An already-outstanding season by the 2018 Darien High boys golf team became even better last Thursday when the duo of Alex Gu and Will Wilson captured the 49th Chappa Invitational Golf Tournament.
The two-man, best-ball tournament annually draws over a hundred elite high school golfers from around the state to Westport’s Longshore Golf Course. The tournament, started in 1970, honors the memory of Mike Chappa, a standout athlete at Staples during the 1920s who later coached the Wreckers’ golf team in the 1950s and ’60s.
Chappa’s last team in 1968 went 15-0 and won the state championship, and the following spring he died from a massive heart attack on the 16th green at Longshore. A year later, his successor as Staples golf coach, Joe Folino, started the Chappa and it’s been one of the highlights of the Connecticut high school golf season ever since.
It will certainly go down as a highlight for Darien, which took a perfect 14-0 record into Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Greenwich, also 14-0 and the only team to beat the Blue Wave last year. Less than 24 hours later, they’ll be at it again as two of the eight teams at the FCIAC Championships at Fairchild Wheeler.
“It’s a big week,” said head coach Tom O’Donnell, who also had the Holahan individual FCIAC tournament on Tuesday and the Division I state championships coming up on Monday.
O’Donnell is hoping Gu and Wilson helped set the tone with their dramatic victory at the Chappa last Thursday. The duo combined to birdie the final three holes to tie Masuk’s Andres Maslar and Kyle Immel for the lead at 3-under-par 66.
The Darien tandem then won the championship in sudden death when Wilson shot par on the 414-foot, par-4 18th hole while the Masuk duo both bogeyed the hole.
“It was very exciting,” O’Donnell said. “The boys struggled early, but they never gave up. They made five birdies on the last nine holes and shot a 30 on the back nine. We were the next-to-last group off the course and Will Wilson had to make a 20-footer on the last green, knowing he had to make to get it into a playoff. He made a clutch shot.”
Meanwhile, Masuk was one of the first groups to tee off at 8:40 a.m. and had returned home to Monroe. They were actually on their way back to Westport for what they thought would be a trophy presentation when they got word they were in a playoff.
“After shooting a 66, they had been told when they left Longshore that it looked 90 percent like they were going to win,” O’Donnell said. “They thought they were coming back for the trophy presentation, but were told about the playoff on their way back.”
Almost everyone else at Longshore thought they were coming back for the trophy, too.
“It looked all day long like they were going to win it,” O’Donnell admitted. “They were pretty much done playing by the time Alex and Will teed off around 12:30.
“When they (Gu and Wilson) made the turn, they were 1-over on the front nine and it certainly seemed unlikely they had any chance to win.”
That was before they tore up the back nine with their 3-under 30.
“That was the best score on the back nine by three strokes,” the Darien coach pointed out. “Nobody shot lower than 33 on the front or back, so they literally came from nowhere. I don’t think anybody thought they had a chance. They surprised everyone but themselves.”
Everyone there will no doubt be talking about the final four holes for some time.
“Alex birdied 16 and 17 and Will birdied 18 to get into the playoff and then he was the only one in the foursome to make par in sudden death to win it. It was a true team effort.”
Darien’s only Chappa title prior to this year came in 2016 when Jack Klingman and Sam Knowlton teamed up to win it.
“It’s the second time in the last three years we won it,” O’Donnell, in his 29th year as head coach, boasted. “This was the 49th Chappa so Darien was 0-for-46 and now we’ve won it two of the last three years.”
O’Donnell and the Blue Wave now hope to add a couple of more pieces of hardware to the trophy case the next few days.
“We’ve put in the hard work all year to put ourselves in position to compete for the league and state titles and we fully expect to.”