Tee to Green: Bob Linn qualifies for Massachusetts Amateur Championship

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Berkshire Hills Country Club amateur standout Bob Linn's desire to experience as many of New England's top golf courses as possible has resulted in his earning a berth in this year's Massachusetts Amateur Championship in July at Charles River Country Club.

Instead of entering one of the two qualifying tournaments in western Massachusetts — at Williamstown's Waubeeka Golf Links and the Country Club of Wilbraham in the Pioneer Valley — the 63-year-old chose instead to take a road trip to Boston's South Shore and Hatherly Country Club.

Linn put together a 1-over par round of 71 on May 31 over the short, links-style layout to finish in a three-way tie for third place and win one of 15 tickets to the main event (top 10 and ties advanced). Linn is the only member of a Berkshire County club to qualify for the state's top amateur tournament.

At just 6,185 yards, it made sense for a senior going up against today's young bombers who currently dominate the amateur scene. The reigning Berkshire Hills club champion admits the shorter course was a factor, but adding to his golfing bucket list tipped the scales with 10 qualifying site options available.

"I always look at the yardage, but I've been retired for a year now and I am trying to play courses that I haven't played before," Linn explained. "It's a beautiful golf course."

With two qualifying tournaments still to be played, Linn is currently the oldest player in the field. If that holds, it be two years in a row that he has earned that distinction.

"I'm pretty proud of that," said Linn, the 2009 George M. Cohen MGA Senior Player of the Year.

One thing is certain — he'll be better prepared to tee off at Charles River, a Donald Ross gem that dates back to 1923, than he was last July when he was the 16th alternate at Taconic Golf Club. He decided to drive to Williamstown that day in case a spot opened up (they were up to the 14th alternate the prior night).

"I figured that it was so far over here that somebody from far away wouldn't come, but actually the spot I got was from a kid from Waubeeka [Taylor Bellmare]," said Linn moments after shooting a 75 in the opening round. "I literally walked out of the parking lot and heard them calling someone's name so I thought `somebody probably isn't here,' ... I was the first one out."

Back to the present, Linn benefited from getting in a round at Hatherly prior to his successful qualifying effort.

"I'm glad I got to play the practice round," Linn said. "I played with a kid from the area who helped me a lot with the lines off the tee. I was very comfortable off the tee [during the tournament]."

In a round in which he made three birdies and four bogeys, Linn was never more than 1-over, and given his practice-round partner's prediction, that allowed him to not stress over his score.

"He told me he thought 73 or 74 would qualify," Linn said. Turns out the kid was right — 74 was the magic number at day's end.

While his driver was his friend on this day, a 4-iron off the tee on the driveable 265-yard, par-4 was a sign of patience that paid off.

"There was enough trouble on the hole that could ruin your round and I was even par at the time," Linn recalled. "You don't know how hard it was for me not to hit driver. I ended up making a good putt for a birdie."

Linn, who has been working with Wyantenuck Country Club head professional Tom Sullivan, said he has recently started hitting his irons better.

"I like to see Tom, he keeps it simple, no crazy stuff," said Linn, who spent time at Wyantenuck with Sullivan on Friday.

"He is really stripping it," said Sullivan, who is known as one of the region's top teaching professionals. "I told him he's going to shoot a very low score soon."

Linn's ongoing efforts to play some of the region's top tracks has included a week in which he played Belmont Country Club, historic Newport (R.I.) Country Club, Kernwood Country Club and his own A.W. Tillinghast-designed Berkshire Hills. It doesn't get a whole lot better than that for one week of golf.

Now, he's looking forward to the challenge offered by historic Charles River CC.

"I have never played there, it will be a real treat," he said. "Most of the people I talk to say it's one of the best courses in the state."

And based on its incredibly high course rating from the back tee (6,701 yards) of 79.6 and Slope of 148, it's going to be quite a test — especially against the young guns who hit it a mile. There are 70 golfers under age 30 currently in the field.

Linn knows the odds are stacked against him, but nonetheless he will hope to be sharp enough to earn one of the 32 spots in the match-play portion of the tournament that follows 36 holes of medal-play qualifying. He almost made match play when Wyantenuck Country Club hosted the Mass. Am. in 2011, losing in a three-way playoff for the final spot.

Whether he makes it or not, he will at least add to his list of great venues played, a total he says is at around 250 and growing at this point.

***

Asked about he and partner Jim Warren's disappointing finish in last weekend's Stockbridge Trophy tournament — they shot a best-ball 77 in tough conditions in the final round after an opening 71 — Linn recounted an amazing, but true story from the weekend.

"On Saturday, Jim holed out for an eagle from 148 yards on the par-4 10th hole," he said. "On Sunday, we had 148 yards again (to a different hole location) and Jim hit it right at the hole but it came up short. So I went with 7-iron. When I got to the green my ball was sitting directly on top of the hole from the previous day ... not near it, but right on top of it."

The Saturday eagle, by the way, gave the duo the day's only skin — worth $1,600 to the pair — and may have contributed to their sub-standard play on Sunday.

"I think we were both in a weird frame of mind," Linn said of getting focused after the big payout on Saturday.

***

Speaking of Tom Sullivan, the Wyantenuck pro has decided he won't play in this week's $75,000 Massachusetts Open at TGC at Sacconnesset in East Falmouth, which tees of Monday and runs through Wednesday. The 68-year-old qualified by capturing last fall's Berkshire County Professional Championship.

"I've decided that I'm too old to be competitive on 7,000-yard courses," Sullivan said. "At 68, I have to start acting my age."

Sullivan recently played in a match between pros in the Northeast New York PGA Section and top amateurs that was an eye-opener. One of the amateurs was hitting it 80 yards past him — he says 265 yards is a "good pop" for him these days — and the young golfer carded a 30 on the front nine.

Instead of playing the 7,047-yard, Rees Jones-designed Open course, he will join fellow Berkshire County pros Josh Hillman (Taconic GC) and Ryan Butterick (Greenock Country Club) in the field of the NENY section's Donald Ross Classic, which will tee off this afternoon at Sagamore Resort Golf Club (6,729 yards). The final round will be played at Glens Falls Country Club on Monday.

***

With Sullivan pulling out, that leaves one Berkshire County pro in the field — Taconic assistant pro Thomas Sennett. As the host club for an Mass. Open qualifier, Taconic was given an exemption into the field.

Hillman, who will be playing next week in the PGA National Club Pro Championship in Oregon along with Country Club of Pittsfield head pro Eric Mabee, decided to play in the Ross event to stay close to home prior to heading west to Sunriver Resort in Oregon.

As a result, he gave his spot to Sennett, who will be playing in his second Mass. Open. The 26-year old played in the 2015 Open, missing the cut at Black Rock Country Club.

He hasn't got many rounds in given his job along with the tough spring weather, but he is coming off a victory in his first match in the NENY Section's Assistant Match Play Championship at Saratoga National.

"I played very well and that has me excited," Sennett said.

The win came over young Normanside assistant professional Bailey Cocca, one of the section's few female pros. Going against women was different, but it certainly wasn't easy.

"She's really a great player," said Sennett of Cocca, a former Coastal Carolina standout and the 2016 New York Women's Amateur champion.

Cocca played at 85 percent of the distance off the tee from where Sennett hit from per the section's rules. He said that resulted in his hitting first on the second shots on most of the holes.

Sennett is excited that his father, Ed, who is a member at Taconic and one of the best senior amateurs in the region, will be able to caddy for him for the first time since "forever ago." The father-son duo is a past winner of the Allied Association's Father-and-Son Championship.

Sennett played Division II college golf at Pfeiffer University, is a former state Vermont state high school champion and last summer picked up an NENY victory at Shaker Ridge Country Club in New York.

He said he will not have the opportunity to play a practice round in East Falmouth, but hopes to be able to walk the course tonight.

"I don't know much about the course other than what I have seen on the website," he said. "I expect it to play long, firm and fast."

The Mass. Open has a history that makes it one of the nation's top state Opens. Past champions include legends like Donald Ross, Francis Ouimet, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and Julius Boros.

The defending champion is Connecticut pro Jason Thresher.

***

Bad weather put a damper locally on International Women's Golf Day on June 6, but Waubeeka Golf Links has rescheduled their planned event for this coming Tuesday.

There will be clinic at 4 p.m., to be followed by nine holes of discounted golf and $25 percent off all women's apparel in the pro shop.

For more information, call the pro shop at 413-458-8355.

LOCAL GOLF RESULTS

Women's Allied Association

at Forest Park Country Club

Two-person scramble

Low gross

1. Mace Foehl-Hemphill and Fran Vandermeer, Taconic Golf Club. 2. Kimiko Akimoto and Liz Drury, Wahconah CC.

Low net

1. Angie Linger, Waubeeka GL, and Deb Wiencek, Forest Park CC. 2. Carol Burke and Mary Ellen Turnbull, Waubeeka GL. 3. Jane Brown and Vicki Richardello, Taconic GC

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