Old Lyme's Zito shoots low round in Connecticut Amateur Championship

East Haddam — Brian Zito took a relaxed approach competing in only his second Connecticut Amateur Championship.

He felt no pressure, swinging free and easy.

The only reason Zito signed up is because his wife, Rachelle, is on vacation this week and can stay home with their nearly 2-year-old son, Liam.

Zito took advantage of an infrequent opportunity to play some tournament golf, shooting the lowest round of the first day at Fox Hopyard Golf Club. He checked with a 2-under par 69 on Monday for a one-shot lead. The low 32 golfers after Tuesday's second round will advance to match play on Wednesday.

"It was a fun round," said Zito, a 33-year-old Old Lyme resident.

An impressive round, too, considering Zito, outside a practice round on Sunday, hadn't played at Fox Hopyard since competing in the Shoreline Conference tournament roughly 15 years ago while attending Old Lyme High School. He went on to play at the University of Hartford.

Since graduating from Hartford in 2008, Zito has focused on work and family, mostly leaving his competitive days behind him.

Zito credited weekend rounds with fellow Black Hall Club members, "legends" Bill Hermanson and Phil Perry, for preparing him for tournament play.

"I haven't played this tournament in a long time," Zito said. "I took a more relaxed approach. If I play well, I just want to make it to match play and play a different kind of game that I'm used to. I'm a long hitter, but I played a conservative game.

"Mentally, I was very relaxed out there. Just like a weekend round with the guys at Black Hall. ... I know I'm not going to be a PGA golfer or compete at the highest level. I just take it one tournament at a time."

His calm, conservative strategy paid off. He used irons off the tee for all but two holes and, for the most part, avoided trouble. He recorded four birdies — three on the front nine — and two bogeys. He saved par on the 16th hole with a nice putt.

The highlight of his round came on his closing hole, the par 4 ninth. Using a six iron from the fairway, he knocked his second shot to within three feet and drained the short birdie putt.

Zito walked off the green with an extra bounce in his step and hopes to carry the momentum into Tuesday's second round.

"It definitely motivates me and puts me in a positive mindset," Zito said. "It amped me up."

Zito is in good shape to qualify for Wednesday's match play. Only two other golfers — Christopher Ayers of Goodwin Golf Club and Nicholas Piersall of TPC River Highlands — shot below par on Monday, finishing at 1-under.

He has some extra motivation to stick around for as long as he can this week. He has a long list of chores waiting him at home once his tournament run ends.

"I just need another good round (Tuesday)," Zito said.

Former Wheeler High School standout David Renski, who plays out of Wheeler Park Golf Club in Fairfield, sits in a tie for fourth place at even par 72 with Matthew Chorches of Hartford Golf Club.

Other golfers with local ties include: Chris DeLucia, Norwich Golf Course, 73; Bill Hermanson, Black Hall, 74; Eric Briggs, Stonington Country Club and Michael Thompson, Fox Hopyard, 76; Justin Beal, Fox Hopyard and Nick Hedden, Great Neck CC, 77; Keith Anthony, Fox Hopyard, Andrew Cavasino, Great Neck and James Lathrop, Pequot Golf Club, 78. Also, Julius Oppenheimer, Fox Hopyard, 79; Steve Chevalier, Lake of Isles, 83; Alex Jenkins, Black Hall, 84; John Huhn, Great Neck, 86.

g.keefe@theday.com

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