Southbury's VanDerLaan shatters Connecticut Open record to defeat Swift by two shots
HAMDEN, Conn. - You don’t break the tournament record in an event in its 84th year unless you have something special going on in not only your play but composure.
Twice in today’s third and final round of the Connecticut Open at New Haven Country Club, the 36-hole leader by one shot, John VanDerLaan of Southbury, demonstrated with his remarks he had the calm composure that he combined with a brilliant all-around game to win by two shots over Cj Swift, who plays out of Great River Golf Club in Milford.
When the third-positioned player, 2016 champion Adam Rainaud, failed to make a charge Wednesday, the outcome was a two-man battle between VanDerLaan and Swift. When VanDerLaan holed what he called “a [birdie] putt you don’t expect to make” on No. 3—a 30- to 40-footer—he kidded to his caddie, “looked like a 3 the whole way.” That gave him a two-shot lead on Swift, and VanDerLaan made it three with another unexpected birdie on No. 5.
Swift made four birdies in a span of six holes in the middle of his round to get to 15 under par and tie VanDerLaan for the lead. VanDerLaan had bogeyed No. 7 but birdied eight and 12 and made a critical par save on 13 to also stand at 15.
VanDerLaan moved ahead on the 382-yard 15th. He hit a 3-wood for position off the tee, but still found the right rough, 95 yards from a front-left pin location. But he played a sand wedge beautifully under high tree limbs to leave himself a five-footer, which caught an edge of the cup and circled in. “That’s why the hole is round,” he joked as he walked off the green. After his victory he was proud of his strategy on the hole. “It was downwind so I went with 3-wood, but still missed the fairway. I knew if I landed my second shot short right it would kick toward the hole. It came off perfectly. It was huge to take the lead there.”
VanDerLaan, 22, preserved his lead with routine pars on 16 and 17, keeping him one shot ahead on the 575-yard, par-5 18th. The leader drove into the right rough and had to lay up, giving himself an 80-yard third. Swift was in the fairway, but faded his fairway wood shot into the tall fescue. After nearly not being able to find the ball, it was found around 70 yards from the hole. Swift made a sensational hack out of the rough to reach the green, but was left with a 35-foot speedy sidewinder. VanDerLaan was on the green about 20 feet under the hole. Swift went for a miracle putt but ran the ball by about 12 feet and missed the par putt, letting the air out of the balloon of a close battle the entire back nine. VanDerLaan two-putted to finish a round of 66 and a three-day total of 194, shattering the event’s 54-hole record of 200 (the championship changed from 72 holes to 54 in 1951). He won by two over Swift, who also beat the old record but in a runner-up performance.
Saying New Haven Country Club is one of his favorite courses in the state, VanDerLaan said he was excited to see all his hard work paying off with his first pro win. “I had a blast this week. This was a lot of fun. It is nice to see hard work pay off,” VanDerLaan said, adding he didn’t feel he played as well as the first two rounds. “You couldn’t let up on a single shot. Cj had a great tournament. He really battled and is an incredible player. He had a slow start and I was okay early. My hat is off to him.”
This was Swift’s best finish in the Connecticut Open; he had a final-round 67. He said his putting was “rock solid,” but he said his iron play was not as good as on Tuesday. “I was nervous,” he said. “I felt the pressure coming in. This is your state open, something you dream about winning. I’ll just have to try next year.
“I thought 16 under was the number to get to and it was. John hit fairways and greens and was solid with his putting.”
Rainaud had a 71 with a birdie on 18 to finish in third at eight-under-par 202.
The two top finishers will battle on in the near future at different venues. VanDerLaan, who graduated from Pomperaug, won the New England Amateur in 2014 and the Connecticut Amateur in 2012, will play more Northeast events: the Maine Open, Rhode Island Open and Providence Open. Swift, 26, is originally from Hinsdale, Ill., attended Marquette, and has played on the Latinoamerica tour. He will play in a Met Open qualifier, Florida mini-tour events and Qualifying School.
The championship is administered by the Connecticut State Golf Association. For a full listing of scores, go to: www.golfgenius.com/pages/1560295.