Drive time: Former UConn golfer captures Vermont Open

  • Chris Wiatr goes over his scoresheet while waiting to tee off on hole four at the Woodstock (Vt.) Country Club during the Vermont Open on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jamison Sindelar tees off on the eighth hole at the Woodstock (Vt.) Country Club Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Sindelar shot a 68 in the third round. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Connor Greenleaf reacts to a missed put on the 13th green during the Vermont Open at the Woodstock (Vt.) Country Club on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Greenleaf finished three under par at 67 in round three. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Chris Wiatr celebrates a chip onto the fourth green during the Vermont Open at the Woodstock (Vt.,) Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 6/19/2019 9:54:42 PM

WOODSTOCK — Chris Wiatr took a simple approach to playing the Jeff Julian Memorial Vermont Open this week: Driver first and always, consequences be damned.

Can’t argue with the results.

The former University of Connecticut golfer capped off a dominant week at Woodstock Country Club on Wednesday with a 6-under-par 64 for a five-stroke win over three-day playing partner Bill Gaffney.

Wiatr’s 54-hole total of 17-under 193, prefaced by rounds of 66 and 63, was never challenged once he negotiated his way through potential disaster on Woodstock’s par-4 fourth hole and took advantage of a titanic — and cart path-aided — tee ball two holes later, all courtesy of the biggest club in his bag.

Wiatr earned $5,500 for what he called one of his two most significant professional victories.

“It’s up there, for sure,” said Wiatr, who won a Minor League Tour event in Florida last December for his first pro win. “It’s nice to get a win in New England. I’m originally from Connecticut, so it’s cool to get a win on a golf course that is similar to the grass that I grew up on.

“I love coming to Vermont. The air’s different up here.”

Gaffney birdied the par-4 18th to close out a 64-67-67—198 tournament and earn solo second place. Former New Hampshire Amateur champion Connor Greenleaf, the former Windham High standout, tied for third with Pennsylvania’s David Denlinger at 199.

“Chris and I are good friends, and I wanted nothing more than to see him or I win,” Gaffney said. “To see him play just as good in the final round as he did yesterday, it was nice. … You still want the best player to win, and he was the best player this week.”

Gaffney, Wiatr and Denlinger, the final round’s final threesome, went on attack from the start. Woodstock’s par-5 opening hole is really nothing more than a 507-yard par-4 for the pros, and those who failed to gain strokes on it missed the opportunity this week. None of the three did, with Denlinger’s 11-foot eagle putt topping Wiatr’s two-putt par from 30 feet to break a third round-starting tie at 11 under.

Wiatr matched Denlinger with a birdie on 3, his 25-foot putt completely circling the cup before falling in to reach 13 under. But things appeared to go completely awry when Wiatr pulled out his driver on the par-4 fourth, a 403-yard dogleg left that seems to beg for a mid- or long iron tee ball.

Wiatr hit the ball flush. It didn’t just fly off the right side of the fourth fairway. It didn’t just clear the adjacent sixth fairway. When Wiatr reached his drive, it was sitting next to the lip of a sand trap beside the eighth green.

“I decided at the beginning of the week that I was going to hit driver every day,” Wiatr said. “I successfully hit that (fourth) fairway on the other side the other two rounds and made pars. But today the tee was up … the cart path came into play, I put my ball on the cart path and it was in the greenside bunker.”

Trying to float his shot out of the sand over trees and Kedron Brook, Wiatr hit a thin line drive that flew into the trees beyond the target and out of sight. That set up the shot of the tournament: After taking a penalty stroke and a drop, Wiatr lobbed a wedge from a sharp downhill lie that caught the back side of a green-bordering swale and softly rolled to within a foot of the cup.

The bogey may have saved his day.

“I was standing in that bunker thinking to myself, ‘If I can make 5 from here, it won’t be a big issue,’ ” Wiatr said. “That was huge for me.”

It also helped that his partners also struggled on No. 4, Woodstock’s toughest hole. Denlinger had to chip out from under trees with his second shot, and he couldn’t produce an up-and-down par from 15 feet. Gaffney’s approach skipped through the green and into a hazard; the Buffalo, N.Y., native eventually three-putted from 10 feet for a triple bogey that ended his title aspirations.

A cart path aided Wiatr again on the par-5 sixth with a drive down the left flank that caught macadam and settled about 117 yards from the pin — and roughly 450 yards from the tee. The birdie there gave him the lead to stay. He added a birdie on 8 for a three-shot lead at the turn and played 3-under-par golf on the back nine to pull away.

Denlinger, who broke the Woodstock course record with an 8-under 62 in Monday’s opening round, never found a consistent putting stroke on Wednesday and shot a final-round 72. Greenleaf came from the opposite direction for his share of third, using a 3-under back nine for a final-round 67.

“The whole tournament, I’m pretty happy with,” the former Boston College golfer said. “I mean, 11 under, I’ll take that just about anywhere, to be honest. I haven’t played many three-day tournaments, especially as a pro, but it’s around the goal. The goal every time I go out is 4 (-under); I might not always do that, but that’s where you’ve got to shoot if you want to kind of make it to the next stages of being a pro golfer.”

For Wiatr, that will mean a return to his home in Florida for more Minor League Tour competition, some Web.com Tour qualifiers and, most likely, qualifying school in the fall.

“It’s something to build off of,” Wiatr said. “The driving was good this week. I’d like to continue that for the rest of the year.”

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Chip Shots: Rising Columbia University junior John Kim nipped Lebanon’s Patrick Pelletier and one-time Elon University club-team golfer Carey Bina for low amateur honors at 2-under-par 208. Kim shot a final-round 68, reversing a three-shot deficit on Pelletier, who held the amateur lead following Tuesday’s second round. … Bina, of Villanova, Pa., maintains a GoFundMe page to help defray his playing costs this year. His pitch includes a note that, to accept donations, he has to give the money to his state golf association, which returns it to him based on his expenses. As of Wednesday evening, he’d raised $1,075 toward a target of $15,000. … To no great surprise given the experience of the Wiatr-Gaffney-Denlinger threesome on Wednesday, Woodstock’s fourth hole played a half-shot tougher than its par-4 rating during the tournament. So did the 12th, which is nearly the fourth’s twin: elevated tee, dog leg left and two times crossing Kedron Brook en route to the green. … Two of Woodstock C.C’s bridges over the brook remain wrecked by April flooding and uncrossable. ... Lebanon High graduate T.J. Barber played Monday’s first round in a gray baseball cap reading: “Bushwood Country Club Caddy Day Tournament Champion, 1980.” That, of course, is a reference to the classic golf comedy Caddyshack, which came out well before Barber was born. ... Gaffney played Wednesday’s final round with neon yellow golf balls. … No rest for the weary: Greenleaf and several others in this week’s Vermont Open field turn around and start the New Hampshire Open on Thursday. That 54-hole event will feature Thursday and Saturday rounds at Bretwood Golf Course’s North Course sandwiching a Friday trek around Keene Country Club.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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