WALPOLE – Claiming victory in the Massachusetts Golf Association’s most prestigious tournament – the 103rd Massachusetts Open Championship – has taken 30-year old North Quincy touring pro Michael Welch ten years, finally arriving after three grueling days in June when he posted scores of 72-69-67-208, 5-under par total, at challenging Walpole Country Club to barely beat 23-year old Connecticut pro Michael Ballo by a single shot.
The tournament, with a history unmatched in golf lore because previous winners include names like Ross, Ouimet, Sarazen, Nelson, Bishop, Harney, Quigley and Sisk, was not without a final hole drama. Ballo, who led the tournament for the first 42 holes, until three-putting No. 6, 7, 8 and 9 needed to sink a 15-foot uphill putt on the final green to force a planned three-hole aggregate format playoff. Ballo hit a nice putt just rimming off the left corner, handing Welch the Clarence G. Cochrane Memorial trophy and first-place check of $15,000.
“Winning this tournament means a lot to me,” said Welch, a 2005 Johnson and Wales golf scholar tutored and recruited by the late David Adamonis, whom Welch credited for advancing his game as a junior player. “I got choked up on the last green just thinking about my name etched on top of the trophy. This tournament always has a talented field and I’m happy to win. Now I have some money to pay the mortgage.”
“This ranks pretty high up there,” said Welch, reflecting on his career that includes two New England Amateur crowns, three Cape Cod Open wins, two NGA Hooters Golf Tour wins in Florida, and Vermont and New Hampshire Open wins in 2008. “It’s a home game, and I am around friends and family. They see me travel the world and read about it online, but it’s good to come into my backyard and get a good result.”
Despite cool weather conditions and a short burst of rain showers during the final round, runner-up Michael Ballo, had no excuses for shooting 2-over, 73, to finish second for the second consecutive year. He started the final round with a one-stroke lead over Mark Stevens (Concord, N.H.) and five-stroke lead over Welch.
“It’s depressing, let’s be honest that it doesn’t feel good. But I want to stay positive about finishing second again,” a dejected Ballo stated after signing his scorecard. “I three-putted four times and you can’t do that and win. I’m happy the way I rallied with two birdies coming down the stretch, but I needed to make that putt on 18 and it didn’t happen.”
Youth and talent dominated the leaderboard with Pleasant Valley pro Jason Parajeckas, 27, picking up his biggest paycheck since turning pro in 2007. Parajeckas, paired with good friend Michael Welch, turned on the burners and shot a final round 3-under, 68, good enough to tie Ballo for second, and pocket $6,500.
“My putter was on fire today,” said the amiable teaching pro that has his sights set on several New England tournaments this summer before trying “Q” school in the fall. “Michael and I have played a lot of noncompetitive golf together and today we both just stayed focused and made no mistakes. It was fun watching him play well and it helped my game. Today, I went around here in 28 putts and that was key to my score.”
Other top-10 finishers included Eric Higgins (Englewood, FL) and Mark Stevens (Concord, N.H) with T-4 at 211; Marc Etienne-Bussieres (Orlando, FL) finished sixth at 212; with three players T-7 at 213 including Jimmy Lytle (Ocean Ridge, FL), Ty Capps (Palm Coast, FL) and Richard Berberian (Derry, N.H.).
MASS OPEN NOTEBOOK: Low amateur honors was shared by Antonio Grillo (Farm Neck) and Chris Congdon (Foxboro) shooting 1-over, 214 total; defending champion Kyle Gallo finished 1-over, 214; part-time Champions Tour player and pre-tournament favorite Kirk Hanefeld skied to rounds of 78-69-79-221; while six-time Nationwide Tour player Geoff Sisk stumbled around the lightning-fast Walpole CC greens in 77-70-76-223; 50 players from the field of 150 made the cut after round 2 including New York pro Andrew Giuliani, son of former NY mayor Rudy Giulianiwho finished T-10 with scores of 71-75-68; two-time champion Andy Morse recorded two eagles, beginning in 1 on the 518-yard, par 5 15th hole and round 3 on the 368-yard par 4 13th hole; despite a 30-minute rain shower midway through the final round, Ponkapoag GC pro Mickey Folan drew the biggest gallery of 20-plus Ponky loyalists enroute to carding 71-70-73 for a T-10; Walpole CC has hosted four MGA championships and pro Tom Giffin, who missed the cut, received a steady stream of compliments of the condition of the course, which he described as the “best-ever” in his 27 years; MGA executive director Joseph Sprague announced the 2013 site at Woodland CC (Newton), which he expects will draw 450 applications.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?