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Monday, October 20, 2014

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On The Links: New Canaan's Reilly qualifies for U.S. Amateur

Updated 7:33 pm, Friday, August 1, 2014

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  • Greg Reilly, of Darien, competes in the 109th Connecticut Amatuer golf championship semifinals at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton on Friday, June 24, 2011. Photo: Amy Mortensen / Connecticut Post Freelance
    Greg Reilly, of Darien, competes in the 109th Connecticut Amatuer golf championship semifinals at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton on Friday, June 24, 2011. Photo: Amy Mortensen

 

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For Greg Reilly, the fourth time was indeed, the charm.

Feeling the tension of being involved in a three-man playoff, the New Canaan resident needed a minute to appreciate what he accomplished after tapping in par putt at a U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier two weeks ago at Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. The clutch par putt gave Reilly a spot in the U.S. Amateur Championship -- a tournament he's had his sights set on competing in for quite some time.

"That was my fourth time playing in a qualifier for the U.S. Amateur and the first time I made it, so I felt a huge rush of emotions," said Reilly, a New Canaan High School and recent Eckerd College graduate. "I was so nervous I couldn't think straight and when I made my par putt on the playoff hole I didn't realize I clinched a spot."

After shooting an even par 72 in the first round of the qualifier at Trump National Golf Club, Reilly carded a 1-under 71 in the second round, putting him in a three-way tie with Evan Russell of Grantham, N.H., and Ryan Rodriguez from Highland Mills, N.Y. at 1-under-par 143. The three competed for two spots in the U.S. Amateur and Reilly proceeded to par each playoff hole to earn a berth in the tournament, which will be held at Atlanta Athletic Club (Highlands Course) in Johns Creek, Ga. Aug. 11-17.

"I actually wasn't swinging the club my best, which is why I was really proud of my score," Reilly said. "I'm really looking forward to the U.S. Amateur. It is going to be a great test for me and it will be give a good indicator of where my game is against the best amateur players in the world."

Reilly spent a lot of time on the course this week, participating in both the 80th Connecticut Open Championship at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton and the 112th MGA Met Amateur Championship at The Creek in Locust Valley, N.Y. I watched him produce a solid performance at the Connecticut Open, tying for 25th overall with a 218 over 54 holes. He made the cut at the Connecticut Open by shooting a 75 in the opening round and a 71 in the second.

While talking to Reilly after his second round at the Connecticut Open, I learned that his golf game began taking shape just a few years ago.

"I played a little bit at New Canaan High School, but I barely broke 80," said Reilly, who hones his skills at the Country Club of Darien. "For six months when I was 18 I didn't play golf because I had a bad back. After I had an operation on my bad (bulging disk) and was away from golf for six months I realized how much I loved it and wanted to play."

Following a stay at the College of Charlston, Reilly transferred to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he became a significant contributor to the men's golf team the past three seasons. Shooting a 1-under-par 71, he led Eckerd in the first round of the Sunshine State Conference Championships this spring. His interest in golf stems from his mother Gina Zangrillo, a competitive amateur player and the vice president and general manager of Darien Sports Shop, and his grandfather Steven Zangrillo -- the founder of Darien Sports Shop, who according to Reilly, was the Country Club of Darien's first club champion.

"I started playing golf with my mom in high school, that's how we bonded," Reilly said. "The work ethic I have, I get from them."

Reilly isn't the only player in the state that will travel to Georgia for the U.S. Amateur. Greenwich resident David Pastore, who placed third in this week's Connecticut Open Championship with a 4-under-par 206, earned a berth in the U.S. Amateur by shooting a 144 over 36 holes at a qualifier at Tuxedo (N.Y.) Club last month. Theo Humphrey, a Greenwich resident and recent Rye Country Day School graduate, and Brunswick School graduate Michael Savitt each punched a ticket to the U.S. Amateur with impressive rounds at a sectional qualifier at Torrington Country Club (the site of 2013's Connecticut Open) last week. Humphrey shot a 138, while Savitt posted a 145 at the qualifier. Other qualifiers from Connecticut include: Jeffrey Evanier (Clinton), Zach Zaback (Farmington), Monte Mullen (Farmington) and John Flaherty (Glastonbury).

BALLO'S BUSY DAY

Peter Ballo of Stamford was one of the busiest, and most successful golfers in the state on Monday. After shooting a 1-over-par 71 Monday morning in the opening round of the Connecticut Open Championship at Rolling Hills, Ballo hustled on over to Wee Burn Country Club in Darien for a qualifier for the 99th Met Open Championship. Ballo earned medalist honors at Wee Burn, carding a 68 to earn a berth in the Met Open, which is scheduled for Aug. 19-21 at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J.

"I was exhausted at the end of the day," Ballo told me Tuesday at the Connecticut Open. "Walking 36 holes was tough, even though I had a little bit of a rest in between. Both courses have a lot of hills, they're not really flat."

One aspect Ballo didn't have to concern himself with much was the greens on both courses.

"The greens were pretty much identical, which helped me," Ballo said. "I didn't have to worry about the speed of the greens, so luckily I had that on my side."

Ballo, who plays at Sacred Heart University, tied for fifth place at the Open, shooting a 3-under 207.

FOLDS OF HONOR CHALLENGE PRO-AM

After hosting the Connecticut Open Championship, Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton will be the site for the Third annual Folds of Honor Challenge Pro-Am on Monday. The format features five-player teams consisting of one military golfer, one PGA professional and three Folds of Honor donors. The event is scheduled for Monday.

All funds raised from the Folds of Honor Challenge Pro-Am will benefit military families. Scholarships will be provided to the dependents of America's fallen or disabled soldiers. Twenty-six teams of five will play at the event, which raised $90,000 last summer at Rolling Hills -- the second highest total in the world.

david.fierro@scni.com; 203-625-4423.

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