Elliott falls short in playoff

Groton John Elliott sat in a golf cart late Tuesday afternoon, waiting for a playoff to decide the 32nd Connecticut Senior Open.

Elliott managed to keep his sense of humor despite losing a two-stroke lead with three holes to play in the final round at Shennecossett Golf Course.

"That was a screw-up, wasn't it?" Elliott said to the nearest person.

Playing in his first state Senior Open event, Elliott, a 50-year old Westerly resident, just missed out on taking home the championship trophy. Jerry Courville of Stratford took advantage of Elliott's mistake on the second playoff hole to capture his second title.

"I felt lucky to be in a playoff, to be honest with you," said Courville, who birdied 18 to force extra holes. "Sometimes, lucky is better than good."

Luck was not on Elliott's side.

After both golfers birdied the 18th, the opening playoff hole, Elliott's drive off the 10th tee sailed out of bounds left of the fairway. He never recovered. Courville made par to clinch the victory, shooting back-to-back rounds of 68 for a 136 total.

Elliott, who graduated from Norwich Free Academy, pocketed a nice consolation prize of $2,000 for his runnerup finish. But he wished that he could have brought home a trophy for his seven-year-old son, Blake.

Consistently long and accurate off the tee, he can't remember the last time he hit a drive out of bounds.

"I had the thing won, then I didn't," Elliott said. "I just made mistakes. ... It was kind of disappointing. I feel like I'm the best player here but didn't close the deal."

It was a painful result for Elliott considering he played well for most of the two day tournament, finishing at 6-under 136. He had 11 birdies overall.

A former PGA and Nationwide Tour player, he entered Tuesday's second round locked in a three-way tie for first at 4-under. After bogeying the sixth hole, he went on a run, ringing up birdies on four of the next five holes to stand at 7-under through 11 holes.

Elliott led by two strokes through 15, then hit a rut.

His short par putt lipped out on 16, forcing him to settle for a bogey. He saved par on 17 after scrambling from a tough second shot that fell just short of the green.

Holding a one-stroke lead, Elliott remained confident heading to the 18th, a par 5 hole that he birdied in the first round. He found the green on his second shot, but left a long putt. Elliott three-putted for par, setting up a playoff. He shot a 2-under 69 while Courville had a 68.

"I didn't play too well today," Elliott said. "I made some nice putts. I bogeyed 16 and just had to two-putt 18 to win. I think about all the times I've been leading. I usually play pretty good when I'm leading. I kind of messed it up. What are you going to do?"

If not for his tournament-saving putt on 18, Courville would have never won the match. He's come through in the clutch three times in recent tournaments.

"I've played in three tournaments this year when I birdied the 18th hole to get in a playoff," Courville said. "One of them got me to Oklahoma for the U.S. Senior Open. The other one was for the Connecticut Open and now here. All three times I birdied 18 to get into a playoff and somehow survived."

Elliott plans to play more tournaments this summer, including the Greater Bangor (Me.) Open next week and Rhode Island Open and Manchester Open in August. He works as a caddy at Shelter Harbor Golf Club in Charlestown, R.I.. In the winter, he holds the same job at The Dye Preserve, a private club in Jupiter, Fla.

He hopes to qualify for some Champions Tour events.

"I've tried to qualify for a couple of senior events but I really haven't played a lot of golf," Elliott said. "I've been caddying. I haven't hit a ball in two weeks. I go play when I go play."

g.keefe@theday.com

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