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.