Hayes finishes second (in playoff) at Mid-Am

Ben Day won the 32nd Connecticut Mid-Amateur just a few minutes after he’d lost it.

Well, thought he’d lost it.

Ridgefield native Rick Hayes — who was playing with Day in the final group — made up six shots in 17 holes to tie Day for the lead Tuesday afternoon at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Kensington.

And when Hayes hit a brilliant second-shot hybrid just over the green before chipping to within five feet and setting himself up for a tournament-winning birdie putt on the par-three 18th hole, Day removed his pink New Haven cap, ready to congratulate Hayes on a stunning come-from-behind victory.

“I thought it was over,” said Day, a Cheshire native. “I thought he would make that. But as I say that, it’s kind of a cool feeling to go from me thinking that I’d lost ... I mean Rick played a great round ... and to come back and be sitting here the winner is a cool feeling.”

For his part, Hayes hit the five-footer just as he’d planned. It simply did not fall, leaving Hayes and Day tied and facing the 18th hole again in a sudden-death playoff.

Day then hit one of his longest drives of the day, leaving himself with a short iron from the fairway into the par five. Hayes, uncharacteristically, pushed his drive right into a stand of trees and had to punch out to into the fairway. From there, Hayes missed on the short side with a five-iron, leading to an eight-foot putt for bogey that became unnecessary when Day parred the hole for the triumph.

But it was the putt in regulation that stayed with both players.

“I hit a pretty good chip, to be honest. It just came out hotter than I thought. It rolled past the hole and I watched it curl a little bit to the left, which means my putt coming back would curl a little right,” said Hayes about the 18th hole. “But it was just dead straight. If I went back there right now, I’d hit it the same way. It’s just one of those things. It’s golf.”

Another one of those things is playing with the lead. After shooting a second straight 68 and watching Hayes, his day-one co-leader, shoot a 74, Day was six-under and had a five-stroke lead over Ridgefield resident Rick Dowling, who was at one-under, one stroke ahead of Hayes.

Day began the final round with a birdie on the first hole to get to seven-under but then began to sputter. He bogeyed the second hole and then double-bogeyed the fourth before getting birdies on the sixth and seventh holes. But from there, it was a struggle.

Hayes, meanwhile, began to play aggressively. He birdied the par-three 11th and then hit a hybrid on the 230-yard, par-three 15th to four feet before sinking a birdie putt and cutting Day’s lead to one stroke.

Both players parred the 16th, but Hayes tied the match when he parred the 17th and Day settled for a bogey.

Hayes, despite his disappointment, was magnanimous in his praise for Day.

“He is such a worthy champion,” said Hayes. “And he is the best putter of anyone I know and has to be the best putter playing tournaments in Connecticut. Every putt he hits looks like it’s going in.”

When a spectator told Hayes early in the day that she had come to watch and learn, he said, “Watch him [Day] putt. Then you’ll learn something.”

Notes: The morning of day two began with Day and Hayes tied for the lead at three under after each made five birdies in Monday’s opening round.

Dowling, who won the Connecticut Amateur championship in June, finished third with a two-over par total of 215.