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Warwick's Blanchard captures first victory as a pro at Connecticut Senior Open

Groton — For someone on the verge of clinching his first tournament victory as a professional, Charlie Blanchard remained remarkably calm throughout Tuesday’s final round at the Connecticut Senior Open.

Maybe it was because Blanchard was playing from in front, seizing the lead for good after ringing up birdies in three of the first five holes at Shennecossett Golf Course, the event’s host for the last 24 years.

Blanchard, who’s from Warwick and coaches the Bryant University golf team, held off Kirk Hanefeld of Port St. Lucie, Florida, to capture the title with a two-round total of 9-under 133 (65-68), winning by two strokes.

“It feels great,” Blanchard said. “Every win feels great.”

Blanchard was considered one of the contenders entering the tournament after two top-five finishes in his previous two Connecticut Senior Opens, tying for second in 2019 and placing fifth in 2018. He had an impressive record as an amateur in Rhode Island before turning pro four years ago at the age of 51.

So he felt good about his chances.

“I felt comfortable coming in,” Blanchard said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get to practice before I played. I came in here and had a bunch of good shots early and just rolled from there. I got on auto-pilot.”

Hanefeld, who placed in the top five in his previous two appearances, nipped at Blanchard’s heels during the final round but couldn’t catch up. He fired a 7-under 135 (65-70) to earn the runner-up spot.

“Charlie played the last nine or 10 holes even par, maybe,” Hanefeld said. “He certainly gave us an opportunity to catch him. I had opportunities to catch him and I didn’t. But he really played solid. It was his tournament right from the get-go because he got off to such a fast start.”

Blanchard and Hanefeld tied a competitive course record on Monday after both shooting 65 and played together in the final group along with Norwich Free Academy graduate John Elliott, who trailed the co-leaders by one stroke after the first round.

But Elliott faded from contention after bogeying eight, nine and 10 and ended up shooting two-over for the day and finishing at 3-under 139 (66-73) overall, tying for fourth place.

That left Blanchard and Hanefeld to battle out.

Blanchard never buckled under the pressure. And he never paid attention to the leaderboard.

With four birdies and five pars on the front nine, Blanchard remained in control. He received a boost by sinking a 40-footer for birdie on No. 7.

From the point on, he said he tried “not to do something stupid” and continued to play steady golf down the stretch.

Through 14, he stood at 10-under and led by two strokes.

“I was playing with two great players,” Blanchard said. “I felt like I had to get to 10-under. I thought that was a good number. … I had a nice lead. I didn’t have to force anything all day. I just had to play smart and take my chances when I had them.”

Blanchard survived his only bogey because Hanefeld also had a four on the par 3 15th. He closed out the match with three straight pars.

After tapping in his short putt on the final hole, Blanchard shook hands with Elliott and Hanefeld. He’s played with both golfers before.

“I was relieved that it was over,” Blanchard said. “I had to get Kirk in the car before he did something crazy.”

Blanchard is looking forward to coming back next year to defend his title. He’s a fan of Shennecossett Golf Course.

“I think it sets up for my game,” Blanchard said. “I can hit it fairly long. The best part of my game are my wedges. I’ve got a lot of wedges out here as far as I hit it. I can get to the par fives in two, so that’s a big bonus.”

There’s one other thing about Blanchard’s victory that stands out. He’s the first left-hander to win the Connecticut Senior Open since Ralph Salito in 2007.

As far as Elliott’s game, well, he couldn’t duplicate his strong finish to the first round during which he birdied the last four holes. He says he drove the ball perfectly but struggled with his irons.

Elliott finished out in style by chipping in for birdie from just off the front of the 18th green.

“We had fun,” Elliott said. “Charlie played great. It’s his first victory, so I’m happy for him.”

Other local finishers included: Bill Hermanson of East Lyme, tied for 26th, 5-over 147 (73-74); Dave Jones of Norwich, tied for 26th, 5-over 147 (71-76); Tony Susi of Gales Ferry, tied for 61st, 10-over 152 (75-77); Mark Toscano of Westerly, tied for 66th, 12-over 154 (73-81); Philip Krick of Groton, tied for 72nd, 13-over 155 (75-80); and Chris Hedden of Waterford, 83rd, 19-over 161 (76-85). 

Dick Stevens of Woodbury won low amateur honors with a 2-over 144 (70-74).

g.keefe@theday.com

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