WATERBURY, Conn. --- This year, Zach Zaback decided that the best way to be at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the Russell C. Palmer Cup was to be there from the start.
Zaback (Farmington, Conn.), the senior co-captain of the 2015-16 UConn golf team, shot a 2-under par 67 at the Country Club of Waterbury Tuesday to complete an even-par 66-74-67=207 and wrap up a wire-to-wire victory at the Palmer Cup, the state’s unofficial stroke play championship.
Zaback, who graduated with honors from UConn just over two weeks ago, finished sixth in the Palmer Cup two years ago and tied for third in 2015, just a single stroke away from joining a playoff for the crown. This year, he took a two-stroke lead with an opening-round 66 on Monday and never gave it up, eventually winning by six strokes over former UConn teammate and roommate Corey Birch (Ridgefield, Conn.), who shot 75-71-67=213.
Also in the field, UConn rising senior Eric Dietrich (Cheshire, Conn.) finished in a tie for fifth with a 68-76-73=217, while UConn rising sophomore Nick Harrington (Chaplin, Conn.) finished in a tie for 13th with a 74-73-76=223. The original field of 93 players was cut to 41 after Monday’s first round.
Zaback maintained his two-stroke lead despite some struggles in his second round Tuesday morning. His closest competitors, Dave Szewczul and Monte Mullen, fell back during the third round, but Dietrich made a charge and sliced Zaback’s lead to three strokes after eight holes. Zaback, however, responded with three consecutive birdies and birdies on five of his next eight holes to remain in control of the tournament.
Birch birdied three of his final four holes to vault into the second-place finish.
With the win, Zaback becomes only the third golfer – joining Cody Paladino and Mark Farrell -- to win both the Palmer Cup and the Connecticut State Amateur Championship, which he captured in 2014, the year he was named the Connecticut State Golf Association Player of the Year. Zaback will go after another Connecticut State Amateur title at Wethersfield Country Club on June 13-17.
The Palmer Cup is named for Russell C. Palmer, former CSGA Executive Director and inductee into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame, who was also a past president of the International Association of Golf Administrators. The tourney serves as the state’s stroke play championship, while the Connecticut Amateur Championship is contested over match play.