The high school invitational tournament makes a return to Cape Cod National Golf Club for the sixth time Sunday, and Westford Academy senior Molly Smith, for one, can’t wait to get to the first tee.
A year ago, Smith fired a 1-under-par 71 in Brewster, denied a spot in a playoff by one stroke.
“I’m really looking forward to playing against some more top-notch competition this year,” said Smith. “I’m itching to get back to a tournament setting.”
The 13-team field is headlined by St. John’s Shrewsbury, the defending champion, along with all three MIAA divisional champions from 2021, St. John’s Prep (D1), Bishop Stang (D2), and Dover-Sherborn (D3). The reigning individual medalist, Longmeadow’s Ryan Downes, is back to defend his title.
The competition doesn’t faze Smith, she’s been playing against top golfers for years and knows to trust her game.
“I understand who’s going to be there. It doesn’t change what my goals are,” said Smith, a returning Globe All-Scholastic who played in the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur and US Women’s Am this summer. “My goal is to shoot the lowest possible number on Sunday and nothing about who is there is going to change how I play the golf course.”
Since last year, Smith has improved her distance off the tee and is prepared to use her knowledge of the course.
“There are definitely a few holes that it’s nice knowing how to play them and knowing where the hole goes,” she said. “There are a couple of holes from the tee box where you couldn’t see everything and a couple of par-5s where I didn’t know what the play was. Some holes I didn’t know what angle to take from the fairway, or what yardage was the best layup. Now that I’ve played there it’ll give me a leg up on the competition.”
Cape Cod National plays differently than other courses in New England, especially on the greens.
“There’s a lot of places in New England where you’ll see undulated greens with a lot of slope, but here the greens are actually very subtle,” said Zack Sweet, head pro at Cape Cod National. “It’s one of those things that occasionally you’re looking at a putt and can’t decipher whether it’s going to go left or right . . . a lot of players will get tripped up on the greens even though it’s not an abundance of undulation.”
A blind tee shot on the seventh hole and a green that slopes toward a water hazard on the 15th also project to be tough challenges for golfers who have not played Cape Cod National before.
“[No.] 15 really depends on the wind direction,” Sweet said. “Players are going to be forced to lay up and it’s one of the more challenging lay-up shots because you have the water that’s on the left side and on the right side is fescue and a hillside. “For the seventh hole . . . virtually all players are going to have the ability to try and drive the green, but those who have played here before will certainly have a leg up because you can’t see the green. You have to hit it over some bunkers so you have to trust your landing zone when taking aim from the tee box. Players who have seen that hole before will have more trust and confidence when they hit that shot.”
Another tricky hole is the 12th, which has a sharp dogleg to the left and runs along a penalty area.
“Your approach shot is down a hill, but you’re playing off a downslope,” said Sweet. “You may only have a 100-125-yard shot to the green . . . but it’s a very challenging shot playing off the downslope.”
Smith is familiar with the course by now, but it’s the little things that she believes will give her an edge.
Xaverian coach Gerry Lambert said the tournament serves a great midseason checkup and a preview of the postseason.
“I remember thinking the first time we were there, ‘This is just like the state finals,’ ” he said. “There’s a lot of elevation changes . . . it’s the kind of place that you’d have to play 10-15 times to truly own.”
“It gives me more comfort because I know the layout and I know what I’m going into,” said Smith. “It allows me to plan before I get there instead of having to plan on the fly.”
Sweet’s final advice to golfers playing the course for the first time is to take a more conservative approach.
“You’re more likely to run into a double bogey than you might be to run into a birdie,” said Sweet. “The majority of these golfers will benefit from a more patient strategy, then take the handful of opportunities that they have to be aggressive.”
▪ St. John’s Prep notched consecutive victories in a home-and-home set against Catholic Conference rival BC High.
The Eagles were led by junior Terry Manning (34) in the first match at Ipswich Country Club, and senior Ian Rourke (35) in the second match at Wollaston CC. Rourke has shot under 40 five times this season.
“The lead players are shifting every match and everyone is contributing,” said Prep coach Brian Jasiak. “It’s dangerous if we can all play well at the same time. It’s nice that one of our guys can have a bad round and one of their teammates can pick them up. It takes a lot of the pressure off.”
▪ In Tuesday’s Patriot League match at Pembroke CC, the host Titans and Whitman-Hanson raised more than $1,100 for pediatric cancer research, using an online donation portal that was promoted by both coaches.
Pembroke hosted to honor a former captain, Robby Surprenant, who is a pediatric cancer survivor. Both teams wore yellow ribbons in the Coaches vs. Cancer match.
“We wanted to do something in his name,” said Pembroke coach Brandon Hall. “My team knew that they were playing for something bigger than just a regulation match.”
Pembroke prevailed in the match, 253-306.