TYNGSBOROUGH, Massachusetts – The 110th Massachusetts Open Championship, featuring a $75,000 purse, kicked off Monday June 10 at Vesper Country Club, with a field that included 92 pros and 62 amateurs, and after 18 holes, 35 players finished under par, including three at 5-under that are tied for the lead.
While making his final warmups on the putting green before the first round of the Massachusetts Open Championship, Westwood’s Patrick Frodigh, the 2018 Massachusetts Amateur champion who has since turned professional, commented on the fact he really enjoys playing the courses in Massachusetts, a stark difference he says from the southern courses he has been playing for nearly the last six months since beginning life as a journey-man golf professional. His fondness for Bay State courses, like the par 72, 6,684-yard Vesper Country Club, suits him fine since the 24-year old former Elon University graduate sits tied atop the leaderboard after posting a 5-under par 67, with two days of competition remaining.
Frodigh rebounded from a bogey on his second hole of the day, the par-5 11th, by birdieing both the 13th and 14th holes to make the turn at 1-under. On his second nine, Frodigh lit up the scorecard by registering four more birdies to enter into a tie with fellow Bay Stater, Mark Purrington, of Dartmouth, and Boynton Beach, Florida’s Bobby Gage.
“This is very much a second shot golf course,” said Frodigh after his first round. “With the greens this fast, and they’re getting really firm now, you just have to be patient and hit it in the right areas. I did a good job of that today. Just gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities.“
As he looks to build off his round one performance, he’ll look to do something that only seven others have done before him since the first Open championship was first held here at Vesper in 1905: win both the state Open and state Amateur.
“It’d be very special, joining those people would be really cool,” said Frodigh on the prospect of joining Francis Ouimet, Jesse Guilford, Kevin Johnson, Jim Hallet, Fran Quinn, Jr., Charley Volpone and most recently, Rob Oppenheim, who have earned the feat before him. “Obviously day one is a good start, there’s a lotta golf left but I’m really happy with the way I played today.”
One of the guys standing in Frodigh’s way is Purrington, a 32-year old Bay State native, who had never seen the course prior to Monday’s first round.
“I was very happy,” said Purrington, who’s only knowledge of the Merrimack Valley gem was a yardage book he picked up in the pro shop on Sunday night. “I came into the course blind. Today, I was just trying to find my lines and hit good shots. I made two bogeys on the back (his front nine) and finally got some momentum when I birdied my ninth hole, the 18th, then was able to take that to one, birdied one and then the pace of the round got going.”
Following his opening bogey on the 10th and a subsequent bogey on the 14th hole, Purrington, who plays out of the Bay Club at Mattapoisett, tallied back-to-back birdies on the 18th and 1st hole, then went birdie-eagle-birdie in the midst of his back nine to jump up the leaderboard. He added a birdie on the 9th hole for good measure.
“I got into a rhythm, a little more momentum and I was able to settle into the round,” said Purrington. “Obviously coming out the first couple holes you’re on your toes trying to figure out what’s going on out here.”
In addition to Frodigh and Purrington, Florida golf professional Bobby Gage also found himself tied atop the leaderboard. The 53-year old tallied six birdies to one bogey in Monday’s first round – only his third competitive round since last August.
“Overall, I kept the ball in front of me all day. I made a couple mistakes coming in on some short shots and I forced my hand a little bit and had to get up and down a couple times,” admitted Gage. Other than that, he added, “I played really solid. It was a good day.”
It’s been 20 years since an amateur has won the Massachusetts Open Championship. Norfolk’s Andrew O’Leary, a rising sophomore on the University of Notre Dame’s Men’s Golf team, is hoping to change that this week. Competing in his second Massachusetts Open at Vesper Country Club, the 19-year old carded a 4-under 68 in the first round and sits one stroke back with eyes set on eventually advancing to Wednesday’s third and final round.
O’Leary did most of his damage on the front nine Monday, birdying the first, fourth, fifth and eighth holes to make the turn at 4-under 32, then split a bogey and a birdie on his back half to finish the day at 4-under 68, one stroke below the trio of professionals who share the lead. In addition, he leads the pool of 62 amateurs in the field, finishing his first round one stroke ahead of Herbie Aikens, who defeated him in the semifinal round of the 2018 Massachusetts Amateur Championship.
“I hit a lot of fairways and gave myself a lot of good looks for birdie out there and I was able to roll a few in, especially early,” said O’Leary following his round. “I started out 4-under through eight and felt good out there, comfortable, and wasn’t too anxious out there. I tried to let it happen.”
With a lot more golf, and facing even tougher competition as a frequent presence in the Fighting Irish lineup as a freshman in the 2018-19 season, O’Leary says his knowledge of the game has expanded immensely – a factor that he says has proved to be a difference maker.
“I feel like I learned a lot about mentality out there and having the ability to go low and not shoot just 1-under every round or something like that,” said O’Leary, who was exempt into the Championship field this year as a result of both his 2018 Massachusetts Amateur semifinalist finish and his top-10 finish in the Player of the Year rankings. “I feel like what I learned in college has really helped me for when I’m back home.
Entering the Open, O’Leary says that one of his goals was to be finish as the low-amateur, but considering how well his first round went, he hopes that he’ll have enough to take home both the Commonwealth Cup, the trophy given to the tournament’s low-amateur, as well as the Clarence G. Cochrane Memorial Trophy, which will be awarded to the overall winner.
“I think how I played the course today is how I should play,” said O’Leary. “I stuck to my game plan and didn’t make any too aggressive of decisions and just adjust to the conditions, which I think are going to be a little different. Other than that, I feel that I am in a good spot.”
MAKING HIS MOVE
If you looked at where Jason Thresher was on the leaderboard following the first round of the Massachusetts Open Championship Monday, you would see that the 3-time reigning champion from Connecticut was two strokes off the lead. As if he planned it perfectly, the spot is identical to where he has finished the first round in each of the past two years. Last year at GreatHorse, his 66 was two strokes behind Clifton Park, New York’s Matthew Campbell, the day one leader, while the year before at TGC at Sacconnossett, he finished two strokes behind Middletown, New York’s John Stoltz.
On Monday, Thresher carded a 3-under 69 and finished two strokes behind the trio of Patrick Frodigh, Mark Purrington and Bobby Gage.
“I played really well and my score doesn’t really show how well I hit the ball today actually,” explained Thresher. “I think I missed two fairways and birdied both those holes. Otherwise, I was in the fairway and I didn’t miss a green. Two three-putts and that is a 69.”
“Hopefully I can figure the greens out a little better the next two couple days and get some putts to fall.”
MASS OPEN NOTES:
Tim Carey, a professional who plays out of Brockton’s Thorny Lea Golf Club, recorded the only ace of the day on the par-3 17th hole. Carey used his seven iron from 212 yards out. He finished his round at T4 on the leaderboard, one of four competitors to card a 4-under 68.
390 birdies were recorded in the first round of the Massachusetts Open Championship, including a day-best 44 on the par-5 18th hole. Six eagles were recorded, including four on the par-5 fifth hole.
Sudbury’s Rich Karbowski, the oldest competitor in the field, finished the day at even-par 72, good enough for a T36 on the leaderboard. Weston Jones, also of Sudbury and the youngest competitor in the field, finished at 7-over 79.
Of the past Massachusetts Open champions in the field, three-time reigning champion Jason Thresher leads at 3-under 69, a T9 spot on the leaderboard, while 2015 champion Joe Harney (T24) shot a 1-under 71.
Jason Thresher, 2016, 2017, 2018 champion, T9 (3-under 69)
Joe Harney, 2015 champion, T24 (1-under 71)
Evan Harmeling, 2013 champion, T53 (1-over 73)
Iam Thimble, 2014 champion, T80 (3-over 75)
Eric Egloff, 2005 champion, T80 (3-over 75)
John Elliott, 1991 champion, T80 (3-over 75)
CREDIT: Mass Golf Staff
PHOTOS: David Colt Photography