New England Junior Amateur Championship: Massachusetts Dominates Awards, Ben James Becomes First Three-Time Individual Champion
CUMBERLAND. Maine - This year's New England Junior Amateur Championship featured a couple of historic developments. Massachusetts became the first state to win both the boys and girls team championships in the same year, then on top of that, Ben James (Connecticut) became the first player ever in the history of the New England Junior to three-peat as an individual champion.
The Mass Golf Boys shot 5-under-par to top Connecticut by 15 strokes in the team division, while the girls shot 34-over-par for a 12-stroke win over the next closest team in Rhode Island. In the girls individual division, Annie Dai (Massachusetts) defeated her fellow Bay State teammate MacKenzie Whitney in a three-hole playoff to earn the girls individual champion distinction.
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All three rounds, the Massachusetts boys were buoyed by a strong team effort. The strong play of Colin Spencer, Weston Jones, and John Broderick helped them get out to a 22-stroke lead by the end of round two and the well-rounded efforts continued into round three.
Ryan Downes, Joey Lenane, and Ethan Whitney all aided in the scoring department and although the boys were not as sharp as they had been on Monday, they did more than enough to get by with the win.
“It’s awesome,” Spencer said. “We played really well the first 36 holes and kind of gave ourselves a little bit of a cushion which is always good. We didn’t have our best stuff today, but we were able to win. I had a blast and I can’t wait for next year.”
Broderick echoed the same sentiment as his teammate in regards to the win, a victory that the Mass Boys desperately wanted coming into the event.
“It’s awesome,” Broderick said. “All of us are really good players and I think we all knew coming in that we could we could definitely beat anyone. Team Connecticut was probably our biggest rival, but we knew we could beat them. Then, to all play well and do it is pretty awesome.”
Downes in particular really helped the team. Though he is just 15-years-old, Downes scored in all three rounds for his team and was a major contributor.
“I putted pretty poorly the first two days, but I actually hit the ball pretty well,” Downes said. “I was kind of a little bit of flip-flop today, I putted a little better, but I didn’t hit the ball as well. So it was kind of inconsistent and not what I was exactly looking for, but it feels good because my score counted all three days.”
The win for the boys was wire-to-wire and as a bonus, they get to share the victory with the girls. It's the first time since girls were introduced to the team competition in 2019 that a state has swept the team honors.
“A Mass Golf sweep is always great, that’s going to make a good headline,” Broderick said with a laugh. “That’s really exciting and I don’t know if it’s ever happened before, but it’s super exciting to win and see the girls do it too.”
It is history, and it certainly does make for a great headline for Massachusetts.
The Mass Girls didn't dominate from start to finish like their counterparts on the boys side did, but they ended with a bang. The girls shot 10-over-par on Tuesday to put some separation between themselves and the field and win by a commanding 12 strokes.
All three competitors played well. MacKenzie Whitney set the tone early, Annie Dai finished strong, and Keira Joshi provided a steady presence throughout.
“It kind of feels unreal because I know the girls were very tight coming into this,” Dai said. “The boys were way ahead, but we had some tough competition and I really wasn’t trying to look at the leaderboard in the middle to know because I knew that I would stress myself out. So, I just played until the last hole and then checked.”
Dai fired an impressive round of 3-over-par 74, better than her mark of consecutive 78's that she had shot earlier in the week. She knew that one or more of the girls needed to step up to grab a win and she went ahead and did so herself.
“On the first few holes I was feeling really confident because my drives were a lot more consistent and I was hitting a lot more greens, then I made a few birdie putts,” Dai said. “Towards the end I started three-putting and I think I ended up with five three-putts, but it still ended pretty well with my score.”
Overall, the girls were similar to the boys in how well-rounded their performance was. That is even more impressive when considering that is was the first time all three ever played in the New England Junior.
“It was really cool,” Joshi said. “Getting to be here is definitely fun. I’m super proud of Annie and MacKenzie, I was checking the leaderboard all day and they were 1 and 2, I was thinking go get them. It’s definitely fun.”
Not only did they win, but the girls created a bond that will last well beyond their time spent at Val Halla.
“I know both of them, obviously girls golf is a small world,” Joshi said of Dai and Whitney. “We’re all friends going into this, but it’s definitely been a fun experience on the bus, in the hotel, and meeting the girls from the other states. I’ve definitely made some new friends.”
In addition to the friends, the girls made some history too.
Speaking of history, there may have been no accomplishment more impressive than that of Connecticut's Ben James winning the boys individual competition for a third consecutive year. James is the first competitor in the history of the New England Junior to do so.
“That achievement means so much to me,” James said. “This event, it’s my fourth time being here and I love our coach. We’re really good friends and with all of my friends just being here too it means a lot to win this event.”
James was under par in all three of his rounds shooting 67-66-66. He finished up the 54 holes with 1 eagle, 17 birdies, and just 6 bogeys. Jones is the No. 6 junior golfer in the world in the American Junior Golf Association Rankings and he showed why as he closes the book on his New England Junior career.
“It’s been a battle every year with me and the other competitors,” James said. “It’s just been awesome to kind of get it all together three consecutive times. I’ve played pretty well in all of them and I’m just happy to win my last one.”
More importantly, he was happy to do so alongside his friends.
“It was awesome,” he said. “We did our best with the COVID restrictions. We didn’t have too many, but we just had a lot of fun at the pool and we enjoyed ourselves. It was nice to spend some time with the girls too going out to get some ice cream. It was really fun.”
On the girls side of things, a playoff was needed to determine a winner. Both Annie Dai and MacKenzie Whitney shot 230 over the 54-holes and they had to shift from allies to competitors to determine a champion. Dai needed three holes to do so, but she eventually prevailed over the older Whitney to be crowned the individual champion.
“I feel kind of bad,” the 15-year-old said after the playoff with a laugh. “It was strange competing against each other when we came here together, but it was really fun to all play well.”
Winning and losing aside, Dai grew closer with Whitney over the course of the round and enjoyed playing and competing with her and Joshi.
“I didn’t know them that well,” Dai said of her teammates. ”Right before coming here I’d just met Keira in another competition or tournament, then we found out we were coming here together and we started talking more. When we got here we knew each other and with MacKenzie, I’d played with her a couple of times already. It was a lot of fun.”
Final Team Leaderboard (Boys)
1 – Massachusetts -5
2 - Connecticut +10
3 - Rhode Island +56
4 - Maine +60
5 - Vermont +77
6 - New Hampshire +94
Final Team Leaderboard (Girls)
1 - Massachusetts +34
2 - Rhode Island +46
3 - New Hampshire +49
4 - Maine +60
5 - Connecticut +62
6 - Vermont +126
Top Players From Each State (Boys)
Connecticut: Ben James; 67-66-66-199
Maine: Eli Spaulding; 69-72-71-212
Massachusetts: Colin Spencer; 70-64-70-204
New Hampshire: Bryce Zimmerman; 70-74-81-225
Rhode Island: Maxwell Jackson; 70-72-76-218
Vermont: Austin Giroux; 76-80-72-228
Top Players From Each State (Girls)
Connecticut: Kate Hong; 80-79-86-245
Maine: Ruby Haylock; 78-81-77-236
Massachusetts: Annie Dai; 78-78-74-230*
New Hampshire: June Doerr; 75-78-84-237
Rhode Island: Gianna Papa; 78-79-81-238
Vermont: Mia Politano; 97-91-86-274
*Won in playoff after tie with MacKenzie Whitney
Bay State Players Give Insight On Val Halla
The site of the offices for the Maine State Golf Association is also doubling as the host of the 2021 New England Junior Amateur Championship. Located at 58 Val Halla Road in Cumberland, Maine, the course is an ideal site for a tournament such as the New England Junior Amateur Championship.
The 18-hole track plays to a par-72 and the championship tees stretch back to 6,595 yards. With a 71.5 course rating and a slope of 130, the course presents a unique and exciting challenge for the Massachusetts players, especially when factoring in that none of them have played it previously.
The boys and girls certainly did not take long to get acclimated. Sunday's practice round was the first time all 8 Massachusetts players have ever been to the course, but having just the one round to adjust didn't reflect in their scores.
“It's super straightforward," MacKenzie Whitney said of the course. "There aren't really too many tricky shots you have to do. You just hit it straight and everything seems to work. Most of the par-4’s are the exact same, straight and then wedge in, two-putt for par.”
The design of Val Halla is simple, but the players still need to bring their best game with them to the course.
“You have to hit it well," John Broderick said. "Off the tee, if you’re not hitting it, you’re going to have some issues. There’s a lot of wedge opportunities, but you still have to hit it close. These greens are not crazy fast, but they can be firm in parts. You have to be in the right parts, some greens have a lot of break on them."
Weston Jones shared a similar sentiment regarding the course.
“It's a good course," Jones said. "It’s short, but it's not easy. You still got to hit some really good tee shots, some really good approaches, and then making putts is not an easy task out here. It’s difficult, which is great.”
The low scores help, but the Massachusetts players have certainly enjoyed their time they've spent at Val Halla. The crew played in a seven-some for the practice round on Sunday and that certainly helped them to gain some familiarity and comfort with their surroundings all while having some more fun.
“This has been an awesome experience," Colin Spencer said. “I wasn't really sure what to expect coming in, but it's fun. You can obviously make a lot of birdies which is just fun. It's nice to change it up a little bit, I’ve been at a lot of tough courses, so it's nice to play a course where you can make a bunch of birdies.”
They came in with little knowledge of the course, but the Mass boys and girls will certainly leave with some fond memories of the Val Halla track.
The New England Senior Amateur Championship will begin on September 14th at Manchester Country Club in Vermont.
New England Junior Amateur: Massachusetts Jumps Out To Leads In Both Divisions As Colin Spencer Ties Course Record
CUMBERLAND. Maine - Two rounds of action are in the books at the 2021 New England Junior Amateur Championship being played at Val Halla Golf Course. On a picture-perfect first day of action, Colin Spencer (Cummaquid Golf Course), of Massachusetts, tied the course record in round 2 as his Bay State squad exerted their dominance in the early rounds.
Spencer led the charge for a strong performance for the Massachusetts boys who shot 18-under par to open up a 22 stroke lead on the rest of the field. Connecticut is the next closest team at 4-over par. On the girls side of the action, Massachusetts again nabbed a lead, albeit much slimmer than the one held by the boys.
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Massachusetts had no shortage of strong performances on Monday. Led by the trio of Colin Spencer, Weston Jones, and John Broderick the team built up a large lead on the rest of the field.
Spencer had an impressive performance in the morning firing a 1-under 70, but he blew that mark out of the water in the afternoon carding 7 birdies on his way to shooting 64. That mark tied the course record at Val Halla set by Tom Hanson in 1993.
"The morning round was really boring," Spencer said. "I couldn't really get anything going, but I made a lot of good par saves. Then the second round was good...the putts I was making for par saves on the first 18, I was making for birdies on the second, which was good. We had an awesome couple rounds today...I'm excited for tomorrow."
Spencer led the charge for Massachusetts, but Jones himself finished one off tying the course recorded when he shot a 65 in his afternoon round. After a cold morning round in which he shot over par, Jones completely flipped the script his second time through.
“I was missing my tee shots," Jones said of his morning. "I had about three or four really bad tee shots. In the afternoon I really improved off the tee and with striking the ball well. I was putting the ball well in the morning, so it was about as good as I could have done with how I was hitting the ball. Then, when I started hitting it really well it all just kind of came together.”
Spencer and Jones headlined the afternoon, but it was Broderick who got things started the right way for the Bay State boys. He fired a 67 in the morning (4-under par and tied for the best round of the morning) and set the tone for his team.
“The morning I hit it great actually," Broderick said. "I had six birdies and five of them were almost gimmes, so that really helped me not have to be stressed on putts. It allowed for some great opportunities. I did definitely set the tone that you could shoot a good score on this course and it helped our team out.”
Massachusetts was solid in the morning round going 1-under, but they really picked things up in the afternoon shooting 17-under par as a unit. When they took a break for lunch, everyone knew they could do better.
“Aside from Johnny and Colin, we all kind of left a million shots out there and didn't play our best," Jones said. "We all thought alright, we know this course and we know these pins, we're just gonna play better. We all kind of had that confidence and it just led into to the afternoon round.”
Broderick was excited to see his teammates put on a show in the late round.
"I was just so pumped because I love this team," he said. "I think all of us, we really want to win as a team. Obviously all of us want to win as individuals, but I think more than individuals, we want to win as a team."
The group certainly made progress towards that goal on Monday.
Also standing out for his performance was Connecticut's Ben James. A two-time individual winner of the NEGA Junior Amateur Championship and the No. 6 ranked junior golfer in the World by the American Junior Golf Association, James shot 67-66-133 to lead the individual competition.
“I didn’t hit the ball great, but I putted and chipped really well," James said. "I was missing fairways with four irons, but my irons and distance control were really good. That was kind of saving me and my lag putting was very good. I was pretty much an automatic two-putt which is helpful.”
Overall, James had 10 birdies and 1 eagle for the day. Connecticut has won the past two NEGA Junior Amateurs (2019, 2018) and while they have ground to make up to do so again, James is happy to be back playing alongside his friends.
"It's awesome," he said. "I know all these guys and I've known all of them for a while. It's just really fun to kind of bond with each other and that's why I came back. Just to be with my buddies, it's so fun. It's one of the most fun weeks to get to stay in the hotel and be with my friends. I'm going to miss it."
The race for a victory in the girls division is much tighter. Massachusetts leads at 24-over, but they are just two strokes up on Rhode Island and five up on New Hampshire.
MacKenzie Whitney helped to get Massachusetts out in front by shooting 78-74-152 which not only built her team's advantage, but also put her in solo possession of first place on the individual leaderboard.
“This morning I wasn't really hitting my irons that well, so it was kind of a grind with that in the fairway, but I was putting and chipping really well today," Whitney said. "That helped and then this afternoon I just put it all together. My irons started going straight and everything was going straight, so it just worked out in my favor and then my putting was really good this afternoon.”
Whitney was added by the performance of fellow Massachusetts native Annie Dai who shot consecutive rounds of 78 . Dai, who is just 15 and playing in the event for the first time, struggled at times she said, but still made a positive impact for her team.
"I think this course is pretty straightforward," Dai said. “I definitely left some shots out there today, so my goal is to just improve from today. I’m not worried about the leaderboard. This is my first time and it's been really fun. I'm really honored to be part of the team.”
New Hampshire's June Doerr had herself a strong opening day shooting 75-78-153 to finish in solo second on the individual leaderboard and keep her team well within striking distance of a victory.
"The course is beautiful," Doerr said. "The greens were in great condition and it was really nice to be able to be out here and play two rounds. I was doing pretty well on most things, but having the course be in that sort of condition really helped me."
Doerr has her squad squarely in contention and the same can be said for the player who finished just two strokes behind her. Rhode Island's Vinny Papa, playing in her first NEGA Junior Amateur, finished solo third individually after shooting rounds of 77 and 78 for a grand total mark of 155.
“I hit a lot of greens in regulation, but then once I got to the putting green it wasn't so good," Papa said. "At the end I started getting the hang of it and maybe hitting it a little harder, but I did hit my drives well. I wanted to play as well as I could and improve as the days go on.”
Papa helped Rhode Island get to just two shots back of Massachusetts for the lead and their squad is looking to pounce on the opportunity to grab a win in the third and final round.
“I'm pretty excited because this is my first time here and my sister played in 2019," Papa said. "It’s really cool. The goal is actually to win. I think we can maybe pull it off tomorrow. I think all of us didn't play well and we're still in the mix. We can do it.”
Current Team Leaderboard (Boys)
1 – Massachusetts -18
2 - Connecticut +4
3 - Rhode Island +29
4 - Maine +44
5 - Vermont +53
6 - New Hampshire +55
Current Team Leaderboard (Girls)
1 - Massachusetts +24
2 - Rhode Island +26
3 - New Hampshire +29
4 - Connecticut +37
5 - Maine +45
6 - Vermont +88
Top Players From Each State (Boys)
Connecticut: Ben James; 67-66-133
Maine: Eli Spaulding; 69-72-141
Massachusetts: Colin Spencer; 70-64-134
New Hampshire: Bryce Zimmerman; 70-74-144
Rhode Island: Maxwell Jackson; 70-72-142
Vermont: Alex Leonard; 81-71-152
Top Players From Each State (Girls)
Connecticut: Kate Hong; 80-79-159
Maine: Ruby Haylock; 78-81-159
Massachusetts: MacKenzie Whitney; 78-74-152
New Hampshire: June Doerr; 75-78-153
Rhode Island: Gianna Papa; 78-79-157
Vermont: Jillian Miles; 92-92-184
The third and final round will once again be a shotgun start. Play is scheduled to get underway at 9 a.m. Following the round, winners of the Championship Proper will be determined. The boy's and girl's team championship is determined by taking the 5 best scores out of the 7 total for the boy's and the 2 best scores out of 3 total for the girls.
Individual honors will be award to the low 54-hole finished among the boy's and the girl's. Boys leaders Colin Spencer and Benjamin James will go off together on Hole 1A. On the girls side, MacKenzie Whitney, June Doerr, and Vinny Papa will go off Hole 7.