Country Club of Darien's Duvall among 14 to qualify for Connecticut Open

DANBURY -- As the self-proclaimed No. 1 ball in golf, Titleist is also the most inked.

When a golfer marks his, it serves both a practical and artistic purpose: a given foursome may feature four Titleists, but, as with snowflakes or a zebra's stripes, two are scarcely dotted, squiggled or inscribed the same.

On Monday, Danbury resident Howie Busse -- a four-time club champion at Richter Park Golf Course -- made a different sort of statement with his Titleist when the venue hosted its first Connecticut Open qualifier.

"I put a green mark on my ball today, for Kenny Green, because I wanted to make it and play with him," said Busse, 41, referring to the five-time PGA Tour winner from Danbury, for whom he once caddied. "I put a green line under my Titleist, and another green mark down the side. I thought it would be something nice."

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Busse's tribute worked. In all, 14 players from the field of 70 earned a spot in the 79th Connecticut Open, and with an adventurous 1-over-par 73, Busse cleared the cut line by two strokes. Green -- who in 2009 had his right leg amputated below the knee after an RV crash that claimed the lives of his older brother, William, and his girlfriend, Jeannie Hodgin -- has played sparingly in recent years as a result of his injuries but has committed to this year's Open, which will be held at Torrington Country Club July 29-31.

Busse, who is selective about his own schedule, was delighted to have an opportunity to qualify on his home course.

"That's one of the main reasons I played in it," Busse said. "I certainly wanted to be a part of it."

Busse's round started on the back nine, where he was at even-par through his first six holes before bogeying the par-4 15th and making a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 16th. At four-over through his first seven holes, Busse was down but didn't consider himself out.

"I was disappointed but I knew that a couple over par still usually gets in," Busse said. "Going to the front nine, with the greens in as good a shape as they are, I knew I'd have a chance to make a couple birdies."

Busse would indeed rally, making birdie on three of his next four holes, striking the pin with a bunker shot and generally saving his round with his approach shots. He finished with a treacherous, 30-foot two-putt on the ninth.

A logjam of players formed at or near three-over-par 75, but in sweltering heat, Busse didn't have to sweat out his fate.

"1-over is a great round in these conditions, with these players," Busse said, adding of the conditions, "When they told me I could take a cart today, it was like getting three extra strokes, easy."

James Smith, of Highfield Club in Middlebury, shot a three-under par 69 to top Adam Rainaud, of Black Hall Club in Old Lyme, by two strokes. Additional qualifiers included Jaimie Pierson, of New Haven Country Club (72); Ben Hunter, of Sterling Farms Golf Course (72); Garry Singer, of Stanwich Club (73); Ben Conroy, of Lyman Orchards Golf Course (73); Brad Lusenhop, of Fox Hopyard (73); Myles Altorelli, of Ridgewood Country Club (73); Kevin Tarsa (74) and Addison Owens (74), of Washington Club; Brent Dietz, of Cedar Knob Golf Club (74); Andrew Duvall, of the Country Club of Darien (75); and Denis Mpanda, of Oak Hills Golf Course (75).

Duvall and Mpanda beat Rock Ridge Country Club assistant pro Luis DeJesus in a playoff to earn the final two spots. DeJesus and Ridgefield's Grayson Wiley (76) earned alternate status.

"It's definitely an honor for Richter Park to be chosen for a Connecticut Open qualifier," said head golf pro and director of operations Brian Gehan, who, along with assistant pro, Brian Lamberti, has an exemption for the Connecticut Open. "The course is in spectacular shape. Obviously the set-up was tough, and the greens were pretty quick from what I saw and what I heard."

Richter Park last week hosted some 70 top players from the Northeast for the 36-hole Metropolitan Golf Association Public Links Championship.

"I grew up at Richter Park," Gehan said. "After 23 years, to be running it -- there's nothing I'd rather be doing."