Tough week for Norwich Golf Course family and friends

The storied Norwich Invitational will tee off this weekend as it has for the past 91 years.

But it won't be quite the same this summer.

Teaching pro Jeffrey Doerr, a popular, respected member of the Norwich Golf Course family, will miss the area's marquee tournament.

Doerr is in the hospital recovering from a stroke that he suffered on Monday.

Fortunately, Doerr was working at Norwich Golf Course at the time and was quickly rushed to the Backus Hospital in Norwich.

"We all wish him a speedy recovery," head pro Mike Svab said. "It's been a tough week here at Norwich Golf Course."

Concerned members and employees have understandably bombarded Svab with inquiries about Doerr's condition. When Svab checked his cell phone on Tuesday after playing in a tournament, he had received 193 messages.

While Doerr faces a long recovery, he's in fairly good spirits considering his health, according to Svab who's visited his good friend several times.

The Norwich Invite will certainly be different without Doerr, who plays a vital role in running the tournament.

His presence alone will be sorely missed.

"It's one of his favorite events of the year," Svab said. "He loves the event and he loves being around  all the guys that he's known for a long time in the area. He actually asked me, 'Are you going to be all right this weekend?'

"I looked at him and said, 'I've got it.' He just started giggling."

Svab plans to keep Doerr updated about the tournament over the course of the weekend. Doerr will be in everyone's thoughts and prayers.

Like on Broadway, the show must go on.

"Something like that always distracts from what you're doing," Svab said. "I think everybody here is professional enough that we're going to figure it out. Everyone just does a little bit more and chips in. Everything will go off as planned. We'll miss Jeff all weekend."

The 92nd Norwich Invitational, the second oldest amateur tournament in the state, begins on Friday with qualifying-round action and culminates with Sunday afternoon's championship round.

One hundred and forty-three golfers, including defending champion Josh Cameron of Uncasville, will be in the field.

"We've got a good turnout and a strong field," Svab said.

Cameron beat former Killingly High School all-state standout Drew Aitken, 4 and 3, last year to become the first Norwich Golf Course member to claim the title since 1999. Aitken will be back to make another run at the championship flight title.

Some other former champions signed up: Bill Hermanson (1995-96), Nick Harrington (2016), Brian Bardier (2007), Kevin Marcoux (2012), Jim Sowders Jr. (1999) and Phil Perry, a five-time winner. Harrington plays on the UConn golf team.

Notable golfers missing from the field include two-time champion Dan Hendrickson and 2015 champ Dave Jones, who's taking a break this summer from golf. A hand injury is preventing Norwich club champion Steve Gambeski from competing.

There's always a few surprises.

"Every year, unbelievably enough, some young kids show up and I don't know who they are and they hit it a mile," Svab said.

Svab reports the course is in great shape, thanks to the hard work of superintendent Bruce Morse and assistant Eric Kundahl.

A dedicated group of volunteers from the Norwich Golf Course members association help make it a first-class tournament. As usual, John Marion and Larry Carver will be in charge of scoring.

Short putts

• Defending champion John Elliott headlines a strong field in the 36th Connecticut Open, which runs Monday and Tuesday at Shennecossett Golf Course in Groton.

Elliott, a Norwich Free Academy graduate living in Florida, won his first state senior title by beating Billy Downes on the first playoff hole. He fired a 5-under 137 (67-70).

Downes also is back to challenge for the title.

It is the 21st straight year that Shennecossett is hosting the tournament.

A large number of local golfers signed up to play, including Stonington pro Michael Myzskowski, Philip Krick of Baltic, Archie Cart and Jim Bedus of Old Saybrook, Thomas Ward of New London, David Wheatley of Oakdale, Kipling Visintini of Uncasville, Bill Hermanson of East Lyme, Mitch Marron of Groton, Tony Susi of Gales Ferry and Mark Toscano of Westerly.

• NFA graduate Noah Straub, The Day's 2017 Golfer of the Year, had a good showing in the 77th Connecticut Junior Amateur this week at Watertown Golf Club. Straub qualified for match play and lost his round of 32 match to top-seeded Ben James on Tuesday. He plays on the golf team at Ottawa University in Arizona where he'll be a sophomore this fall.

• Montville golf coach Chris DeLucia is making an impressive run in the 113th Rhode Island Amateur Championship at Ledgemont Country Club in Seekonk, Mass. Entering match play as the No. 29 seed, he beat No. 4 Brad Valois, 1-up, and defeated No. 13 Glenn Dufault, 1-up, to advance to quarterfinal round. He'll play No. 5 Jack Bauer on Thursday. He's also signed up to play in the Norwich Invitational this weekend.

• Last month, Rob Neaton reached the semifinals of match play at the 116th Connecticut Amateur Championship at Country Club of Watertown before losing to eventual champion Ben Conroy. It was his best ever finish in that tournament. He's the son of Black Hall Club superintendent Phil Neaton.

• Competition is underway for the Elmridge Golf Course men's club championship. The field will be seeded after 36 holes of qualifying play. The champion will be crowned after a 36-hole match play final on Saturday, July 28.

Pete Stefanski, who's won multiple club championships, including last year's title, is the golfer to beat. His challengers are Dave Duguay, Dwayne Vance, Ken Textor, Tom DeSantis, Ron Allen, Anthony Kargul, George Luzzi, John Harrold, Gary Sicard, Ron Gwaltney and Bruce Lowe.

• The Ledyard High School Athletic Golf Tournament at Lake of Isles on Monday was a great success. Glenn Lungarini, Mike Murphy, John Tzeto and Bob Mielcarz won Flight A while Dan Grimm, Scott Lesage, Boof Bonser and Nick Spera captured Flight B. Hall of Fame softball coach Ellen Mahoney stole the spotlight with a hole-in-one on No. 11.

Upcoming events

• Norwich Golf Course junior club championship is set for July 21-22. The 36-hole stroke play event is open to boys and girls under the age of 19.

• The Shennecossett men's club championship qualifying will be held July 28-29. The championship final will tee off on Aug. 12.

• The 84th Connecticut Open Championship will run from July 30 through Aug. 1 at New Haven Country Club.

g.keefe@theday.com

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