By Bruce Berlet

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (September 1, 2020) – As general manager at The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, Mass., Chris Tallman had a lot more to worry about than golf after the course was severely damaged by a storm two weeks ago.

Tallman had to oversee a staff of 30 people in four departments that each had different guidelines to try to correct the many problems at the club. So, Tallman tried to focus on the mental side of his game and hope the physical part followed Tuesday in the final round of the $20,000 Connecticut PGA Professional Championship at Wampanoag Country Club.

Tallman demonstrated why he has been one of the top players in the Connecticut Section PGA for several years, rebounding from a disheartening bogey on the par-5 11th hole with two crucial birdies that enabled him to break from a logjam of contenders and win his second title by two strokes over newcomer C.J. Konkowski.

“I got a little squirrelly at times, but for the most part, I hit it really good,” said Tallman, who closed with a 2-under-par 70 for a 36-hole total of 5-under 137. “The job has been 24 hours a day the last few weeks, so it’s been a big challenge. Today I just tried to get my mind in gear and into the game, which was hard to do. It has been close but not really there, so it was nice to put it together at the end.”

After making bogey at the 11th hole off a 310-yard drive left him only 150 yards from the green, Tallman chipped to 4 feet to set up a birdie 4 at No. 12 and then hit “a great shot” at the par-3 13th hole, a 3-iron from 218 yards that stopped 4 feet short of the cup to set up another birdie.

“I’d hit a 2-iron in the first round that went long, so I went with the 3-iron and it came out just right,” said Tallman, who started the day one stroke behind Fran Marrello. “The birdies on 12 and 13 were kind of my turning point after the bogey that basically gave the field two shots. There are a lot of gettable holes out here, but there’s also a lot of things that can go wrong. But I played smart and spent two days just focusing on the tournament. It didn’t really surprise that I won because this is one of the events that I really focused on.”

Tallman made five routine pars down the stretch before a three-putt from 50 feet on the final hole merely reduced his margin of victory, which was worth $4,000, 100 OMEGA Section Player of the Year points and a spot in the 54th PGA Professional Championship at PGA Golf Club in Florida on April 25-28, 2021. The Section Player of the Year also earns an exemption to the national event, but if he finishes in the top three, the first alternate goes to Port St. Lucie.

Tallman was the 2018 Section Player of the Year and finished second to Kyle Bilodeau in 2019, when he won the Stroke Play Championship to earn his only berth in the Travelers Championship. He also won this event in 2018 and the 2019 Connecticut PGA Championship and credited switching to Callaway clubs in April and his members with helping him get to winner’s circle again.

“I’m still working through my rounds with the new clubs, but things have worked out pretty good so far,” Tallman said. “It was a little hard to get my mind into it, but my members really recognized me with some text messages. And I’m sure they’ll be a lot of them at the club when I get back tonight or tomorrow.”

Konkowski, making his tournament debut, also earned a spot in the 2021 national championship thanks largely to four birdies that led to a 3-under 33 on the front nine. Bogeys at the 15th and 16th holes dropped him into a tie for second, but a wedge to 3 feet set up a birdie at No. 17 that enabled him not to have to be in a playoff for a trip to Port St. Lucie.

“I started really well, but the swing didn’t feel comfortable on the back nine,” said Konkowski, who won $2,500. “But I was glad I hit it well coming in.”

Konkowski, 27, was born and raised in Keene, N.H., where he worked at Keene Country Club after graduating from the University of New Hampshire. But he knew several pros in the area who recommended he apply for an opening at Hartford Golf Club. He interviewed with head pro Richard Bray at the PGA Golf Show in Florida in January and was hired a month later.

Konkowski earned his PGA of America membership in July, making him eligible for his first major championship and now a berth in his first national event. He nearly qualified for the PGA of America Assistants’ Championship on Nov. 12-15, at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, but he finished fourth in the Section event and is second alternate.

“I just wanted to hit my targets and take what I got,” said Konkowski, who started the day tied for third, three strokes behind Marrello. “Making the national championship was my goal all year. If I started to think about it, I tried to get it out of my mind right away.”

The 66-year-old Marrello, who came within two strokes of shooting his age in the first round, had a mixed bag of feelings after failing to win the only Connecticut Section championship that has eluded him. He was disappointed he failed to add to his record 24 Section individual titles, but he did increase his PGA Club Professional Championship appearances to 11 when he parred the first playoff hole, No. 18, to beat Bill Downes and Bill Street. Marrello, a PGA Life Member, has been inducted into both the Connecticut PGA Hall of Fame and Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame.

“I just didn’t feel right over every shot,” Marrello said. “I felt good on the range, but I hit a couple of wrong clubs and the par-5s killed me. I would have liked to make a little better run at Chris, but he’s a really strong player and getting in the national championship is great. My overall goal was to get in the nationals, so I’m happy it worked out.”

Downes (GREATHORSE-Hampden, Mass.), the 2013 champion, closed with 69 for 142 and birdied the second playoff hole, No. 10, to earn the first-alternate spot. Street (Whitney Farms GC-Monroe), the 2017 champion, shot the day’s best score, a 68 that included six birdies in the first 14 holes before bogeys at the 14th and 15th hole cost him a shot at the title. Marrello, Downes, and Street each won $1,750, while Sean Switzer (Madison CC) shot 69 to finish sixth at 144 and earn $1,250.

The tournament was presented by Club Car and OMEGA. Supporting sponsors are Titleist/FootJoy, NIKE and TaylorMade. Presenting partners are Golf Channel and the PGA Tour. The 41 section championships and the national tournament offer a combined purse of more than $1.5 million.