Calef and Souliotis surge to final
MARBLEHEAD — For a good ol’ Texas boy, Mike Calef sure is making himself right at home in the 104th Massachusetts Amateur.
Calef had circled the state’s marquee amateur competition on his calendar months ago, knowing it would serve as a welcome reunion with many of the players he competed against on a regular basis until he moved to Allen, Texas, late last year when his wife, Alicia, took a job transfer with Raytheon.
What started as a reunion has suddenly turned into a serious bid for Calef’s first Massachusetts Amateur championship. He won two more matches at Tedesco Country Club on Thursday, sending him into Friday’s 36-hole final against Mark Souliotis of Haverhill Country Club.
Calef can play in the event as a non-state resident because he still maintains his handicap at Brockton Country Club, where he worked and was a member for a number of years. Now he’s a win away from becoming the Massachusetts Amateur champion, despite living nearly 2,000 miles away in a Dallas suburb.
“I’m psyched, I guess that’s the only thing I can say,” Calef said after beating Jack Whelan of Myopia Hunt Club, 5 and 4, in the semifinals. “My real reason for coming was to see a bunch of old friends and play in one of my favorite tournaments of the year.
“Although I’ve been playing really well and I try to expect to do well, I really didn’t see myself making it this far. I wanted to see my buddies, go out to dinner a few times, and if I make match play, great. If I don’t, it’s another day with mom and dad. Now I’m here, we play tomorrow, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Calef easily made match play; he was one of four co-medalists at even-par 140. His toughest match so far was in the second round against Doug Clapp, when Calef won on the 18th green. Calef and Clapp had made plans to be partners in the Brockton City Fourball, which starts on Friday. Instead, Clapp has become Calef’s caddie, and helped guide him to a 2-and-1 win over Josh Salah in the quarterfinals, then the victory over Whelan. Clapp will be back on the bag for the final, the pair sending in their regrets to Brockton.
The deepest Calef had advanced in the Massachusetts Amateur prior to this year was in 1998, when he lost in the quarterfinals to eventual winner and current PGA Tour member James Driscoll. The 33-year-old might be living in a new state, but he’s flashed plenty of his old form, winning the North Texas Mid-Amateur and finishing fourth recently in the Texas Amateur.
He never trailed against Whelan, who cooled off Ricky Stimets, 1 up, in the quarterfinals. Calef won No. 3 with a 40-foot par putt, took Nos. 5 and 6 with birdies, then added three more birdies on the back nine to close out the match on the 14th hole.
Waiting for Calef in the final is Souliotis, a 46-year-old who works for Raytheon as a software engineer who helps install air traffic control systems around the globe. Souliotis had never won a match in this tournament before this week. He won two on Wednesday, then two more on Thursday, taking out Mark Purrington, 2 and 1, in the morning, before bouncing Ben Spitz (George Wright Golf Course) in the afternoon, 1 up.
“The one thing I would say is, why not me? Why not?” said Souliotis, who continued to have his son, Michael, as his caddie. “The way I’m swinging, and the way I’m putting, I think that my game is right where I want it to be.”
In both of his matches on Thursday, Souliotis trailed going into No. 11, which starts a stretch of the course that’s quickly become his favorite. Against Purrington, he turned a two-hole deficit into a two-hole lead by winning Nos. 11-14. Spitz held a one-hole lead going into No. 11, but Souliotis won the 12th and 13th holes to take the lead, and kept it until the end. When Souliotis cozied a chip from behind the 18th green to less than a foot away, it forced Spitz to hole out for birdie, also from off the green. He couldn’t, sending Souliotis to his first final.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever played more than four rounds in a row before, because my golf is pretty much limited to the weekends,” Souliotis said. “This is about as good as it gets, it’s real exciting.”