By Bruce Berlet

ELLINGTON, Conn. (Oct. 4, 2023) – Not even a nearly two-hour fog delay and two missed short putts on the back nine could prevent Andrew Svoboda from capping off what he called “my best year ever, a dream season” in his maiden voyage in the Connecticut Section PGA.

Who could blame him? Svoboda won his first Section start, the Connecticut PGA Championship, to qualify for the Travelers Championship for the sixth time and then made the cut for the fourth time at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. He qualified for the U.S. Open for the fourth time and missed the cut by only a stroke at Los Angeles Country Club. He shot a 10-under-par 62 to capture the Pro-Veteran tournament and then won the Match Play Championship to put a stranglehold on the Player of the Year race.

Svoboda put an exclamation point on his 2023 season Wednesday with a closing 3-under-par 69 for a 36-hole total of 7-under 137 and a three-stroke victory over Chris Tallman in the Connecticut PGA Professional Championship at Ellington Ridge Country Club.

“I hit it way better today after just getting it around yesterday (for a 68),” said Svoboda, 44, of Great River Golf Club in Milford, who hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation. “I knew if I shot under par, I’d have a good chance to win. This is definitely my best year. I couldn’t have dreamed of something like this. It was my first year as a head pro, and I made the cut in the Travelers, nearly made it in the U.S. Open and now I’ve qualified for the national Club Pro Championship for the first time.”

Svoboda played on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour for eight years while a member of the Metropolitan (N.Y.) Section PGA where he won the Met Open and Long Island Open three times each and the New York State Open twice and was the Assistant Professional of the Year in 2022. On Wednesday, Svoboda earned $4,000 and 100 points in the Player of Year race, increasing his total to 545, 69.5 more than Tallman. He, Tallman, Terry Slater and Billy Street qualified for the 2024 PGA of America PGA Professional Championship on April 28-May 1 at Fields Ranch at PGA Frisco in Frisco, Texas, home of the national organization. The top 20 finishers qualify for the PGA Championship on May 16-19 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.

Svoboda began the final round two strokes behind Tallman but got within one when the leader three-putted the first hole. Tallman regained his two-shot edge with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 second hole but three-putted the par-3 fourth. Both birdied the par-5 fifth hole, and Svoboda got even when he made a saving par with an 18-foot putt at No. 7 while Tallman was making a bogey. Tallman then made a brilliant birdie at the difficult eighth hole, hitting a 165-yard, 6-iron shot from a fairway bunker to 22 feet and making the putt.

Svoboda got even again with a deft chip to 12 inches for birdie at the 11th hole and took the lead for good with a wedge shot to 12 feet for birdie at No. 12 while Tallman was making a bogey after hitting his drive into the right trees. Svoboda failed to extend his lead with he missed 4-foot putts for a birdie and a par on the 13th and 14th holes, but the outcome was sealed at the difficult par-4 16th hole. Svoboda hit a 150-yard, 9-iron shot from the left rough to 8 feet to set up his third birdie in six holes, while Tallman was making a bogey after hitting his drive into a fairway bunker. Both players parred the last two holes.

Ellington Ridge CC has a special spot in Svoboda’s heart as he twice advanced to the Travelers Championship in a playoff in the four-spot qualifier after shooting 66. He was born in New Rochelle, N.Y., and played college golf at St. John’s University, winning 14 tournaments, including the 2001 Big East Conference Championship. He played in the Travelers Championship in June with Ben James, a Great River GC member, one of the leading amateur players in the country who received a second straight sponsors’ exemptions and played on the victorious U.S. Walker Cup Team.

Tallman, who won $2,500, also feels “pretty comfortable” on the Geoffrey Cornish-designed course that has hosted qualifying for Connecticut’s biggest sporting event for a decade, but he just couldn’t keep pace with Svoboda’s finish, which was the best in the field by two strokes.

“I hit the ball similar to yesterday, but I had more long putts,” said Tallman, of GreatHorse in Hampden, Mass., who closed with 74 after an opening 66. “And I didn’t capitalize on a lot of the opportunities that I had. I was just kind of hanging on. The goal is to win, but the consolation prize is to reach the national championship for the sixth straight time and having a chance to qualify for the PGA Championship.”

Tallman, who won the tournament in 2018 and 2020, was shooting for a fourth consecutive Player of the Year title, having earned it in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022. He tied for 34th in the PGA of America Professional Championship and lost to Svoboda in the semifinals of the Match Play Championship.

Slater (Race Brook CC-Orange) and Street (Whitney Farms GC-Monroe) each shot 71 to tie for third at 143. Michael Jezierski (Raceway GC-Thompson) shot 74 to finish fifth at 144, one ahead of Adam D’Amario (Next Level Golf Academy-New Britain), 76.

The presenting sponsors for the tournament were Club Car, Corebridge Financial and Rolex, and the final event of the year with POY points is the twice-delayed Manchester Open on Oct. 12 at Manchester Country Club, with 25 points going to the winner.


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