For immediate release: June 28, 2023
Pittsfield, Massachusetts – Herbie Aikins And Ruby Keys You have a feeling of high after qualifying for the 123rd USA Amateur Championships on Wednesday at Berkshire Hills Country Club. And this is not only because they were playing in the mountains.
At various points in the past few years, both have had doubts about their games and doubted their future in competitive golf. But both found a spark on Wednesday and it flooded after each earned a spot in this year’s U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in the greater Denver area.
Aikens, the 41-year-old Kingston resident and member of Old Sandwich Golf Club, will make his first appearance for the U.S. Amateur since 2011. His stunning rounds of 66 and 68 have earned him accolades with a 10-under-par 134. Keys, player of A former NYU Division III golfer from Louisville, Kentucky, to battle through four holes in a 3-on-1 playoff with the Wellesleys John Broderick (Dedham Country & Polo Club) and Vermont’s Jared NelsonNew England Amateur Champion. However, he won by putting a birdie on the fourth hole, the 40th of the day.
Online: Berkshire Hills Results | Home for amateurs in the United States
For the past three years, Aikens has said the joy in his game has run out. As a family man and business owner (President of Lighthouse Electrical Contracting, Inc), life will do it for you. But the passion for good play is still burning bright for Aikens, a former Amateur Intermediate Championship and PR champion, as well as a USGA qualifier. He was not appearing in his individual results.
“I was in a dark place with golf… I didn’t know if I could play decently anymore,” Aikins said after his play Wednesday. “It’s been a lot of bad shooting in three years. I’ve seen things I’ve never seen before, and it’s been a lot to work through that.”
The turning point was a few months ago when he and his wife sat at a bar in Boston and they talked things over. They decided it would be worth spending a few days with his trainer Andrew Park in Florida, who worked with Aikins for three days in May.
“He’s always been my north star when it comes to golf,” Aikins said of Park. “I came home completely different with something I work at every day. I discovered that it’s not just me. I can fix problems in my game.”
Playing with a renewed spirit, Aikins turned heads when he shot 32 in his first nine with four birdies and eagled on 18 on his way to a 6-under 66.
Broderick and Nelson were both up front for most of the afternoon, with Broderick hitting a course record (back tees) of 64 in the morning, and at one point, he and Nelson sat at 10-under. Aikins made birdie on holes 1 and 4 but appeared to be stuck in neutral. But when those guys returned to the set, Aikins answered the call. His birdies on the 10th and 16th holes gave him a solo lead at 10-under, and he rose to the 18th with Broderick, Keyes and Nelson at 9-under.
Up until that point, Aikins hadn’t looked at his score since the turn, but when he saw he was up front with a hole in the front, he didn’t want to calm down. He didn’t make it easy, though, as he found the right truck off the tee with his driver, and his third hit his car into a green bunker, forcing him to get up and down to maintain his lead. Playing off the back lip, Aikens got his launch well to about five feet. With the nervousness of a veteran, he sank the jab and pumped his fist twice, celebrating what he wasn’t sure was possible any longer.
“I’m so excited,” said Aikens, who played the last 22 holes free of a bogey. “It wasn’t something I expected. I always thought I could play well, and today it really worked out. I thought I might be rusty, but swinging smooth, catching a few shots and staying in was so much fun. I was happy no matter if I entered or not.
Another player unsure of his future entering Wednesday was Ruby Keys. The 24-year-old NYU graduate had also considered stepping back from his competitive golf pre-season. But as he held the certificate denoting his first birth from the United States Amateur, he held back tears instead.
“It was quite the ride coming from Division III, and then working a job in town without playing much golf, and then getting a new job in Kentucky and doubting if I’d ever be good at it,” said Keys, who shot US 83. Opening of the domestic qualifiers earlier this year. “Today it shows me that perhaps the best is yet to come.”
Keyes definitely had to hold his nerve against two of the best players in New England, one (Nelson) a former UConn star, the other (Broderick) a rising star at Vanderbilt. Before the playoff, he put himself in contention with a hard-hitting 15-foot par to putt the 9-under on the 35th hole of the day. After hitting the far left of the ninth uphill, he nearly got his birdie attempt to go, which would have made the two-point playoff unnecessary.
“Those two hours or so waiting for that game were miserable,” Keyes said.
Fortunately for Keyes, he entered the final ready. Nelson was knocked out in the first after hitting his drive out of bounds to left on 4 par-4 1st, with Keyes and Broderick getting even. After making matching pars in the fifth and again in the first, Keyes finally hit the decisive hit. His putt at the par-3 5 fell 15 feet to the right and was just outside Broderick’s putt down the hole. But he applied pressure by confidently stepping up and sinking a birdie putt, which Broderick was unable to counter.
“It just felt good, I felt confident about it,” Keyes said of the finishing touch. “I felt like I had good guidance, but I’m so glad I made it to the top. It was a lot of deep breathing and staying in the moment.”
And now the “Cherry” will compete for the top with the world’s best amateurs in Colorado from August 15-20.
Mass Golf will host another game of the U.S. Amateur Qualifiers on July 24th at the Nachautuck Country Club in Concord.
Qualifiers (names, cities)
Herbie Aikins (Kingston, MA); (-10) 66, 68
* Robbie Keys (Louisville, Kentucky); (-9) 68, 67
Alternatives (in order)
**John Broderick (Wellesley, MA); (-9) 64, 71
Jared Nelson (Rutland, VT); (-9) 66, 69
*Advanced in playoff 3 vs 1
** More playoff progress
for the US Amateur Championship
It was first contested with the American Amateur in 1895, making it the oldest USGA championship. The tournament was formed after two clubs, the Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island and the St. Andrews Golf Club in New York, held their own tournament to determine an amateur national champion—resulting in two different champions and widespread calls for a unified competition.
Representatives from both clubs, as well as The Country Club, the Chicago Golf Club, and the Shinecock Hills Golf Club in New York, met shortly thereafter to form a new golf association in the United States. The USGA was founded in December of 1894 with the goal of being the governing body for all American golf clubs, which included running national championships and setting global rules.
Charles Blair McDonald became the first American Amateur Champion the following year. Other notable champions include Bob Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tiger Woods.
Brief history of Berkshire Hills Country Club
Berkshire Hills Country Club has a special status in Massachusetts because it is the only one designed by World Golf Hall of Famer AW Tillinghast. Its location is Pittsfield, home of General Electric. During the 1920s, corporate leaders and community members invested in bringing Tillinghast, to western Massachusetts. Tillinghast, responsible for such Golden Age classics as Winged Foot, Bethpage Black and Baltusrol, was also the brains behind Berkshire Hills. Stunning layout with stunning mountain views unlike many in the state.
In 2021, Golf.com referred to the Berkshire Hills Country Club as “the best course you’ve never heard of” citing Tillinghast’s superb orientation to match the landscape. Berkshire Hills features two dramatic pars (2nd and 4th) playing in the valley and back-up, as well as enormous, rolling greens.
This is the second year in a row that Berkshire Hills has hosted the U.S. Amateur Qualifiers, but it has also held qualifying events for the U.S. Open, Mid-American Amateur, and U.S. Amateur. The club also hosted the 2021 Massachusetts Women’s Championship for the Keyes Cup.
Last year, the club also garnered attention when longtime member Annie Hayes competed in the inaugural Adaptive US Open.
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