LONGMEADOW — If Mike Calef keeps playing like this, he might never want to move back to Massachusetts.
Calef became just the 10th player in state history to back up a victory in the Massachusetts Amateur with another the next year, beating Ian Thimble in Friday’s championship match, 8 and 7, at Longmeadow Country Club.
The 34-year-old is now 2 for 2 in the state’s premier amateur event since he and his wife, Alicia, moved to Texas nearly two years ago because of a job transfer. Calef’s only other win in a Massachusetts Golf Association tournament came at the 2011 Mid-Amateur, a few months before he headed for the Lone Star State.
“I should have moved out like 15 or 20 years ago,” Calef said. “I don’t know why that is, it’s probably because I look at this golf tournament differently now. I look at it as an opportunity to catch up with some of my friends. Before, you knew that come July, you had to have [your] best golf game.
“Now, it’s like, OK, let’s have a solid golf game, but let’s enjoy going out to dinner at night, let’s enjoy the practice rounds, and all the other things going on, the e-mails and banter going back and forth. That’s why I’m here. This is just a crazy benefit that I never expected. It’s a dream week again.”
Calef employed a fool-proof plan once match play began: Get ahead early, then pile up the pars and force his opponent to press for birdies that Longmeadow wasn’t willing to easily part with. It worked perfectly. In his five matches, Calef trailed only once, for one hole.
He also worked quickly. The only time Calef played the 17th and 18th holes at Longmeadow — after the two stroke-play rounds — was on Friday morning, when he and Thimble were finishing up the first round of the scheduled 36-hole final. Every other match was finished well before then: Calef closed out his opponents on the 16th, 15th, 14th, 16th, and 11th holes.
“My strategy was to try to get 1 or 2 up, and then just hit greens and put the pressure on, make whoever I was playing really make a lot of birdies, which I just didn’t see out here,” Calef said. “It seemed to work out.”
He never trailed against Thimble, a recent graduate of Monmouth University who lives in Hyde Park. Calef won the first hole with a par, then took five holes in a six-hole stretch (Nos. 9, 11-14) to grab a 5-up lead.
“I wasn’t able to have any momentum, and I couldn’t put any pressure on him, so he was kind of free-wheeling the whole day,” said Thimble, a 23-year-old who plans on turning pro later this year. “I felt like I hit a wall emotionally [and] physically this morning, and it just kind of showed in my game, too. I think I was running on adrenaline this whole week, and I woke up without it this morning.”
Facing a 4-down deficit after 18 holes, Thimble needed a fast start following lunch if he wanted to make it a close match.
But Thimble failed to win a hole after the break, partly because Calef never opened the door. His last bogey came on the eighth hole of the morning round.
It ended on No. 11, the 29th hole of the match. The 8 and 7 score is the most lopsided final since 1991, when John Salamone won, 11 and 9. It also pushed Calef into an exclusive club of repeat Mass Am champions, with names including Francis Ouimet, Bruce Douglass, Kevin Johnson, and Frank Vana Jr., who had been the most recent back-to-back winner, in 2004-05.
“I was afraid to take a peek earlier in the week to see who’s done it,” Calef said, referring to the big board of past champions that was brought to Longmeadow. “It feels amazing. Hasn’t settled in yet, but it’s completely awesome.”