PLYMOUTH, Mass – Mike Kennedy, of New Haven Country Club, was in the first group off the first tee at 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning, and his tournament leading two-under par 67, ensures that he will be in the last group off the first tee at 10:10 on Saturday morning.
His achievement gives a unique secular meaning to the New Testament adage, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”
Kennedy’s 67 at the Donald Ross-designed Plymouth CC leads three other sub-par shooters by one stroke. Jimmy Hervol (10:10) of Hopkinton CC, Dillon Brown (10:10) from nearby CC of Halifax, and James Imai (10:00) of George Wright GC are not only lurking, but are looking forward to their date on the first tee and their potential date with destiny.
These four posted the only under-par rounds in a field of 156 on a day where Mother Nature bestowed some clemency upon her children of the greens. Her sunny disposition and pleasant temperature sometimes gave way to cooler winds or, at least, noticeable zephyrs, but the players, for the most part, could not complain about the atmospheric conditions.
And no need to, either, as the double-digit Stimping greens (closer to three digits downhill!), the lush and wiry rough, and the inescapable short-sided misses to nefariously positioned pins provided plenty of excuses that anyone who shot over 74 could need. The field was traumatically reduced to the low 60 and ties so that 63 survivors will tee off Saturday June 1 on both nines from 8:30 a.m. Kennedy, Hervol, and Brown hit their first drives at 10:10.
As impressive as Kennedy’s 67 was on Friday, Kennedy must still impress on Saturday because his tentative crown will be in jeopardy from 10 more dissidents, who are within three strokes of his lead. Two at even par, Nick Harrington, of the E Club of CT and Brett Kerkorian of Indian Ridge CC, know that making a couple of longer putts and getting a couple of good bounces could erase that two-shot deficit in a couple of holes.
An eight-some is tied at 70, and each one in that elite group is looking for both improvement of his own and lapses from those in front of him, knowing full well that the capricious bent of the Donald Ross course punishes more often than it rewards.
Anticipating both a little luck and no three putts is a formidable entourage of pin seekers: Jordan Burke, Needham GC; Sean Deale, Brae Burn CC; Sean Fitzpatrick, George Wright GC; Brandon Gillis, Souhegan Woods GC; Brendan Hester, Pleasant Valley CC; Erik Robinson, Sandwich Hollows GC; Ben Spitz, George Wright GC, and Tim Umphrey, Tatnuck CC.
Looking to repeat as champions, both Hester (’02) and Gillis (’16) have the DNA to make something special happen. Spitz and Fitzpatrick have been thwarted from the top spot in recent years and are yearning to make amends. And the other four would just like to get their chance in the sun—and Saturday is supposed to be a model, late spring day—to see if they couldn’t shine a little more brilliantly than the rest.
So, does that mean that those who persevered to make the cut—the denizens of the deeper field from 71 to 74—are only eye candy for the spectators until the leaders get to traverse the course?
Not at all! Champion caliber players abound and await just the right combination of phenomena to propel them toward the top and perhaps to victory.
Defending champ Matt Parziale shot 71. He’s not going to go gently into that also-ran category, and his come-from-behind title last year should presage the leaders to look ahead to the fairways and scoreboard to see where Parziale stands. Davis Chatfield, a two-time runner-up, also posted a 71. He’s looking to remedy a predicament that has bothered him in past stretch runs.
Mike Calef (’84) with his 72 ran into some unfortunate stroke dementia but has the poise and the talent to make another gambit. Max Ferrari, a stalwart on the Elon College golf team, also shot a 72, lacking the magic that garnered him a 64 as Thursday’s Pro-Am medalist, but not lacking the ability for another low number on Saturday.
Also, four Plymouth CC members are within striking distance, and their inherent familiarity with Mr. Ross’s proclivities for both good and evil should give them a tangible advantage when the going gets tough. Jim Bandera (71), Don Foberg (73), Nathan Ingram (74), and Matt Miller (74) just might convert their home-course knowledge into some stroke-saving benefits along the way.
Finally, the 2017-18, two-time Hornblower Junior Medalist Dillon Brown has turned 19 and has to relinquish his title. Besides his one-under 68 as a 19-year-old could lead to the ultimate title. Anyway, Brown has a ready and willing replacement in the form of 15-year-old Mashpee High School freshman Colin Spencer, who shot 71 in the third-to-last grouping, teeing off at 2:54 p.m., after spending the morning in school, and not reporting to the scorer’s table until after 7:30 p.m.
With his Cummaquid GC PGA head pro dad, Steve, on the bag and his younger brother Jack accompanying him for moral support, Spencer combined four birdies with six bogeys to give him the lead in the juvenile stakes.
What did the young man think of PCC? “Awesome,” he said tersely. What did dad think of his progeny? “Colin played a very impressive round.”
Thus, the Hornblower Memorial stage is set for Round Two and the late afternoon crowning of the 2019 Hornblower champion. Mike Kennedy awaits his trial by PCC fire, and 62 others hope not to get singed as the drama sequentially unfolds.
The public is invited to witness all the incendiary action without charge, and all spectators are also invited to avail themselves of the club’s amenities.
The burning question is, of course, shall the last really be the first!
See all of today’s scores and access the Saturday scores on the Hornblower website: http://www.hornblowermemorial.com/
CREDIT: Photography by Leigh MacKay