Dec. 27, 2014
By the CSGA
Reprinted from csgalinks.org
At just 21 years old, a realistic expectation for UConn junior Zach Zaback (Farmington, Conn.) heading into the 2014 summer season would have been a top 10 finish in the Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year race. There's no question that Zaback was one of the rising stars in Connecticut golf, having finished third in last year's New England Amateur and eighth in the Connecticut Open championship.
But as a player on the UConn team, Zaback isn't eligible for many of the top points events, including the Connecticut Mid-Amateur Championship, Public Links Championship, and Tournament of Champions. Accumulating enough points to outlast the likes of players like Dave Szewczul would be a rare feat. In fact, since 2000, only three players have been able win the Player of the Year title while still in college.
Zaback was certainly aware of the challenges associated with winning the season-long points, but his goals heading into the season were much more focused on improving his game and playing steady golf throughout the year.
"I didn't really have any expectations of winning Player of the Year or anything like that," said Zaback. "I really just wanted to go into the year and play well in every tournament I was in and play more consistently over the year."
Zaback took advantage of every opportunity he had to garner Player of the Year points, including a third-place finish at the New England Amateur, an 11th-place finish at the Connecticut Open, and successfully qualifying for the 114th U.S. Amateur Championship, a moment that Zaback will cherish forever.
"Winning the Connecticut Amateur was certainly the highlight of the year, but qualifying for the U.S. Amateur was really special for me. When you qualify for a USGA event, it means playing on the next level with some of the best players in the country, and it was an awesome experience. In the second round of the qualifier, I knew I needed a great round to have a chance at qualifying. I went out and shot two under-par, and it just confirmed my belief that I belonged there."
Zaback needed everything just to edge Dave Szewczul, who almost overtook Zaback by advancing to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Senior Amateur and finishing runner-up at the Connecticut Public Links. But it was Zaback who came out on top to win the CSGA Player of the Year title, a deserving honor for a young man who put together a season he won't soon forget.
"This was by far the best season for me," Zaback said. "I played really consistently and I felt like I was giving myself opportunities to be in contention every tournament I played in."
Along with Zaback, it was an incredible summer for the UConn team, which placed two other Huskies in the top10 of the Player of the Year race. Junior John Flaherty (Glastonbury, Conn.) of TPC River Highlands and senior Chris Wiatr (Woodbury, Conn.) of the Country Club of Waterbury finished fourth and sixth in the standings, respectively.
"It was just an outstanding summer for our guys," UConn coach Dave Pezzino said. "It shows why our recruiting has always started with the talent in the state of Connecticut and always will."
After a fourth-place finish at the Rutherford Intercollegiate to end his 2014 spring season with the Huskies, Zaback began his 2014 CSGA campaign at the Russell C. Palmer Cup. An opening round of even-par 69 landed him in the final group heading into the second day, and after shooting 72 in the morning round, Zaback was right in the mix. But a closing round of 74 left him tied for sixth. Disappointing, perhaps, but a good start to the season nonetheless.
Next up? The 112th Connecticut Amateur at Lake of Isles.
The North and South Courses at Lake of Isles demand precision off the tee and a tremendous short game to navigate the difficult green complexes. After shooting rounds of 76-75--151 to grab the No. 18 seed, Zaback made his way through the bracket of Connecticut's best amateur golfers, knocking off the likes of Dave Szewczul, Monte Mullen, and Branden Chirorka enroute to the finals. He faced Kevin Josephson of the Country Club of Farmington, the only player who stood between him and his first CSGA major championship title.
"I tried to not think about what it would mean to win because I didn't want to get ahead of myself, but I'll admit did think about it a bit," Zaback said. "It was a cool feeling to know you are so close, but you still have to stay focused and take it one hole at a time. I felt like if I kept doing what I was doing throughout the whole tournament, I would have a great shot at winning."
Indeed, Josephson tested Zaback all the way to the final hole of the 36-hole final match, but it was Zaback's remarkable recovery shots and putting prowess that left him holding the state's oldest championship trophy.
Flaherty nearly won the Russell C. Palmer Cup, losing in a playoff to eventual champion Blake Morris, while Wiatr finished 11th in the Connecticut Open and advanced through local qualifying for the 114th U.S. Open Championship.
"We have a really strong (college) team, and I think we have all gotten better each year," Zaback said. "We all put in a lot of work this summer and I think as we have gotten older and have gained a lot more experience, everyone just became a lot more comfortable with their own games and it showed with a lot of the guys having a lot of great finishes this year."