Editor's note: Rick Dowling is part of the Junior Golf Hub team at Golf Performance Center in Ridgefield. He graduated from Fairfield University, in the class of 2015 (B.S. Finance, Economics). Rick was a four-year member and two-time Captain of the Stags’ Men’s Division-I Golf Team. He was also Assistant to the Men’s and Women’s Programs in 2016, and is the current 2017 Connecticut State Amateur Golf Champion!
The final day of the 54-hole Russell C. Palmer Cup presented by Chris Cote’s Golf Shop is both moving day and closing day, all rolled into one.
It was just that again Tuesday when the movers made their moves and the closer, Rick Dowling, found the lead, lost it, and found it again to win in the end by three shots over a trio of closers themselves, former Palmer Cup champions Cody Paladino and Ben Day, and 2020 Amateur Champion Chris Fosdick.
Dowling shot 30 on the final nine holes at the Country Club of Waterbury, a notable accomplishment given that these were his 45th through 54th holes over a tiring two days. He finished the championship 66-67-68—201, six under par.
But Dowling’s 68 in the final round can’t quite capture the journey he took to get to it.
A shot behind Waterbury member Day at -5 to begin the final 18, Dowling shot 38 (+3) on his first nine holes of the afternoon, and by the time he began his final nine holes he trailed by three, with Day, Paladino and Fosdick all in front of him. Fosdick’s 64 (-5) in the morning got him to four-under, the biggest move of the day, and helped him gain a tie for the lead with six holes to play. At that point, Dowling seemed, well, out of contention. A double at 4 and a bogey at 5 accounted for the 38.
“I caught a jumper on 4 and you don’t want to be there [behind the green]. On 5 I had 198 against the wind and had to kill a 4-iron and I just got way out in front of it,” said Dowling, who had dad Richard on the bag, as he had been at the 2019 Amateur at Fox Hopyard. “But I knew that I had to be patient and try to be positive. If you plot your way along on this course you can make good shots and make putts. After I didn’t birdie [the short, par-5] ninth I knew I had to turn it on.”
Which he did, beginning at the uphill, par-4 10th. “The birdie on 10 was huge and I thought, I’m still in it. I looked at the leaderboard and guys were going up and down.” Dowling said he checked the leaderboard (on his phone) once on the back nine, after his tee shot on the difficult par-3 12th, which he promptly birdied.
He birdied again at the the par-4 13th, and, with Fosdick in at -3, followed soon after by Day, who had doubled 17, and Paladino, who bogeyed the final hole, also at -3, Dowling made a long, downhill putt for birdie at 17, putting him, suddenly, three in the lead and virtually out of reach.
A nifty punch approach at 18 after a drive into the right rough, closed the deal.
“It’s so cool,” said Dowling, Amateur champion in 2017 and 2019. “I mean all the things that Mr. Palmer did for the CSGA and the State of Connecticut golf, it is cool to win his trophy.”
For Paladino, who had come close at the Amateur, losing on the final hole to Fosdick, it was also difficult to swallow. “I burned a few edges coming in, but I really didn’t hit it close enough. Twenty-five, thirty feet. You’re just not going to make many of those. I wasn’t as sharp in the final round.”
There was a moment, though, on the 12th hole, when it looked to be his day. After his tee shot hit a sprinkler head left of the green, and bounced 15 yards into deep fescue even farther left, he managed a miraculous up and down. Paladino pumped his fist when his save went in. “I thought, okay, maybe this is it,” he said after. But the par was followed only by more pars before the final bogey. No birdies on the back.
Fosdick, who seemed to be the player to beat after his 64 in the morning, could manage only 70 in the afternoon. “I wasn’t as accurate with any of my clubs the second time around today. Beginning the final nine holes five under, he bogeyed the long par-3 14th and the par-4 15th, and made no birdies on the back.
Fosdick said the wind, about 8-10 miles an hour in the afternoon, made it difficult to get shots close and was one reason there weren’t more birdies in the afternoon. “What it was doing up there was not,” he said pointing to the sky, “was not what you were feeling down here.”
Also under par were Chris Ayers of Goodwin Park, who finished in 5th alone at two under and Nick Piersall of Bryant University, who shot 69-68-69 for 2016 (-1).
Greenwich’s Jackson Fretty, who now plays for Princeton, shot his second straight 68 in the morning to reach two under and fifth place, but slipped to 74 in the afternoon.
2018 Amateur Champion Ben Conroy, of New Haven Country Club, finished at even par, tied with Christopher Cappella of East Mountain Golf Club.
Defending Champion Rick Hayes of Silver Spring Country Club shot 72 to make the cut on the number on Monday, then 70 Tuesday morning. He finished with 72 for 214 and T20th.
Thirty-nine players qualified for today’s 36 holes, shooting 72 or better yesterday.
The Russell C. Palmer Cup, presented by Chris Cote’s Golf Shop, is the state’s premier stroke-play championship. It comprises 54 holes, with a cut to the low 39 and ties after round one, and thirty-six holes on day two. It is named for Russell C. Palmer, former CSGA Executive Director (1986-1995) and inductee into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame (1997). Mr. Palmer’s numerous accomplishments include establishing the use of GHIN throughout CSGA member clubs and initiating the purchase of the “Connecticut Golf House” which for 30 years has served as the home of the CSGA.