MARBLEHEAD — Walking up the sixth fairway at Tedesco Country Club on Friday — hole No. 24 in his 36-hole championship match of the 104th Massachusetts Amateur — Mike Calef turned to his father, Phil, and said, “I need to play these next four or five holes in 2 under. Then I’ll be in good shape.”
Trailing Mark Souliotis by one hole at that point, Calef knew he was reaching the spot on the course that played to his strength. The sixth is a driveable par 4 for the long-hitting Calef, followed by a long par 3, short par 3, then two par 5s. If he was to make his move and assume control of the match, the time was now.
Three pars and two birdies later, Calef had turned the deficit into a one-hole lead, true to his word. He morphed into a par machine from there, closing with eight straight, and forcing Souliotis to catch him with birdies that proved to be elusive. One final par on the 35th hole of the match — the 136th Calef had played since Monday morning — and he had earned a 3-and-1 victory over the reigning club champion from Haverhill Country Club.
The state’s most prestigious amateur trophy is headed to Texas, since Calef moved to a Dallas suburb late last year after his wife, Alicia, took a job transfer. But he didn’t cut his deep ties to Brockton Country Club, maintaining his handicap there, which allowed him to play in the Massachusetts Amateur, a tournament he’d never won. He’s now the titleholder in two of the state’s best amateur events: Calef took his first Massachusetts Golf Association championship last September when he won the state Mid-Amateur crown.
This one, though, is slightly sweeter.
“It’s my No. 1,” Calef said. “Every year, you look at what tournaments you’re going to play, and everything surrounds the Amateur. What do I have to do to get my game to be the best it can be when the Amateur comes?
“It was a fantastic week, it’s completely unexpected. I was playing well coming in here, but you can never say, especially in match play, that I expect to be in the final. Hopefully the breaks go my way, the bounces, and you just tick off one hole after one hole, one match after one match. I don’t know how it happened to me, but I guess here I am.”
When he closed out Souliotis, Calef’s wife was back in Texas (they spoke on the phone before he left the green). So he celebrated with his family members who were able to make it: his parents; his brother, Thomas; his maternal grandmother; father-in-law; and the host family with whom he stayed the majority of the week. Tedesco member Joe Furey, his wife, and their 9-year-old son, Kyle, were among Calef’s biggest supporters.
Doug Clapp, too, whom Calef beat in a second-round match. Clapp figured if he couldn’t beat Calef this week, he might as well join him, taking on caddie responsibilities for the final four matches, a move Calef called “a game-changer.”
They participated in a championship match that might have lacked a lot of birdies — Calef made four in 35 holes, Souliotis three — but not drama. Souliotis won two of the first three holes, but Calef caught him (highlighted by an eagle at the 10th), and actually took a one-hole lead after 18 holes.
Souliotis won two of the first three holes after lunch, reclaiming a one-hole lead. It stood that way as the pair reached No. 6 again, when Calef knew he had to apply some pressure. He nearly drove the green at the sixth (24th hole), but took three to get down and halved the hole. Each made par at the 25th, but Calef rolled in a slippery 8-footer from above the hole on the 26th, a short par 3, to square the match. He took the lead for good at the 27th, when he almost holed his third shot on the par 5, played from a greenside bunker to less than a foot. When Souliotis missed his birdie putt, Calef was in front, where he would remain.
“I played that stretch — 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 — stroke play to match play, I was way under par,” Calef said. “That stretch for me is where I had to really get going.”
Calef still led by one hole when Souliotis missed a 5-foot par putt on the 32d. Two holes up with three to play, Calef appeared to be in trouble on the 34th when he missed the green well left, leaving himself a blind shot to an uphill target. But he chipped to 3 feet and saved yet another par, dashing Souliotis’s comeback hopes.
“The shot that won the tournament was the one on 16, the chip, because anything can happen with only one hole separating,” Souliotis said. “But he got up and down on 16, kudos to him. That was the tournament.”