Fourteen years ago Cody Paladino and Tommy McDonagh battled for the 2006 Connecticut Amateur title at Torrington Country Club. McDonagh won. Today Paladino returned the favor.
“Oh, that was so long ago,” smiled Paladino, who has since turned professional and then this spring regained his amateur status. “But you never forget. I had friends texting me about it. But Tommy and I have played many times since. We’re good friends. It was fun.”
Paladino won on the 16th hole, when McDonagh found the penalty area left and bogeyed. A bad break two holes before didn’t help. McDonagh’s attempt to drive the par-4 green with a 3-wood tee shot, which he hit well and thought would land in the middle of the green leaving him a putt for eagle, caught a tree limb and caromed out of bounds. Paladino birdied the par-3 15th and was suddenly two up.
But the two-time Amateur Champion was gracious. “It was an awesome match, a little nostalgia,” said McDonagh. “Cody played really well, never out of a hole.” McDonagh is a Shorehaven member but has played only a few times this spring but played well. Two down on the front, he squared the match and took a one up lead with a birdie on the par-5 11th, only to have Paladino respond with a kick-in eagle on the par-5 12th. They tied 13, and then match turned at 14.
Paladino had arguably the toughest draw of the day, meeting 2017 Mid-Amateur Champion Mike Kennedy in the morning and No. 6 McDonagh in the afternoon. He defeated Kennedy 5 and 4, with 5 birdies, and then McDonagh, but his challenges continue. He’ll meet No. 3 seed Ben James, who was even par in the qualifier.
James won easily against Chase Barbe of Greenwich Country Club in the morning, but had his hands full in the afternoon. The 2019 Junior Amateur Champion drew 2018 Junior Amateur Champion Connor Belcastro. James was one down through ten, but birdies at the 11th and the 14th, along with a Belcastro bogey on the windy par-3 17th, brought on the win. “It wasn’t pretty. I started slowly again,” said James after. “But there is nothing you can do so you might as well stay positive. I kept hitting good shots. I had some good stingers with 4 and 5 irons.” It was Belcastro’s second long match of the day. He defeated UConn star and 2019 runner-up Chandler Morris in the morning match, one up.
Defending Champion Rick Dowling, in the same lower bracket, also drew two tough opponents. He played former Amateur Champion Brian Ahern in the morning, winning 6 and 5, but lost to 2019 Mid-Am Champion Ben Day in the afternoon, 4 and 3, when Day made 5 birdies and a single bogey in 15 holes.
On Wednesday Day will play the man responsible for Tuesday’s biggest upset. No. 23 seed Thomas Durkin, the Rider College star, who developed his game under Stan McLennan at Suffield Country Club, eliminated 2018 Amateur Champion Ben Conroy in the afternoon, 2 and 1. Conroy had defeated Chippanee Golf Club’s Patrick Griffin in a hard-fought match in the morning, when both players were under par, but was not as sharp in the afternoon.
Medalist Brad Tilley, who last fall won three consecutive Mid-Amateur championships in New York, advanced, but only by surviving a dramatic chip-in on 18 by 17-year-old Michael Hanratty that took the match to extra holes. Tilley, who had led by three early in the round, and by two as late as No. 15, made birdie on the par-5 first in the playoff to advance. He then defeated Josh Cameron of Shennecossett Golf Club in the afternoon, 3 and 2. “He definitely caught me off guard,” said Tilley of his young opponent. “Going 5 under in the last 12 holes, which is what he did.” Tilley said he felt “off” in his putting set-up in the morning, and made an adjustment, putting better in the afternoon. As for the chip-in: “I was just assuming he was going to do it. You have to match play. It’s pretty amazing that he pulled it off. But I was solid all day, only made one bogey in the last 12 holes and shot 69. Fortunately in the playoff I hit a great drive and seven iron, and put the pressure on him.” Tilley two-putted for birdie; Hanratty was unable to get up and down for his. Tilley and Hanratty had a connection. A close friend of Tilley's is the Colgate Golf Coach, where Hanrattty will attend college.
(Ayers had a rematch of his own in the morning, meeting the same round-of-32 opponent he had last year, Jamie Sheltman of Alling Memorial. Last year he lost. This year he beat Sheltman. “We’re one and one,” said Ayers.)
Sixty-year-old Bob Murphy, the oldest qualifier, continued strong play Tuesday morning, defeating the Country Club of Waterbury’s Quinn Greene, but lost in the afternoon to Great River’s Adam Friedman, who despite a back that required deep tissue massage early Tuesday morning, defeated both Murphy and Hartford Golf Club’s Matt Chorches, a quarterfinalist last year. “He won it, I didn’t lose it,” said Murphy. “I was happy with how I played.”
In the quarterfinals, Friedman will play Chris Fosdick, the Florida Southern star who will transfer to Virginia in the fall. Fosdick beat Matt Fuller of Great Neck Country Club in the morning and then eliminated the second Shorehaven member to make the round of 16, Jason Jaworoski, in the afternoon, 6 and 4. Jaworoski had defeated 17-year-old Matthew Doyle of Madison Country Club in the morning.
Though he was eliminated in the first round, special recognition must go to Hunter Byram of Manchester Country Club, Day’s morning opponent. Byram was staying at a Marriott about two miles away from the club in Norwalk, went to his car to drive to his 8:00 a.m. tee time and couldn’t start it. Uber would take 15 minutes at best, he determined, and that wouldn’t work. “I run a lot. I figured that if I just ran, I could make it.”
Byram calculated that he’d need to run two 9-minute miles, which he did, pushing his pull cart on the road, making it to the first tee with a couple of minutes to spare. “But I was dragging those first couple holes. I got two down quick but then I think I played him about even the rest of the way.” Byram said this with a smile while taking off his golf shoes and putting back on his blue running shoes. There were several offers of rides back to the hotel.