the Senior PGA Championship on May 27-30 at Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
QUILTER WINS SECOND ASSISTANT CROWN
Brian Quilter parred the third playoff hole to beat Eric Flood and win his second Section PGA Assistant Championship at Mill River CC. Quilter (Black Hall Club-Old Lyme) had a second-round, 2-under 69 to catch Flood (The Farms CC-Wallingford) at 142 for 36 holes. Quilter, who also won in 2017, and Flood both advanced to the national Assistant Professional Championship on Nov. 12-15 at the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club. Adam D’Amario (Indian Hill CC-Newington, 145) and Dan Simons (Mill River, 148) earned alternate spots for the national championship, which has a 132-player field vying to $150,000.
HOLLAND TRIUMPS AGAIN
Jen Holland notched her second victory in 12 days when she shot a 9-over 153 for a seven-stroke victory over Rima Antous in the Danbury Amateur at Richter Park GC. It was a record ninth tournament win for Holland, 56, of Lyman Orchards GC in Middlefield, who captured a record eighth Southern New England Women’s Golf Association Championship less than two weeks earlier and then finished second for a record fifth time in the Connecticut State Women’s Amateur. She won that event in 2008, one of a record eight top-10 finishes. Antous, who lives in Danbury, played at Point Loma College in San Diego. In the men’s championship division, Noah Pilipski shot 147 for a one-stroke victory over Howie Busse.
LI, BURT WIN CWGA TITLES
Fourth-seeded Leslie Li of Tumble Brook CC in Bloomfield defeated No. 18 Priscilla Wargo of Heritage Village CC in Southbury 4 and 3 to win the championship flight of the Connecticut Women’s Golf Association Championship at the Country Club of Farmington. Li, 16, is going into her senior year at Miss Porters School in Simsbury. In the Founders Cup, No. 4 Pam Burt of the host club defeated No. 3 Christine Sullivan of New Haven CC, 5 and 4.