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Back problems cloud defending 4-Ball champs’ title prospects

  • Dave Kennedy, left, follows through off the tee last years as does partner Nate Burdick. The defending champs are both struggling with back woes but seem to feel confident they can overcome them and make a run at another title.<br/>Recorder/file photos

    Dave Kennedy, left, follows through off the tee last years as does partner Nate Burdick. The defending champs are both struggling with back woes but seem to feel confident they can overcome them and make a run at another title.
    Recorder/file photos Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dave Kennedy, left, follows through off the tee last years as does partner Nate Burdick. The defending champs are both struggling with back woes but seem to feel confident they can overcome them and make a run at another title.<br/>Recorder/file photos

GREENFIELD — If Nate Burdick and Dave Kennedy want to win back-to-back titles, then they must make sure their backs are healthy — literally.

Both players have dealt with a back injury during 2014 as they prepare to defend their crown this weekend in the 69th Invitational Four-Ball at the Country Club of Greenfield.

Tournament play opens Thursday morning, with qualifying for all flights, and continues with match play Friday through Sunday.

Kennedy said he suffered a compression fracture of two vertebrae during a skiing accident in January. He added that he’s fine now, his recovery aided by Mother Nature.

“Fortunately for me, we didn’t have a great spring weather-wise,” said Kennedy. “I probably didn’t start playing much before the end of April, and it would tighten up as the day went on. It was probably Memorial Day, the first weekend I played back-to-back days, and hasn’t been much of an issue through the summer.”

Burdick said he threw his back out on June 29. Although not as severe an injury, pain remains as the issue.

What happened?

“I sneezed,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I still don’t know what it is, but it’s still not right. It’s not even close to being right. It’s (causing) limited range of motion (and) constant pain. It’s getting a little bit better.”

Burdick said the injury has actually helped in a way.

“It slows me down, and the slower I swing the better I am. ... The toughest part is getting the ball out of the hole and putting my tee in the ground. Other than that I’m fine,” he said, laughing aloud.

Both host-club members have had a solid season in spite of their physical woes, and both again qualified for the Franklin Cup team with top-four finishes in the club championship two weeks ago.

When asked about the current state of their games, Kennedy quipped, “Well, (Nate) probably can’t get any better after shooting 62,” referring to Burdick’s 10-under 62 he shot on July 15, which broke the Country Club’s amateur course record.

“I’m OK with it,” added Kennedy, referring to his game. “You can always do a little better. I was fairly happy with how I hit it during the club championship, but I wasn’t real happy with how I putted.”

Burdick and Kennedy have plenty of competition to address this year. Their toughest test during the weekend could come from a team that, ironically, was created because of another back injury.

Last year’s runnerup tandem of KC Finley and Dennis Booska was set to return and make a run at its second title in three years after winning in 2012, but five-time Invitational champion Booska was forced to withdraw with a back injury of his own.

Enter son Cody Booska, a recent Franklin County Technical School graduate and one of the most decorated area high school players in over a decade.

“Cody has so much potential, the ceiling is so high with him,” said Burdick. “He made it to the Round of 16 in the Massachusetts State Amateur, which shows how much growth he’s gone through. You combine his youth and talent with KC’s talent and experience, and they’re going to be a dangerous team. ... KC will show him a few things.”

Three other returning teams could be in the mix again this weekend — Patrick McGuire and Aaron Wheeler, who advanced to the semifinals last year, and Brodie Conant-Scott Cote, Paul DeNofrio-Ron LaVerdiere and Max Wolanske-Sam Wolanske, all of whom bowed out in the quarterfinals.

Five-time champions Tom Bergeron and Gary Burt, who last won in 2006, are looking to rebound after a first-round exit in match play, and 2012 finalists Mike Williams and Justin Dion are seeking a return to the Championship Flight after struggling in last year’s qualifying round and missing out on the top division.

Local teams to watch include host club duo Matt Eaton and Jared Ewart, Mike Johnson and Bob Caouette Jr., Jamie Crocker and Jason Kelton, and Troy Miller and Scott Serwa.

Chris McElligott and Robert Rainville are one of three out-of town pairings that bear watching. Jake Simpson and Norm Burns of Framingham CC are also back, and fellow Framingham members Chris Pavlic and Tom McLaughlin will make their Invitational debut. Pavlic is a Princeton graduate and former Tigers basketball player.

Burdick and Kennedy are automatically seeded No. 1 in the Championship Flight as defending champions, so 23 teams will compete for the remaining 15 available spots in the flight.

Burdick said one big advantage he and Kennedy possess is course familiarity — a big plus in match play.

“Even if we don’t have our ‘A’ games, we can probably get it around and still compete,” said Burdick. “We can manage our bad shots a little bit better, which comes with experience.”

As for the course, the greens are again in tremendous shape due to the hard work of Bob Uguccioni and his crew. The fairways are plenty lush due to all of the recent rain, but the lack of roll on drives will make the par-72 layout play much longer than its listed length of 6,337 yards.

Burdick an Kennedy know defending won’t be easy, but they welcome the challenge.

“One thing about match play is you can’t take yesterday’s match with you,” said Burdick. “You just try to survive and advance.”

“There’s no downside to it ... it’s nice to defend,” added Kennedy.

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