Nice Guy Finishes Last: Kyle Bilodeau Doesn't Mind

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CROMWELL —

Nobody had a worse score. Nobody had a bigger smile.

"I took it all in today and there was a lot to take in," Kyle Bilodeau said after his first round 7-over-par 77 left him in a tie for 155th at the Travelers Championship. "I've never played in front of a lot of people before and you're standing there on the first tee and you've got 200 people staring at you."

"I could hear my heart beating in my ears."

And isn't that the greatest sound known to an athlete? Is there a better thump, thump, thump than the one of possibility? Is there a better nervous thump, thump, thump than the one of opportunity?

Bilodeau — who grew up in Manchester, went to East Catholic and now lives in West Hartford — was looking around recently for the last time that a Connecticut PGA professional made the cut at this deeply rooted stop on the PGA Tour. He was told that it was Mike Sullivan in 1985.

"This is an opportunity to rewrite the history books; history is meant to be rewritten," Bilodeau, the assistant pro at Hop Meadow Country Club in Simsbury, told Matthew Conyers of The Courant on Sunday.

It turns out that the last Connecticut Section PGA professional to make the cut and play all four rounds actually was Tom Sullivan in 1995, who was PGA apprentice head pro at the time at Quaboag Country Club in Monson, Mass. Before Sullivan, Doug Dalziel did it in 1981 and Jack McConachie did it in 1980 back when the tournament was at Wethersfield.

Forget the minor details. The truth, barring the greatest comeback in the history of local golf, is that Bilodeau isn't going to make Friday's cut, either.

"Who knows? I could go out and shoot a 62," said Bilodeau, who earned his Travelers spot by winning the Spring PGA Stroke Play title at Hickory Ridge Golf Club in Amherst, Mass. "Which, unfortunately, is what it's going to take."

Then again, it might take a 61.

"Could be an upset," he said.

If Bilodeau, thump, thump, thump, believes in miracles, he can be excused on one count. His alma mater is Florida Gulf Coast.

"Dunk City!" said Bilodeau. "That was great to watch last March. Everybody I know was going, 'Why are you rooting for that team?'"

He follows the Eagles basketball team online. He has an ESPN ScoreCenter app.

"I followed them all year and I was telling people they're good," Bilodeau said. "When I got into a tournament bracket pool and I had them in the Sweet 16, people were like, 'What's wrong with you?' I'm like, 'Just watch.'"

Bilodeau, 27, watched everything on this day. And when it was over, nobody had a worse score — he's tied for last place with Donald Constable — and nobody had a bigger smile. Look, I don't want to make it sound like the rest of the field was a study in absolute misery. It isn't true. Yes, Charley Hoffman re-broke a tooth in taking a 1-stroke lead on Hunter Mahan, but he said he wasn't in any pain. Yes, after being scalded by Merion at the U.S. Open, many of the guys were still decompressing, but Mahan said there's nothing like a few good nights of sleep and a string of birdies to heal the mental wounds.

What is true, however, is that for the vast majority of these players, this was another week of work. For Bilodeau, it was an opportunity of a lifetime. And that's why I couldn't help but think about the joy of Suzy Whaley. On a day, a sad day, when it was so miserable watching another of our local athletes, Aaron Hernandez, fall into the deep, dark shadows of allegations, the 10th anniversary of Whaley's appearance at Cromwell spoke so elegantly to the better angels of our nature.

After winning the Connecticut Section PGA Championship on tees that were 10 percent closer than those of her male competitors, there was no shortage of argument and grousing. Vegas set Whaley's over-under score for 36 holes at 170. Even those with a soft spot for her thought that Whaley would shoot about 165.

Before Whaley, the 11 winners of the Connecticut Section PGA Championship after TPC River Highlands was reconstructed in the early 1990s averaged 75.3 strokes for 18 holes. Whaley didn't make the cut, but she shot 153 (75-78), finishing ahead of David Duval and others. And when she finished, she had the biggest smile this side of Bilodeau.

"It's an absolute dream come true," Bilodeau said. "It took three holes for my hands to stop shaking. Once I got comfortable and in a little bit of a flow, I felt a lot better."

He played football. He played baseball. He said nothing nerve-wise compared to what he felt. He heard his name at the first tee. He heard his heart pumping. He still managed to drive the ball 290 yards down the middle of the fairway.

"It's not bad nervous. It was good nervous," he said. "You've got to embrace something like that. Would I have liked my score to be a little lower? Yes. Did I hit a lot of putts that literally rolled over the edge? Yes. I didn't hit a lot of bad shots out there. But it's so amplified. Most of the tournaments I'm in, you can fire right at the flag. This is a completely different animal."

The greens, the pin placements, most ordinary golfers understand the U.S. Open is crazy hard. Well, just come out and play these holes and it'll shake you hard enough.

"Any section event I've played in, there are places to miss," Bilodeau said. "Out here, you miss by a fraction and it is magnified exponentially. There were a couple of holes today where I thought I hit really, really good shots and here I am at 14 missing the hole by five feet on the wrong side and ending up in the back left bunker. On seven I hit the shot I wanted and ended up long with an awkward putt and gassed it."

He did have a shining moment, one Bilodeau somehow hoped ended up on "SportsCenter."

"On 15, I put my tee shot [about a foot] from the water," Bilodeau said. "I had to take my shoes and socks off and was standing on a slippery cement ledge in water up to my shins. I got out of it to about 20 feet [from the pin]. I had pretty much done the impossible and my nerves pretty much went away."

His parents, his coach, his boss, his girlfriend, his high school coach Tom Malin, a bunch of members from Hop Meadow all were cheering him on. If it wasn't for them, he said, he wouldn't be here.

"The support was unbelievable," he said. "I even saw people from high school. For how nervous I was, for how fast my heart was racing, I did very well. It's a little frustrating that I couldn't get a putt to go in until the last hole [for a birdie], but I can't complain. It was a blast. I can't stop smiling."

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