GROTON, Conn. – One of golf’s all-time “traveling man” has a simple motto about his favorite game.
“Wherever there’s a course, I’ll play,” Robin Byrd said. “I’ve been playing a long time, and it’s a lot of fun when the ball is going where you want it go.”
Byrd had plenty of fun in the Connecticut Senior Open, shooting a pair of 6-under-par 65 for an eight-stroke victory over Charlie Blanchard and Jeff Dantas at Shennecosett Golf Course on Tuesday.
Byrd, who has played on five continents and earned playing privileges on six tours, capped his spectacular showing with a 7-iron shot from 190 yards to 8 feet for eagle 3 on the final hole.
Each of his 65s tied the competitive course record, and his 12-under 130 total shattered the tournament record of 136 set my Mal Galletta in 1999 and matched by Jerry Courville in 2014. Byrd also had the tournament’s second-largest margin of victory to Jack McConachie’s 12-stroke romp in 2001.
“I hit it pretty solid and hit my irons really good,” said Byrd, who will turn 59 on Aug. 2. “And I reached a lot of the par-5s (in two shots) and putted well.”
Well, that just about covers every phase of the game.
Byrd, of Satellite Beach, Fla., finished 36 holes with two eagles, both on No. 18, 11 birdies and three bogeys to improve on his third place in his only other tournament start in 2017. That’s mighty impressive, but Byrd also has 18 holes-in-one while playing on the Web.com Tour and in 15 PGA Tour Champions events that he qualified for in the United States, along with tournament appearances in Europe, Asia and Australia. He also has won 12 times on the Sun Belt Senior Tour in Florida and made the cut in one of the three U.S. Senior Open Championships for which he qualified.
“I’ve had Tour card on every Tour except the PGA Tour,” Byrd said.
Byrd, who won $3,500, started the day with a two-stroke lead over former PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions player Ken Green, who wasn’t sure if he was going to able to finish on the back nine because of severe migraines caused by constant pain in his right leg, which had to amputated below the knee after a horrific recreational vehicle accident 10 years ago that killed his brother, girlfriend and dog. Green, who has finished second three times, did manage to hobble in, shooting 2-under 33 on the back that included a 4-iron to 3 feet at the par-3 16th for 74-141 and fourth place.
“I just can’t focus when my migraines are so bad,” said Green, who has had 24 surgeries and 17 other procedures and been fitted with several protheses since his accident. “I was zoning out at times, like on the seventh hole where I four-putted (for double-bogey 7). It really was bad all day, and I didn’t think I was going to make it (to the end). But it is what it is, so I’m not going to complain because I love golf and I love playing this course.”
Green also knew he had no chance to win.
“Robin played great,” said Green, who is living in New Fairfield during the summer and hopes to be able play in the Connecticut Open at Torrington Country Club on Friday through Sunday. “I couldn’t have caught him if I was playing my best.”
Byrd all but settled the issue with birdies on the first, seventh and eighth holes in a front-nine 33, which gave him a seven-stroke lead over Dantas. Byrd made a 12-foot birdie putt for 2 at No. 12, and after a 3-putt bogey from 60 feet on the 14th hole, he sank a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 16 before the stellar ending and making a quick exit for the T.F. Greene International Airport in Providence, R.I., and a trip to the Arizona Open.
Dantas, from Seekonk, Mass., wouldn’t even have been in the tournament if his daughter, Ally, hadn’t lost in the New England Softball Championships semifinals in New Hampshire on Sunday. Dantas, the Cape Cod Pro-Am Player of the Year seven consecutive times before turning pro, arrived at Shennecossett at 7:30 a.m. on Monday and got into the tournament as an alternate.
“I think (Ally) is going to want some of my money,” said a smiling Dantas, who pocketed $2,250.
Playing in the final group with Byrd and Green, Dantas knew he was two shots out of second place with two holes to go and thought he might have lost his shot at a piece of the runner-up spot when he lipped out a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 17.
“I really thought I’d made that one, so I knew I needed an eagle on 18 to tie for second,” Dantas said.
Dantas did just that in spectacular fashion, hitting a 5-iron shot from 204 yards to 8 inches for a tap-in eagle. He also nearly made his 14th career hole-in-one at the 175-yard ninth hole and 125-yard 12th hole, where his tee shots each stopped 6 inches from the cup.
“I didn’t make any long birdie putts, but I had nine birdie inside three feet,” Dantas said.
It was only Dantas’ fifth round of the year as he has been busy for the past five years working with a resistance band that he frequently uses at a training facility in Warren, R.I.
“I design trainer aids, and the resistance band has resurrected my game as far as being longer, better and straighter,” Dantas said. “I’m still working on trying to figure out distances, but it’s amazing what a difference the band has made for me.”
Blanchard, 53, the men’s golf coach at Bryant College, was also a late entry, signing up the day before the tournament and ending with his third Top-5 finish in as many starts thanks largely to six birdies in the first eight holes in a front-nine 30 that led to 66. He won every major amateur tournament in Rhode Island and was Rhode Island Player of the Year several times before turning pro at 50.
“I really like the course because it sets up well for my ball flight, and the par-5s are reachable,” said Blanchard, of Warwick, R.I., who tied for 11th last year. “And I drive the ball well. I played very solid, hit it good and made a couple of putts that I wasn’t expecting to make.”
Blanchard’s birdie binge began with a sand-wedge shot to 10 feet at the second hole, and he followed with birdie putts of 4, 4, 8 and 40 feet at Nos. 3-6. He made a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 9 to turn in 30 but bogeyed the 10th, 11th and 14th holes. The man whose home club is famed Wannamoisett CC in Rumford, R.I., closed strong with a 5-iron shot to 12 feet for birdie 2 at No. 15 and a two-putt birdie at the par-5 18th.
Former PGA Tour and Nike Tour player Bobby Gage of Torrington, who will play on one of his home courses growing up in the Connecticut Open later this week, shot a second 71 to tie for fifth with Kirk Hanefeld of South Hamilton, Mass., who closed with 70. A three-way tie for seventh at 143 included Jim Becker of Bloomfield (71), Charles Bolling of Glen Cove, N.Y. (72) and the low amateur, David Baker of Branford (72), who received $300 in merchandise credit.
The 43rd championship for those 50 years and older was played at Shennecossett GC for the 22nd consecutive year. The event has a great tradition and attracts some of the top professionals and amateurs from all over the country.