Stiff competition not only obstacle to winning 93rd Norwich Invitational

Beating a highly-competitive field is just one obstacle to winning this weekend's 93rd Norwich Invitational.

Beating the heat serves as another significant roadblock.

Temperatures are expected to soar into the high 90s, maybe even hit triple digits for Sunday's final. Coupled with oppressive humidity, Norwich Golf Course will be about as comfortable as the surface of the sun.

"It's going to be three hot days," Norwich pro Mike Svab said.

Qualifying round play is set for Friday, with the low 111 scores advancing to match play on Saturday. Semifinals begin Sunday morning and the final tees off early Sunday afternoon.

Chris DeLucia, who earned a break-through championship flight victory last year, will attempt to defend his title on his home course where he won his eighth men's club championship last summer. He automatically will receive the No. 2 seed in the championship flight.

Returning champions include Nick Harrington, Josh Cameron, Jim Sowders, Kevin Marcoux and Steve Gambeski.

Some Norwich Invitational veterans and former champions will be missing from the field. Five-time winner Phil Perry, two-time champ and 2018 finalist Bill Hermanson, 2007 winner Brian Bardier and two-time champ Dave Jones will be absent for various reasons.

Hermanson, who's from East Lyme, is playing in the Connecticut Open this weekend at Torrington Country Club. In the past, the Open has been played during the week and not conflicted with the Norwich Invitational.

Norwich Invitational weekend is traditionally has been one of the hottest weekends of the summer. But this year's event could be the warmest yet.

Sahara Desert-like heat will hit for Saturday and Sunday.

There will be plenty of water available for competitors on the course.

"The players are going to have to make a real conscious effort to stay hydrated this weekend, they really do," Svab said. "The heat index Saturday is supposed to be 112, 115. This is record heat that we're going into."

You have to figure that the brutal weather conditions will give a competitive edge to the younger players in the 147-golfer field.

With that in mind, players to watch include Cameron, the 2017 winner, and Harrington, who played at UConn and won the Invite in 2016.

And, of course, DeLucia, who always seems to be in the championship mix.

"He's playing well," Svab said. "Going in, he's got his game together. He's going to be tough to beat again. He always is; he's so steady."

Repeating is difficult.

It has happened just once since 2007, as Dan Hendrickson captured back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. He didn't make the trip from North Carolina this year. Perry holds the record for most consecutive wins with four (2003-06).

"I just think there is just that much talent," Svab said of the reason behind the limited repeat champions in recent memory. "The young players are so dangerous because they just attack everything. It is whoever is playing well at the time."

The Norwich Invitational would never happen without the tireless effort of people behind the scenes like John Marion and Larry Carver, who run the tournament's command central.

"They do an exceptional job," Svab said. "Those guys put a lot of work in. They do all the scoring."

Teaching pro Chris Medeiros, who worked at Elmridge Golf Course and Cedar Ridge for 23 years before joining the staff at Norwich in April, is looking forward to working his first Norwich Invite. He played in the tournament twice, the last time in 1994. He lost in the first round both times.

"I'm excited," Medeiros said. "It's going to be a long weekend but I can't wait to be here. I just told my wife, I'll be here from 4:30 in the morning until 9 o'clock at night."

Medeiros replaced Jeffrey Doerr, who's still recovering from a stroke that he suffered in July 2018, about a week before last year's Norwich Invite. Doerr is living in Georgia near his daughter.

Svab keeps in contact with Doerr, his good friend.

"He's still recovering," Svab said. "It's been over a year. When you talk to him, he's getting a little bit better every single time. But the jumps aren't the big jumps like the beginning. It's a slow recovery."

This will also be Eric Kundahl's first Invite as superintendent. He served as an assistant to Bruce Morse for 19 years. Morse took a job at Cold Spring Country Club near Springfield, Mass., to be closer to his family.

"He's doing a great job," Svab said. "The course is in fantastic shape."

Short putts

• Hermanson is just one local golfer competing in the 85th Connecticut Open this weekend.

Brian Quilter of Black Hall Club, Archie Cart of Lake of Isles, Julius Oppenheimer of Fox Hopyard Golf Club, Andrew Cavasino of Great Neck Country Club, Philip Krick of Groton and Killingly graduates Fletcher Babcock and Jantzen Vargas will tee off in Friday's opening round.

Here's a fun fact: Jeff Hedden, a former Black Hall Club member and Waterford High School graduate, is the last amateur golfer to win the Open title, accomplishing the feat in 2008 at Round Hill Club in Greenwich.

• Dave Jones of Mohegan Sun Golf Club played well in the CSGA's 13th Senior Match Play Championship earlier this month at Wampanoag Country Club in West Hartford.

As the No. 16 seed, Jones upset top-seed and four-time champion Dave Szewczul, 2 and 1, and No. 9 Vin Capece, 1-up, to reach the semifinals. He bowed out there, falling to No. 4 Mark Vasington, 4 and 3. Vasington went on to win the tournament on his home course.

Richard Wilczewski of Shennecossett Golf Course also qualified for match play as the No. 15 seed and lost to No. 2 Bob Murphy, 4 and 3.

• Please send golf column items to g.keefe@theday.com

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