WATERTOWN — Connor Belcastro was Mr. Comeback at the 77th Connecticut Junior Amateur Championship, winning four of his five matches in come-from-behind fashion.
And his final comeback is one he appreciates the most.
Belcastro, a Brunswick School student and Rowayton resident, erased a two-hole deficit against Madison’s Matt Doyle with a strong performance on the back nine, an effort that capped a week of golf he won’t forget.
A 3 and 2 victory over Doyle in the match play final at Watertown Golf Club on Thursday gave the ninth-seeded Belcastro the Connecticut Junior Amateur title.
“I started playing competitive golf when I was 10 and since I was 10, I was waiting for a week like this to happen,” said Belcastro, a rising Brunswick senior. “There has been a lot of work that has gone into this and a lot of sacrifices that I have made and other people have made for me that have gone into this. Just being able to grind it out and get it done in that way — it’s taught me a lot about myself and who I am as a person and who I am as a player.”
Doyle, who represented Madison Country Club and is entering his sophomore year at Daniel Hand High School, held a 2-up lead following nine holes, before Belcastro began his comeback. Belcastro (eclub Connecticut) parred the par-4 364-yard 10th hole, while Doyle posted a bogey. On No. 11, Belcastro squared the match up, winning the hole with a par.
Sinking a birdie putt on the par-4 336-yard 12th hole, Belcastro, who plays out of Sleepy Hollow Country Club, took his first lead at 1-up and was ahead in the match for good. He won the 13th hole to seize a 2-up advantage and after the 14th hole was halved, Belcastro took No. 15 with a par to move in front, 3-up.
The par-5 16th hole was halved and Belcastro clinched one of the CSGA’s most historic championship events.
“By far, this is my biggest win, it’s not even remotely close,” said Belcastro, a member of Brunswick’s golf team. “Matt was a really tough opponent, especially on the front nine. He just didn’t make mistakes for a long time and played good situational golf. I knew I had to stick to my game plan and routine. I had to be patient and wait it out.”
A member of Daniel Hand’s golf team, Doyle won the second hole with a par to take a 1-up edge, then increased it to 2-up by winning the eighth hole.
“All throughout the week, I was playing well and my putting was amazing,” the 15-year-old Doyle said. “I was 2-up through nine holes today and feeling confident, then I lost a few holes in a row. Connor has all the confidence in the world and after that, he finished it up pretty quickly.”
Doyle shot an even-par 36 on the front nine with seven pars, a birdie and a bogey.
“That helped me out in the beginning of the match, but he (Belcastro) came out firing on the back nine,” said Doyle, who noted that his putter was the best club in his bag during the four-day tournament. “I’m just going to work on getting my game better and see what I can do next year.”
Belcastro, 17, overcame plenty of obstacles to win the event, including two of his Brunswick teammates. He defeated Brunswick rising senior Matt Camel in the quarterfinals and 2018 Bruins graduate Thomas VanBelle in the semifinals. Camel recently won an AJGA Tournament by 10 strokes, setting the course record (Otter Creek, Columbus, Ind.) with a 19-under-197 (65-62-70) over three rounds, which included a hole-in-one in two consecutive rounds. Five Brunswick players competed this week, four of whom advanced to match play.
“It’s really interesting playing against your friends,” Belcastro said. “You are out there having fun, but at the same time, it’s a tournament. The amount of support I saw from the guys during the week is tremendous. I’m happy to bring it home for Brunswick.”
The new Connecticut Amateur champion enjoyed the ultra-competitive match play portion of the event.
“It’s a very interesting deviation from what we normally see in so many of our stroke play events,” Belcastro said. “Match play demands a different type of focus, it’s more situational and you have to grind out every shot. I’m really happy that I had the endurance to stay focused during every hole. Playing against one guy is a pressure-cooker and it demands more from you. But I think it brought out the best in all of us.”
Said Doyle, who advanced to the championship match by defeating U.S. Junior Amateur-bound Justin Mathew in the semifinals:
“I love match play,” he said. “I think I’m better at match play than stroke play. Playing in this tournament was a great experience for me and I love this course. It’s pretty wide open, so even if you go far right off the tee, you can still save par.”
Watertown Golf Club has hosted the Connecticut Junior Amateur many times over the years.
“This was a good course to match play,” said Belcastro, who will compete in the MGA Junior Championship next week at Siwanoy Country Club in Eastchester, N.Y. “Tee to green it is challenging and it really makes for some great situational golf. The way it was set up brought out the best in us.”
Belcastro will have his name etched on the winner’s trophy, which it was announced Thursday, is now named the William A. Salvatore Trophy. Salvatore, who won the Connecticut Amateur from 1956-1958 and is the only player to claim the title three consecutive years, was on hand to present Belcastro with the trophy.
“I am humbled by this honor,” Salvatore said.