Briggs breaks through with first Stonington Country Club title victory

Eric Briggs scored a breakthrough victory on Sunday, winning his first Stonington Country Club men's championship in his third straight trip to the finals.

To accomplish the feat with his 88-year-old grandfather looking on made the day even more memorable.

"It was nice having him out there watching," Briggs said. "He was there the entire final match. It was pretty special to win it with him there."

Briggs, who's from Glastonbury, regularly makes the drive to Stonington to play golf there so he can spent time with his grandfather, Joe Vuono, and father, Walt Briggs, who also are members.

Before the championship match began, Vuono told his grandson to stay calm and play his game. Briggs had lost tough title matches the previous two years, including on the 37th hole last summer to Diederick van der Velde.

Briggs followed his grandfather's advice.

He played a terrific championship match against first-time finalist Nick DeLauro, keeping his focus and taking control on the front nine. He racked up birdies on the third, fourth, fifth and seventh holes. He drained a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 7.

"I just shook my head and shrugged at Nick, because it was one of those days I was making putts and didn't have any explanation for it," Briggs said.

Briggs stood at 4-under when he clinched the championship on the 11th hole, winning 8 and 7.

Rain over the weekend shortened the title match from 36 to 18 holes.

"I finally did it after two years of coming a little up short and losing in the finals," Briggs said. "I finally won one. ... I definitely think my experience helped a little bit. I understood it is a long round. In the finals, I played some of my best golf.

"I put a lot of work over the offseason just trying to change some things in my swing and it was kind of nice to see them come out. I knew if I made the changes, that in tournaments my swing would hold up a little bit better under pressure."

The fact that Briggs got off to strong starts during his championship run helped settle him down. In Sunday's morning semifinal, he rolled to a 7 and 5 win over Pat McGuire.

"I learned building a little lead comes in handy," Briggs said.

The quick semifinal match gave Briggs a long break before the final while DeLauro outlasted Todd Kroll in the semifinals, winning on the 19th hole.

So DeLauro had little rest before playing a red-hot Briggs.

A determined Briggs kept the pressure on and won his first title.

It was a great day for his family. His uncle, Peter DelGiudice, won the A Flight in the net division.

"It was pretty cool," Briggs said.

Briggs is already looking forward to defending his title next year.

"It will be nice defending next year rather than putting pressure on myself to finally win one," Briggs said.

And, of course, Briggs also is looking forward to playing golf with his grandfather. Vuono is still capable of shooting in the high 90s.

"He can still get it out there for an 88-year-old guy," Briggs said.

Short putts

• In other Stonington Country Club Championship Day matches, Anne-Marie van der Velde and Jeanne Tingo met in the women's final for the third straight year. And for the third straight year, van der Velde captured the crown. Tingo is a former champion.

Emmett Hannigan won the championship flight consolation bracket. James Wittliff won the B Flight and George Henningsen captured the C Flight.

• Pete Stefanski just keeps getting better with age.

He tied the Elmridge Golf Course men's club championship record for most titles by winning his eighth last weekend, beating Duane Vance, Jr., 3 and 2. Tim Sisk, who's now a member at Shennecossett Golf Course and works in the pro shop there, also has eight wins.

It was Stefanski's fifth title in the last six years.

In the first flight, Ron Allen, Sr., defeated Gary Sicard.

• Former Black Hall Club assistant pro Adam Rainaud finished third at the 84th Connecticut Open last week at New Haven Country Club. Rainaud, the 2016 champion, shot an 8-under par 202 (65-66-71). Winner John VanDerLaan of Southbury fired a tournament record 16-under 194, a whopping six shots better than the previous mark, and also set the event record for lowest round at 62. C.J. Swift of Great River Golf Club took second at 14-under 196 (65-64-67).

VanDerLaan, 22, earned Division II player of the year honors while playing at Florida Southern last season.

• Norwich Free Academy graduate Noah Straub, The Day's All-Area Golfer of the year in 2017, is enjoying a successful summer on the Connecticut Section PGA Junior Tour. He recently had two top 10 finishes. He tied for second with an 11-over 155 (80-75) at the Glastonbury Hill Junior Open late last month and placed seventh with a 10-over 154 (77-77) at the Hop Meadow Junior Open earlier this week. He is ranked 10th on the Champions Tour player of the year points list.

Stonington graduate Jack Ognisty, The Day's All-Area golfer of the year in 2016, tied for 10th with a 156 (77-79) at the Hop Meadow Junior Open.

• Congratulations to Judy Samokar who scored a hole-in-one at Elmridge Golf Course on July 30. A Ledyard resident, Samokar used a driver to accomplish the feat on the par 3, 138-yard red course No. 5 hole.

• Want to watch Aaron Rodgers, Chris Paul and Ray Allen compete at the region's very own Mohegan Golf Club in Sprague?

While it's too late to attend the State Farm Showdown that was held earlier this summer, you can check out the telecast on TNT at 8 p.m. Friday. NFL stars squared off against NBA standouts. Paul served as captain of the NBA team while Rodgers guided the NFL players. Athletes also competed in skill competitions like 3-point shooting and shooting golf balls at targets.

Upcoming events

• The 33rd Connecticut Public Links will be held on Aug. 14-15 at Timberlin Golf Course in Kensington. Norwich Golf Course served as host last year and several local golfers fared well on their home course, including Jeff DeLucia (tied for second) and Josh Cameron (tied for 6th).

Local golfers in this year's field include: Jeff and Chris DeLucia, Josh Cameron, Norwich Golf Course; Justin Beal and Julius Oppenheimer, Fox Hopyard; James Lathrop, Pequot Golf Club; and Tony Susi, Mohegan Sun Golf Club

Dave Szewczul of Tunxis Plantation is the defending champion.

• Howard and Sam Tryon of Great Neck Country Club in Waterford will compete in the 20th Father & Son Net Tournament on Monday at Sheffield Country Club.

• Elmridge Golf Course Senior Club Championship qualifying round play is set for this weekend. The tournament will culminate with the finals on Aug. 25.

• The 31st Connecticut Mid-Amateur will tee off on Aug. 27 at Richter Park Golf Course in Danbury. Mike Kennedy is the defending champion of the two-day 54-hole event, winning it last year at Black Hall Club in Old Lyme.

In a qualifying tournament Tuesday at Lake of Isles in North Stonington, Steve Chevalier rode home course advantage to a first place tie, shooting a 6-over 78 along with Jeff Kaye of Hop Meadow Country Club. Chevalier also signed up to play in a qualifier for the U.S. Mid-Amateur, running Thursday.

• Black Hall Club in Old Lyme is hosting the Connecticut PGA Assistants Championship on Tuesday, Sept. 4. The one-day event covers 36 holes.

g.keefe@theday.com

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