Coach Riley qualifies for US Amateur
Tim Centrella, caddie for former Massachusetts Golf Association Player of the Year Ryan Riley, was so confident his buddy would qualify for the US Amateur he took part of the week of Aug. 12 off as head greenskeeper at Brockton Country Club.
That’s the week the Amateur will be held at Charles River Country Club in Newton and at The Country Club in Brookline.
Riley, who resides in North Easton, sealed the deal Monday with rounds of 67-69 at Metacomet Country Club in Rhode Island.
His 4-under par score for 36 holes featured three birdies on the final nine holes and enabled the 32-year-old Riley to claim the second of three qualifying spots.
“It’s still sinking in and it’s an absolute dream come true,’’ said Riley, who coaches the Norton High golf team and works in sales for Mansfield-based Officeland. “I’ve been playing pretty well and I’m hopeful of giving it a good run and making it to match play.’’
Married and the father of two young children, Riley hasn’t played at previous US Amateur qualifiers because of the time away from family and work. His accomplishments include winning the 2011 Mass. Amateur and three consecutive state Four-Ball titles (2009-11) with partner Herbie Aikens.
“People don’t believe it when I tell them this is the first time I’ve tried to qualify. But this one is special because it’s here at two great Massachusetts courses that I’m quite familiar with,’’ said Riley, who made the golf team at Boston College High School for the first time his senior year. He said that he’s especially honored “because of The Country Club’s place in golf history.’’
Riley will be one of 312 players teeing it up for 18 holes of stroke play on Aug. 12 and 13 at TCC and Charles River. The field will then be cut to the low 64 scorers. Six rounds of match play at TCC begin on Aug. 14 and the scheduled 36-hole championship match will be played Aug. 18.
The Country Club is also celebrating the Centennial of amateur Francis Ouimet’s stunning playoff victory over British professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at the 1913 US Open.
Stunning would also be an appropriate term for the way Riley defeated two-time champ Frank Vana Jr. for the Mass. Amateur title two years ago at Wyantenuck Country Club in Great Barrington.
Riley made the two-hour drive to the Berkshires accompanied by his wife, Joanne, and children, Lucas and Brianna, for a family vacation week that ended triumphantly.
He holed a bunker shot on the 15th green to end the 36-hole match — 4 and 3 — a dramatic moment that brought tears to his wife’s eyes.
“That was so meaningful,’’ recalled Riley, who captained the golf team at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut and was the Northeast-10 Conference golf champion as a junior, “because Frank (Vana) is the best amateur golfer in the state of our generation and a class guy.’’
Riley, who grew up in Sutton and moved with his family to Braintree, was a four-time club champion at Norton Country Club. He is now a member at Sharon Country Club, where he was playing this weekend for the club championship.
“I’m kind of a self-taught golfer. I’ve never had a swing coach,’’ he said. “I just go out on the links and work on my game and I try to do what I tell my players at Norton High — play within myself and make good decisions on the course.’’
A winner at the Southeastern Amateur in 2007 and the Massachusetts Publinx two years later, Riley, according to Centrella, “can really get it going with the putter. He just has a great putting stroke, never overhitting the ball. I had a feeling he’d be ready at Metacomet.
“We have a comfortable, friendly caddie-player relationship, and we’ve played many times together,’’ added Centrella. “Ryan drives it straight, his short irons are superb, and he always stays on an even keel.’’
Riley’s curling 20-foot downhill birdie putt on Metacomet’s 6th hole put him 2 under for the day (“That was the big momentum swing,’’ he said) and he ended the round with a two-putt for birdie at 9 after playing the back nine to start his afternoon round.
Riley, who calls coaching the Norton squad “incredibly rewarding,’’ was hooked on golf after a visit to his grandfather, James Riley, in Myrtle Beach, who enrolled him in a program called, appropriately, “Hook a Kid on Golf.’’
James Riley died the day before the 2012 Massachusetts Four-Ball championship. Riley said he played the tournament with a heavy heart.
Riley, who was playing in the three-day Ouimet Memorial earlier this week, said the sport he loves is the great equalizer.
“It doesn’t matter whether you play at the public or a private course, or what your last name is, or your age or where your family is from,’’ he said. “What’s important is how you play the game.’’
Here and there
Weymouth’s Samantha Bennett, a recent graduate of Wheaton College, was selected to the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic Team. . . . Seniors Daniel Riley of Hanover and Stephen Machaby have been named tri-captains for men’s soccer at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Bridgewater State University’s new head softball coach is Avon High graduate and Bridgewater State alum Chrissy Semler, who held a similar position the last two years at Massasoit Community College.