Northfield’s Andy Connelly cherishes experience at 120th U.S. Open

  • Northfield’s Andy Connelly poses with the U.S. Open trophy during his stint volunteering with the grounds crew last week at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Northfield’s Andy Connelly was on site at Winged Foot Golf Club for last week’s 120th U.S. Open. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Andy Connelly of Northfield worked with the grounds crew to take care of the course at Winged Foot during last week’s 120th U.S. Open. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2020 5:33:45 PM

While Bryson DeChambeau was busy overpowering the field at the 120th U.S. Open over the weekend, Northfield’s Andy Connelly was among the dedicated workers behind the scenes making sure Winged Foot Golf Club ran smoothly.

The 19-year-old Pioneer Valley Regional School alum was a volunteer with the grounds crew for the week at the famed course in Mamaroneck, N.Y., putting his knowledge to use under Winged Foot Director of Golf Courses Steve Rabideau, an Athol native. Connelly is a sophomore turf grass management major at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go to another U.S. Open so I was glad to be able to have that opportunity,” Connelly said. “I’ll definitely use all those tricks I learned there, the different ways to do different things out on a course.”

Connelly wants to be a golf course superintendent after graduation, and his path to Winged Foot began with his summer job working at Northfield Golf Club. The Stockbridge pipeline runs deep throughout the golf community, and Northfield Superintendent Joel Monette helped Connelly connect with Upper Montclair Country Club (N.J.) Superintendent Mike Brunelle. Connelly will intern at Upper Montclair next summer, but with the U.S. Open nearby, Brunelle brought Connelly along to volunteer on the grounds last week.

“I knew last year that I might get an opportunity to volunteer there,” began Connelly. “I was all set for (the original tournament date of) June, but when the tournament got postponed and we knew it was going to be in the fall, we were still able to make it work.”

Connelly arrived in Rye, N.Y. and was tested for COVID-19 to start his U.S. Open experience. From there, he spent a full week on the grounds at Winged Foot, arriving each day at 4 a.m. and working right through until 8 or 9 p.m.

The course has about 60 members on its grounds crew, according to Connelly, and he said about 80 volunteers joined the cause for the week. For the first few days, Connelly spent the majority of his time moving rubber mats for greens mowers and filling fairway divots, while also operating tow-behind blowers on the fairways.

“Anything from fixing ball marks on the practice greens to raking bunkers and everything in between,” he said.

Connelly said he was in the practice area Wednesday when the likes of Tiger Woods, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson were all preparing for tournament action. He said Day and Gary Woodland were among the professionals who chatted with the volunteers and workers.

Once the tournament began on Thursday, the stakes went up. Connelly said he noticed that from Monday until Wednesday, the crew would mow and roll the greens, but once Thursday hit, they started to mow and roll everything.

“We were out there whipping the fairways from Thursday onward,” he said. “It was definitely a lot more hectic starting Thursday. You’re in early in the morning and have to get everything done by (the first tee times at) 7 a.m.”

DeChambeau was the only player to finish under par over the course of the four-day event, and he bested the field by six shots. For the most part, Winged Foot lived up to its billing as a difficult course with long rough and tough greens.

“The crew was choosing specific pins for the greens and I think they definitely enjoyed watching the players try and navigate each hole,” Connelly offered.

Holding the U.S. Open in September instead of June certainly offered challenges for the grounds crew, though early sunsets each night meant that post-round work had to be precise.

“We did a lot with tow-behind lights to try and see everything because it definitely got dark quickly after rounds were finished,” explained Connelly.

Connelly said he did get to meet Rabideau on Sunday, and the two chatted briefly about their Western Mass. roots.

“It was pretty cool, just knowing we’re both from here and how big of a course he’s running now,” said Connelly. “And to come from the same program (at UMass), it’s pretty cool to see what is possible.”

Connelly now has his sights set back on fall classes at UMass. He said he’s currently enrolled in a two-year program at Stockbridge but is hoping to transfer into the four-year track. His love of grass and the science behind it dates back to when he was 8 years old riding lawn tractors at home.

“I’ve always just liked everything about it,” he said.

Connelly hopes his experience working at Winged Foot will pay dividends down the road.

“All the people in the industry say that those types of work experiences are really important,” he offered. “It was really neat, going from a tiny, nine-hole course at Northfield to a famous place like Winged Foot. It was a great experience.”

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