Former Ridgefield High standout Hayes wins Palmer Cup

Rick Hayes of Ridgefield won the Palmer Cup this week at the Country Club of Waterbury. The event serves as the Connecticut stroke play championship.
Rick Hayes of Ridgefield won the Palmer Cup this week at the Country Club of Waterbury. The event serves as the Connecticut stroke play championship.

Like most golf majors, the 16th edition of the Russell C. Palmer Cup, presented by KOTA, was a war of attrition.

With a swirling, 25-mile-an-hour wind playing the role of executioner at the Country Club of Waterbury, one leader after another fell, including, finally, 2018 Player of the Year Ben Conroy.

Until only the champion of the state’s premier amateur stroke play championship remained.

That was Rick Hayes of Ridgefield — the co-leader after day one and tied for sixth place, three shots back, when the final round began Tuesday — who took the Palmer Cup with grit and guesswork.

One an afternoon when worsening winds made every club selection an approximation, Hayes (representing Silver Spring Country Club) got up and down on the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th holes, birdied the 16th with a gap wedge he’d just bought, survived a three-putt on 17, and staggered home to victory.

“It was like guesswork out there,” said Hayes, 33, a former All-FCIAC and All-State player at Ridgefield High who is now a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “You’d look up at the trees and they were leaning one way and the flag was blowing another way, and a flag on another hole was going still another way. Brutal.”

On the 17th hole Hayes' shot hit the back of the green, settling about 35 feet from the pin. He rolled his first putt 15 feet past the hole and missed the come-backer. On the 18th, he hit the fairway. But from a slightly cuppy lie his five-iron shot stopped a few yards short of the green, meaning he would need one more up and down to a back-right hole location, about 20 yards away.

“I was okay with the five iron,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t be over that green. That’s dead.”

Hayes hit his nine-iron chip shot four feet right of the hole, as planned. “The putt I left myself was a right-hander’s dream, just slightly right to left. I told myself, ‘You left yourself in the best possible place, now let’s make it.’ ”

Hayes sank the putt for a birdie four, leaving him at nine over and a shot clear of Conroy, who won last year's Connecticut Amateur Championship on the same course.

The fact that Hayes had few expectations coming into the Palmer Cup may have helped. “I really haven’t played much,” he said. “I went to North Carolina with Mike Kennedy and some guys and played lousy. I went to Florida and didn’t play well. But I had an exemption, so I figured why not.”

Notes: Hayes, who played at Colgate and has since won three consecutive Silver Spring club championships and qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur twice, is a former member of the CSGA Tri-State team.

Named for Russell C. Palmer, former CSGA Executive Director (1986-1995) and inductee into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame (1997), the Palmer Cup serves as the Connecticut Stroke Play Championship.