Hermanson fends off challenge from best friend to win Connecticut Sr. Amateur

Old Lyme — Bill Hermanson knows the Black Hall Club course as well as anybody and his closest challenger in the 74th Connecticut Senior Amateur Championship even better.

A long-time member, Hermanson has won 25 club championships and four Connecticut Mid-Amateur events there.

Hermanson, who entered Tuesday's final round as a co-leader, never felt comfortable with a slim lead because Dave Szewczul, his close friend, best man, competitive playing partner and fellow Connecticut State Golf Association Hall of Fame member, was right on his heels until the final putt.

"I figured he'd be there at the end," said Hermanson, an East Lyme resident. "I've known him too long."

Hermanson managed hold off Szewczul, a three-time Connecticut Senior Amateur champion, while firing a 72 to finish with a two-round total of 3-over 145, one shot ahead of Szewczul.

It's his second state senior amateur win, last taking the title in 2015.

"The first time wasn't a fluke, I guess," Hermanson said. "Any time you win a CSGA championship, it's pretty special. There's a lot of great players in the field. Playing Dave, he's certainly one of the best ever. Not only is he a great player, but he's my best friend and my best man in my wedding.

"So, it's nice to nose him out at the end. He's trying to beat me and I'm trying to beat him, but we're both happy for each other."

Even with all his tournament experience, Hermanson had to fight off nerves down the stretch and drain a tough three-foot putt on the 18th hole to stay in front.

Szewczul, whose home course is Tunxis Plantation Country Club in Farmington, kept the pressure on but couldn't overtake his golfing buddy.

In the past, they've combined to win the Two Man Team Championship held in May at Black Hall. They plan to play as partners next week while attempting to qualify for the U.S. Four Ball Championship.

"I'm happy for him," Szewczul said. "He's been a great player and it's his home course. Hats off to him. I gave it a good shot. ... I'm a competitor. He wants to beat my brains out and I want to beat his brains out. But, at the end of the day, we go out to dinner with our wives and we have fun. The friendship lasts a lot longer than the golf and everything else."

They were determined competitors for two days.

Heading into Tuesday's second round, Hermanson shared the lead with Tom Yellin of Stanwich Club, both at 2-over 73. Five golfers, including Szewczul, trailed by just one shot.

Eventually, Hermanson's only serious challenger was Szewczul, who teed off on a different hole than his good friend during the shotgun start.

But Szewczul knew he was within striking distance late in the match.

"Everybody was watching and started to not talk as much, so I knew I was in the hunt," Szewczul said.

Hermanson, 62, had to scramble a bit the last few holes to maintain his lead.

A steady putter and familiarity with the greens saved Hermanson, who had seven pars, a birdie and a bogey on the back nine.

In last year's tournament at Shorehaven Golf Club in Norwalk, Hermanson three-putted 10 times and lost by a shot.

"I don't do that here," Hermanson said. "I know the greens. I like the greens. I'm comfortable on the greens."

Winning on his home course before supportive fellow Black Hall members made the victory even sweeter, Hermanson said.

He added that he values each tournament win more as he grows older.

"Because it gets harder," he said. "You never know when the last one is going to be. The competition keeps getting younger and younger. I'm still competing on the regular level, too. Playing senior golf, it's more of a camaraderie thing."

It also was a victory of sorts for Szewczul, who's battled back from several health issues. He had two back surgeries, a knee surgery and a hip replacement along with a kidney stone and cataracts in a span of roughly a year.

"Given where I was 10 months ago in a walker, to be out here playing and competing is beyond my dreams," Szewczul said. "There were times where I didn't know if I was going to play given what I went through. So, this is a bonus and a reward."

g.keefe@theday.com

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