By Steve Lewis - UConn Athletic Communications
July 25, 2014
STORRS, Conn. - The University of Connecticut men’s golf team is using the summer months to prepare for a challenging fall schedule, when all players will need to be at their best under eight-year head coach Dave Pezzino.
The Huskies, led by a group of four seniors and four juniors, are currently playing in summer golf tournaments throughout the New England region and beyond to improve their skills for the upcoming season.
Senior co-captain Chris Wiatr (Woodbury, Conn.) has remained very active in the offseason as he prepares for his final year as a Husky.
Most recently, Wiatr tied for ninth place at the New England Amateur Championship in Winchester, Mass. (July 22-24) by shooting 1-over in the tournament. The New England Amateur showcases some of the best talent in the northeast and Wiatr was one of four Huskies who finished in the top 40.
Wiatr, who played in all 12 UConn tournaments in the 2013-14 season, finished 15th in the Palmer Cup at the Country Club of Waterbury (Waterbury, Conn.), which is one of his home courses. The senior had his best summer finish as the Low Amateur at the Providence Open, finishing fourth overall at 7-under par on July 11.
“I want to manage my errors on the course, and not only minimize the amount of them, but learn to miss in the right spots. I have been working very hard on my short game and putting,” said Wiatr, who averaged a score of 74.49 per round for the Huskies this past season.
The Husky senior will also be participating in the Connecticut Open (July 28-30) at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton to round out his summer training.
Mike Masso (Suffield, Conn.), who is a co-captain with Wiatr, is preparing for his final season at UConn. Up to this point of the summer, the Husky senior has played in the Connecticut Open Qualifier at the Mohegan Sun Golf Club, where he tied for second and earned the chance to play in the Connecticut Open later this month.
Masso has also had some fun this summer, playing with his father, Peter, in the Connecticut Father-Son Championship at Lyman Orchards on July 16.
Personal fitness and a focus on relaxation methods are two things Masso wants to work on during the offseason to prepare him for the upcoming year. Summer tournaments will give him more ability to put those areas to work.
“These tournaments help me prepare because you are able to test your skills and try shots that you normally wouldn’t in a collegiate tournament,” Masso said. “But when you are able to pull these shots off, it shows you that you should always be aggressive on the course.”
Fellow senior Dane Rosa (Mansfield, Conn.) has been taking his talents westward, participating in golf tournaments mainly in Utah.
The four-year Husky has played in the Salt Lake City Amateur, where he tied for 23rd, and tied for second in the qualifying round of the Utah State Amateur Championship in Salt Lake. He also participated in the Hill Air Force Base Amateur, tying for 52nd at the Hill AFB Golf Course, a military course available only to authorized players (active and reserved military) and their guests.
Rosa plans to play in most of Utah’s other local events, as well as the 10th Annual Sasquatch BrewAm Golf Tournament at the McMenamins Edgefield Pub Course in Portland, Ore.
“The great thing about events out in Utah is the field of players always consists of multiple college teams from all over the west. It prepares me for my fall season because I play against high-caliber players at all time,” Rosa said.
The fourth and final senior on the team is Dan Myers (Ridgefield, Conn.), who has taken a different approach than the rest of his teammates when it comes to summer training. Rather than training for golf, Myers is training for a future career.
Myers is currently interning at Covidien as a manufacturing engineer with the healthcare products company. The job is intensive, according to Pezzino, considering Myers is working on a new product line, but focusing on his future career will bode well for the rising senior.
Myers, whose home course is the Ridgefield Golf Club, had his best career finish in the 2013-14 season when he tied for 20th place in the Connecticut Cup.
Rising junior Zach Zaback (Farmington, Conn.) is having a big summer after winning the 112th Connecticut State Amateur Championship on June 20 at the Lake of Isles in North Stonington. His victory, which came down to the final three holes, has taught him what he needs to work on.
“I have been working on improving my short game and becoming more consistent with my putting,” the Husky junior said. “Mentally, I will continue to try to stay patient as a player.”
Zaback also finished third overall in the New England Amateur, leading all UConn team members in the tournament. The junior shot 2-under throughout the week, grabbing sole possession of third place and continuing his summer success.
In other finishes, Zaback most notably qualified for the U.S. Amateur Championship, finishing second in the qualifying round on July 14 at the Black Hall Club in Old Lyme, Conn. He also tied for sixth in the Palmer Cup at the Country Club of Waterbury on May 21.
Zaback now looks forward to participating in the Connecticut Open and the U.S. Amateur (Aug. 11-17) championships in the upcoming weeks.
Rising junior Cameron MacKay (Brookfield, Conn.) is looking to play on more challenging and unfamiliar courses in order to improve his game, and is heading down south to do it.
MacKay played in the South Carolina Open from July 22-24 and was a medalist in the qualifier for the South Carolina Amateur Championship, which will be held from July 31-August 3. He rounds out his time in South Carolina with the Hilton Head Open, which takes place from August 9-10 at the Bear Creek Golf Club.
“By playing in tournaments in South Carolina, I've seen new competition on difficult and unfamiliar courses that has made me a more well-rounded player,” MacKay said.
MacKay had an average round of 76.28 in his sophomore season, which is almost a two-shot improvement from his freshman year.
Golfer Corey Birch (Ridgefield, Conn.), also a member of UConn’s dynamic four-man junior class, is coming off a season where he played in all 12 UConn team tournaments.
Shortly after school ended, he tied for 13th at the Palmer Cup (76-72-72) in Waterbury. He participated in the Connecticut Amateur, losing to Kevin Josephson, who would go on to lose in the final round to eventual champion, UConn’s Zach Zaback.
In other action, Birch, who qualified for the U.S. Amateur Championship last year, made the cut of the New England Amateur, finishing in 39th place and giving the Huskies four golfers in the upper tier of the regional tournament.
Putting has been the problem for Birch, which he hopes to improve before attempting to qualify for the Met Open, which is played from August 19-21 at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J.
“These tournaments prepare me for the season by giving me pressure to play under,” Birch said. “The more big tournaments and moments I play in, the more comfortable I get with the pressure.”
Rounding out UConn’s junior class is John Flaherty (Glastonbury, Conn.), who tied for third in average score last season at 74.63 per round, behind team leaders Zaback (74.14) and Wiatr (74.49).
Flaherty played in the U.S. Open local qualifier at the Farmington Country Club, where he missed the cut by two strokes. He was runner-up at the Palmer Cup, shooting a professional-like 71-68-72, and was also a semi-finalist in the Connecticut Amateur at Lake of Isles.
Flaherty’s successful summer continued recently when he finished tied for 14th at the New England Amateur after shooting 3-over (73-71-72-71), which made him the third Husky to place in the top 15 at Winchester.
The Husky junior competed in the same U.S. Amateur qualifier as Zaback, finishing as second alternative after two consecutive rounds of 72. Flaherty now has his sights set on the Connecticut Open.
“One of the things I want to work on in the physical aspect is running more and doing more cardio for the 36-hole days to make it easier,” Flaherty said.
With his first UConn season in the books, rising sophomore Eric Dietrich (Cheshire, Conn.) is trying to stay sharp in the offseason. The Husky golfer played in all 12 UConn tournaments last season, averaging a round of 76.94 and finishing a season-best 16th in The Connecticut Cup.
He qualified for the Connecticut State Amateur this summer, but failed to make it to match play. Dietrich just qualified for the Connecticut Open after finishing second in his preliminary round, upping the number to five Huskies in the tournament.
Like many of his teammates, Dietrich wanted to focus on his short game in the offseason, practicing putting and chipping near the green.
“By playing in these tournaments, I've learned that if I play my game to what I know it’s capable of and stop worrying about everything, I can play with anyone,” Dietrich said.
Meanwhile, incoming freshman Sasha Wortelboer (Geneva, Switzerland) will bring golf experience from Europe to the Huskies in the upcoming season after spending the summer in his homeland of Switzerland.
The new Husky finished 15th in the Championnat du Leman in Lausanne on June 7 with rounds of 72-76. His best finish of the summer was on June 15 at the Championnat du Golf Club de Lausanne, where he came in third out of 100 players with scores of 72-75. All tournaments count toward his World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR).
“My physical objective for the offseason is to work on balance and stability. On the strength side I need to work on strengthening my back,” Wortelboer said.
Wortelboer will be playing in the OMNIUM at Schoenberg from July 25-27. The tournament is a 72-hole stroke play event for pros and amateurs that counts toward each player’s WAGR. The winner of the tournament is crowned the Swiss champion.
“I learn from every tournament, from good and bad results,” Wortelboer said. “I always walk away with positive feedback, which allows me to learn from all my mistakes and try not to repeat them.”