PLYMOUTH, Mass – “I’ve waited 59 years for this victory!”
Hyperbole notwithstanding, John McNeill was euphoric about his wire-to-wire win in the Senior Hornblower Memorial at Plymouth Country Club. He also said at the awards ceremony, “This is my first major amateur championship after many, too many, seconds.”
John McNeill, who does not belong to a golf club but plays regularly on the New England Amateur Tour, outlasted and outperformed a very deep and talented field of 125 players 55 years old and above over the two days, Monday and Tuesday, August 23-24. The keys to his victory in this 36-hole event were his consistency from tee to green and his mental game plan. He shot 68-69 on the par-69, 6155 yards, iconic Donald Ross design course and avoided the disastrous holes that plagued most of the other competitors.
With three birdies in each round and with two bogeys on Monday and three on Tuesday, his one-under par 137 was good enough for a two-stroke edge over David Pierce (71-68) from Thorny Lea and Mike Verde (69-70) from Easton CC.
The field was tightly bunched after round one with 16 players in close contention: four at 68, four at 69, one at 70, and seven at 71. Round two saw more players heading for higher numbers and lower finishes than heading toward the trophy. Those at 68 with McNeill could not maintain their positions. Defending champion Steve Tasho from Thorny Lea shot 72 for a 140 and a tie for 4th, and Plymouth CC members Andrew Falcone and Paul LaCamera shot 73 and 76 to finish tied for 6th and tied for 14th respectively.
John Hadges from Thorny Lea and Lincoln Larson from Braelinn GC shared the low round of the day and of the tournament with 66’s, vaulting Hadges (74-66) into a tie for 4th with Tasho and vaulting Larson (75-66) into a tie for 6th with Jeffrey Supko (70-71) from Brae Burn CC and Mike McKenna (71-70) from Far Corner GC.
The Super Senior Division champions tied at 142 were Don Reycroft (71-71) from Bayberry Hills and Mike Arter ((73-69) from Segregansett. They also tied for 10th overall.
“I knew I would have to have my ‘A’ game today because of all the good golfers at the top with me,” explained McNeill after the round. “I didn’t especially like the odds, but I also remembered one of my very disappointing seconds four years ago in the Senior Hornblower when I missed a nine-footer for birdie on 18 to win outright and then lost in the playoff.
“I re-evaluated my game plan this morning and decided I shouldn’t try to ‘make it happen’ on the course. I would try to ‘let it happen.’ I concentrated on tempo; I focused on one shot at a time; I didn’t make any catastrophic mistakes. And I did manage to put together two good rounds. I can’t tell you what a great feeling it is to have finally broken through to the winner’s circle after a very long wait.”
McNeill never lost the lead during the second round although Tasho, in the last group with McNeill, and Verde, playing in the penultimate threesome, stayed on his heels. However, McNeill birdied the par-5 16th hole to forge ahead of both of them for good — even after Tasho had eagled the 16th and Verde had birdied it as well. McNeill put the finishing touches on his victory by hitting his second shot onto the 18th green to 14 feet, and both Tasho and Verde bogeyed in their attempts to make birdie. McNeill had an easy tap in for the par and his two-shot win.
Round 2 was played on a warm, sunny day with barely a breath of breeze, but the previous evening the remnants of Hurricane Henri soaked the course with 2.5 inches of rain, threatening to cancel the day’s play. GM Mike Roy and Tournament Director Mike Ellis were forced to make a decision.
“The course wouldn’t be playable until 11 a.m., but we had tee times that were supposed to start at 7 a.m.,” Ellis said. “The Senior Hornblower is a no-cut event, but we had to reduce the size of the field to ensure that we could finish the tournament. So, we kept the top 48 players—those who shot 75 and under—and had them tee off at their regularly scheduled times, which started at 11:20 a.m. They played lift, clean, and place, and, luckily, we had a beautiful day. Then we honored John McNeill as our 2021 Senior Hornblower Memorial champion.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Vicky Mackay