Following day one of competition – which featured 36 holes of stroke play and a best five-of-seven format – the Bay State squad carded a two-round team score of 10-under par 710 and currently holds a 19-stroke lead over Connecticut. The team from Rhode Island is five back of Connecticut with a two-round score of 14-over par 734.
Rounding out the leaderboard following day one are Vermont (26-over 746), New Hampshire (30-over 750) and Maine (53-over 773).
In addition to Imai – who was the low scorer of the day at 9-under par 135 – Team Massachusetts was led by Chris Francoeur (Amesbury, MA) and Mark Turner (Gloucester, MA) who finished at 4-under and 3-under par, respectively.
Also contributing to the Bay State’s strong day were Andrew McInerney (Natick, MA), Jack Boulger (Walpole, MA), Lane Bohman (Chatham, MA) and Jared Winiarez (Norton, MA).
“I could not be more proud of these players,” said Joe McCabe, who is making his debut as captain of Team Massachusetts. “Every single one of these boys contributed to what was a strong first day. We are looking forward to bringing that same level of play and energy to Manchester tomorrow.”
The third and final round of the 54-hole Championship Proper will take place on Wednesday at Manchester Country Club. The shotgun start will begin at 8:30 am. An award ceremony will follow Wednesday’s final round to honor both the winning team and the lowest individual scorer for the tournament.
In that race for the individual title, which is awarded to the player with the lowest score through 54 holes, Imai finds himself in a good spot following his course record score of 7-under par 65 which was followed in the afternoon by a solid 2-under par 70.
“I knew that on this course you have to play smart and put it in the fairway,” said the 15-year-old Imai. “I knew that if I did that I would have some great looks. I had great looks for birdie on most of my holes, and I capitalized on it.”
Imai began his round on the 535-yard, par 5 2nd hole. After making an opening par, he proceeded to make birdie on his next two holes. He would go on the make a bogey – his only miscue of the morning round – on the 6th hole and then another birdie on the 9th hole.
“All of those birdies were from about 10 feet,” said Imai. “I made a bogey on 6 which is a tough par 3. I knew that it wouldn’t kill me, and I moved on. My mind set was whatever happens move on and try to execute the next shot, and I was able to do that today.”
It was the back nine where he executed to perfection and made history.
He carded five birdies, including four straight beginning on the 15th hole, en route to his course-record round of 7-under par 65. How he made those birdies, however, was even more impressive.
Beginning on the 15th hole, he made birdie putts of 24 feet (15th), 45 feet (16th), 9 feet (17th) and 20 feet (18th).
“I kept along with my business and my game,” said Imai. “When I made the 45-foot putt I still had three holes to go, but I knew that it was going to be a pretty good day. When you make a putt like that things are going well.”
And his thoughts on posting a course record round – his first career one?
“I have never had one until today,” said Imai. “I didn’t know until everyone started telling me after the round. It was a really cool feeling. It’s something that you don’t think about it, but it’s cool to know that you shot the best round ever on a golf course in a competitive situation. What made it even better was that I could do it for the team.”
Today’s play continues what has been an impressive stretch for Imai, the 2016 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Champion. At this year’s Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship, Imai was not able to repeat as champion but he capped off the three-day event with a 3-under par 67 which matched the best score of the day and vaulted him into sixth place overall.
The very next week he played his way into the final group at the 2017 Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship where he eventually finished T6.
Despite enjoying such a historic day in Manchester, Imai only holds a one-stroke lead in the individual competition. One shot back at 8-under par 136 is Patrick Welch (Providence, RI), who came one seven-foot putt short of tying Imai’s course record during round two. Welch backed up his morning round of 2-under par 70 with a 6-under par 66.
“I expected that from Pat,” said Imai, who was paired with Welch during the afternoon round. “He is one of the best in the nation and a good friend of mine. What he did today is nothing out of the ordinary. Making lots of putts, hitting fairways and getting up and down from anywhere is Pat. That is what he does. That helps me and motivates me and the same is true for him.”
This annual New England Golf Association event features seven-person teams from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.