Darien's Gaffney shoots -1 in first round of CT Open
Published 10:28 am, Tuesday, July 29, 2014
WILTON -- Mike Ballo Jr. said it best when describing how difficult the 6,722-yard course at Rolling Hills Country Club played during the first round of the 80th Connecticut Open Championship on Monday.
"You can't not make some mistakes with how tough the course was playing," said Ballo, a Stamford native. "It was a total defensive battle and you cannot be too aggressive. I think it's going to be like that all week."
Ballo made the least number of mistakes and tempered his aggression Monday and it indeed showed.
Representing Woodway Country Club in Darien, Ballo posted six birdies en route to shooting a 2-under-par 68, which put him atop the leaderboard. With the wind picking up as the afternoon progressed and the greens rolling at a good pace, only a handful of players shot under par at Rolling Hills. Brian Gaffney of Darien, Jason Caron from Stamford and John Flaherty (TPC River Highlands) each carded a 1-under-par 69.
"I think I played a great round of golf," said Ballo, a St. John's University graduate. "I was in control of my emotions and hit a lot of great wedge shots. The wind was an issue the whole day, making it a very difficult round of golf. Today, I played an excellent round to shoot a 68."
After bogeying 14 and 15, Ballo finished strong, sinking a birdie putt on the par-4 16th hole, before parring the final two holes.
"My main goal is to stay patient on this course, birdies are not easy to come by," Ballo said.
Caron, who won the Connecticut Open in 2012 at Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, was one of the leaders in the morning round. Three birdies and 13 pars bolstered Caron's round.
"Today, I was able to put the ball where it didn't put me in too much trouble," Caron said. "There's not going to be a runaway 10-under-par winner in this tournament. I still think you're not going to see someone shoot in the low 60s -- there will be a handful of decent scores."
"Playing in the same group as these guys makes it a lot of fun," Caron said. "You know going in you have to play well because these guys are going to have strong rounds. I always play better on harder courses and I know if I could make pars and throw in a birdie here or there, I'll have a chance to win."
Bensel from Fairfield and Zach Zaback (TPC River Highlands) each shot an even-par 70. Meanwhile, a group of eight including Ken Green (Ridgewood Country Club), Jeffrey Evanier (Eclub of New Haven), David Pastore (Oak Hills Park Golf Club), Paul Pastore (Eclub of Fairfield), Gallo (Tallwood Country Club), Peter Ballo (Woodway Country Club), Max Theodorakis (Ridgewood Country Club) and Evan Grenus (TPC River Highlands) each posted a 1-over 71 Monday.
Greenwich residents David and Paul Pastore are one of the pairs of brothers in the tournament. David Pastore, a recent University of Virginia graduate, was consistent throughout. The 2014 MGA Ike Championship winner and WGA Westchester Open champion registered 15 pars and one birdie. He missed a hole-in-one on the sixth hole by about two feet.
"It was not easy out there today and it was kind of tricky with the wind," Pastore said.
A fun sibling rivalry exists between David and Paul.
"Paul beat me to qualify for this tournament by shooting lower at the qualifier, so I can't let him beat me the next round," said a smiling Pastore.
Paul Pastore's round featured 13 pars and two birdies.
"I made a couple of good putts today, so hopefully I could make a few more tomorrow," said Paul Pastore, a recent Greenwich High graduate. "I didn't get ahead of myself today and I have continue to take it one shot at a time. It's always fun to compete against him (David) in a tournament like this."
Green, a Danbury native who lost the lower half of his right leg in an automobile accident five years ago, recorded six birdies.
"Seventy-one is a great score for me, the putter can do a lot in this game," said Green, a winner of five PGA Tour titles. "Today, I showed I can shoot a decent score. Now I look forward to the challenge of shooting a good round tomorrow."
It's been five months since Green received a new prosthetic right leg and it's paid dividends.
"I noticed the difference right out of the box," Green said. "I could never hit down on the ball and get the spin you need to control your irons. Now I have a chance to do that."
Mike and Peter Ballo are another brother duo in the tournament. Peter had little time for rest Monday, as he competed in a Met Open qualifier at Wee Burn after completing his morning round on Monday. He left Rolling Hills satisfied with his round of 71.
"I struggled toward the last few holes on the front nine, but got it back on the back nine, which was good," Peter Ballo said. "One-over puts me in a good spot, hopefully, I'll be in a good spot for Wednesday."
The field will be cut to the low 40 and ties after 36 holes with the final 18 holes of the 54-hole tourney taking place Wednesday.
NOTE: Fran Marrello of Plymouth had the shot of the day, making a hole-in-one on the par-3 sixth hole.