Summer Links: Local golf calendar filling up

  • Dustin Johnson poses with the trophy after winning the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands, Sunday, in Cromwell, Conn. AP

Published: 6/29/2020 5:05:54 PM
Modified: 6/29/2020 5:05:50 PM
TV/RADIOThe birds were chirping and the sun was shining last week at Northfield Golf Club.

Live sports have returned, albeit in an abbreviated sense. Races have been canceled, youth sports are more or less taking the year off. One constant on the summer calendar? That would be golf.

After closing for over a month due to COVID-19, golf courses reopened in Massachusetts on May 7, and area duffers have flooded tee times at clubs throughout Franklin County ever since.

I’ve gotten out and played just about every Wednesday at Northfield, and every time I’ve gone, the course has been crowded. After extended time inside, golfers are making up for lost time working on their respective games.

With golf likely the primary sport occupying the sporting landscape here locally, I’ve decided to roll out a golf column every week until the fall. In this space, I’ll highlight local accomplishments, local players and everything in between.

What’s ahead

While the United States Golf Association (USGA) announced that all qualifying for its 2020 tournaments (i.e. the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, etc.) was canceled, that hasn’t been the case at the local level. 

Mass Golf, the governing body for the sport in the Commonwealth, canceled some early-season tournaments, but qualifying for other championships has continued. That includes the 112th Mass. Amateur Championship, which will have a pack of local golfers in the field. The state’s biggest amateur event is set for July 13-17, and while it was originally scheduled to be played solely at The Kittansett Club in Marion, Mass Golf announced that it would be adding a second course, The Bay Club at Mattapoisett, to accommodate the field. With social distancing rules and extra precautions involved in running tournaments this summer, the event will have every golfer tee off on No. 1, instead of split tees with half the field going off No. 10. Thus, the extra course will enable play to continue at an acceptable pace, and golfers will play 18 holes at each course over the first two days of competition. Match play, which begins on Day 3, will take place solely at The Kittansett Club.

Locals like Northfield’s Jesse Morgan and South Deerfield’s Jonathan Elkins punched their tickets for the event during qualifiers earlier this month. Young stalwarts Jacob Zaranek (South Deerfield) and Cody Booska (Greenfield) earned exemptions into the Mass. Am field thanks to their performances at last year’s tournament.

Stay tuned next week for a full preview of the tournament.

Leaderboard live

One new wrinkle to these Mass Golf qualifiers and championships has come in the form of scoring tracking.

In the past, golfers would fill out a physical scorecard during their round, and at big events, every three holes there would be a volunteer inputting them for online tracking. For those following along at home, updated scoring was spotty, at best.

Under new guidelines this summer, golfers have been asked to input scores for their groups directly into the USGA scoring application on their phones. With scoring updated after every hole, most tournaments have been much easier to follow.

Northfield’s Andy Lesenski, who earned medalist honors earlier this month at a qualifier at the Country Club of Greenfield for entry into August’s Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship, said the ability to follow along during his round has been a nice addition.

“It’s definitely a really cool dynamic,” Lesenski began. “I’m kind of a leaderboard watcher myself, so I do like that aspect of it. Tuning in and knowing exactly where you’re at at any moment, that’s nice.”

Morgan said the live leaderboard came into play for him during his Mass. Am qualifying tournament in Stockbridge. Facing a chip just off the 18th green, he said he pulled out his phone prior to the shot to make sure that he didn’t need to hole out to make the cut.

“It influences decisions on the course, and it can influence how you choose to hit certain shots depending on where you are on the leaderboard,” Lesenski added. “It’s right in line with how the PGA Tour does it.”

Local leagues up and running

It wouldn’t be summer without receiving emails from all the local golf leagues throughout Franklin County.

Almost immediately after courses were reopened, leagues began to take shape for 2020, and for the most part, the usual suspects were back at it. Everything from the Knights of Columbus League at Thomas Memorial, to the Ashfield Community Morning League, Timmons League at Northfield and the Greenfield Elks League at the Country Club.

If you have league results, or hole-in-one reports, that you want included in the newspaper, email them to sports@recorder.com

Travelers recap

It was strange to see an empty TPC River Highlands last weekend, as the PGA Tour made its way to New England for the first time since the restart with the popular Travelers Championship.

The tournament has grown in popularity over the past decade, and the crowds are among the best on the Tour each year. That’s especially true of the 18th green, which has yielded some exciting moments over the years — none bigger than Jordan Spieth holing out from the bunker for birdie to win the 2017 tournament.

Dustin Johnson’s 61 on Saturday put him into position to capture a much-needed title, and he held on for the victory on Sunday by one stroke over perennial Hartford contender Kevin Streelman, who won the tournament in 2014.

This year’s tournament, while still fun to watch on TV due to familiarity with the course, wasn’t quite the same without the galleries strewn about. I’ve been a bunch of times, and always enjoy setting up shop around the popular 15th green, where players take aim on a drivable par 4. Here’s hoping that the crowds will return to Tour events in short order.

The Tour marches on to Detroit this week for the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Jeff Lajoie is the sports editor of the Recorder. He can be reached at jlajoie@recorder.com


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