Connecticut runs away with New England Jr. title

The Connecticut juniro team, from left: Chuck Claffey, Jason Hogan, Pat Hallisey, Brian Butler, Brian Carlson, Mike Moraghan, Eddie Hill, Eric Dietrich and Evan Grenus.

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One of Connecticut’s nicknames is “The Land of Steady Habits.” History says the nickname came from the strict morality of the state’s early population, but these days it should be used to describe the consistency of the Connecticut junior golf team.

Connecticut’s seven-man squad demolished the competition at the New England Junior on Aug. 16 at Taconic Golf Club in Williamstown, Mass. In a 54-hole, play-seven-count-five format, Connecticut carded a 3-over total for the tournament. Runner-up Massachusetts, the host, finished at 32 over.

Leading the way for Connecticut was Brian Carlson, 16, a junior at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, Conn., who won the individual competition.

“We had a really solid team, so we knew we were going to come in strong,” he said. “We did. We played really well.”

Carlson, representing Clinton Country Club, entered the final round at 5 over, six shots behind the leaders. A late push gave Carlson a final-round 3-under 68 and propelled him to the top of the leaderboard.

Playing hole No. 1 as his 15th hole of the day, Carlson carded an eagle. Despite his stellar play, the 140th-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings thought he was out of contention with three holes left.

“I didn’t know where I was standing and I wanted to keep pushing on and play my best,” Carlson said. “I thought it was going to be like 1 under or even to win it. I was just trying to play my best golf and just trying to finish as well as I can.”

Carlson’s 54-hole score of 2-over 215 left him tied with Connecticut teammate Eddie Hill, a representative of Crestbrook Park GC, for the top spot. All of a sudden, Carlson went from playing for pride to playing for an individual title. And he got to enjoy the moment with a teammate.

“Eddie and I had a blast,” Carlson said. “We just thought of it as fun for each other. It was a good battle.”

The tournament’s sudden death playoff format lined up in Carlson’s favor. The first playoff hole was No. 1, the same hole Carlson eagled earlier in the day.

Carlson took care of business on the 55th hole, posting a championship-winning birdie. “I just hit a good drive, a good hybrid, and made it up and down,” he said.

Along with Carlson and Hill’s first- and second-place finishes, the Connecticut team featured six of the top nine scores and seven of the top 14. Connecticut’s Jason Hogan tied for third place at 3 over with James Park of Massachusetts and Will Dickson of Rhode Island.

The Connecticut team’s 29-shot victory is the largest in tournament history. The win also marked Connecticut’s eighth title in the last 12 years and first title since 2010.

After rain forced the 2011 New England Junior, played at Brattleboro Country Club in Brattleboro, Vt., to be restricted to 18 holes, the weather cooperated at Taconic. This year’s venue has formerly played host to the U.S. Junior Amateur, the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Senior Amateur.

“It was a pleasure playing that,” Carlson said of Taconic. “It was just perfect conditions all three rounds I played on it. It just got better and better.”

Boston College-bound Brian Butler was the only returnee from Connecticut’s 2011 runner-up team. Carlson is one of three Connecticut players who will be eligible to play again in 2013 when the team looks to defend its title. The state has not repeated since 2008.

Connecticut should be the favorite in 2013. That is, as long as players keep to their steady habits.

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