CHARLTON, Mass. — The 2022 AYF Olympic Golf Tournament took place at the Heritage Country Club, an 18-hole championship course that was established in 1963. It is a beautiful par 71 course of rolling hills making for scenic views and unique challenges for golfers.
The first day of competition for the 88th annual Olympic Games was a gorgeous one with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. There was a light breeze. It was a perfect day for golf.
AYF golfers and alumni alike made their way to the course for an early 8 a.m. shotgun start. Most got there early enough to grab a cup of coffee and warm up. Some golfers hit at the driving range. Others were at the practice green to get some chip shots and putts in before the start.
The alumni golf was won by Ryan Terdjanian, who shot an impressive 68. This year’s tournament involved recognition for the longest drive and closest to the pin holes. I hope this will become the standard for this event in the years to come.
Longest Drive Men: Peter Tashjian
Longest Drive Women: Doreen DiPilato
Closest to the Pin #3: Shahan Topalian
Closest to the Pin #13: Kevin Flahive
Theresa Jelalian and Alex Kassabian, the women’s and men’s winners, set new AYF records. Note that the women play nine holes, and the men play 18. Jelalian shot a 39 to beat the old record of 40 set by Michelle Hagopian (Granite City) in Washington, DC back in 2013. Kassabian shot a 67 to improve on his record of 68 set last year in Providence.
Prior to last year, the men’s golf record was 70 and held by Haig Altoonian of Providence, set at the 1999 Olympics in New Jersey.
Simone Ayjian (Philadelphia) took the silver medal followed by Nairi Krafian (Greater Boston) and Katia Ariyan (New Jersey). Nareg Aboyan and Haig Megerdichian of Greater Boston took the silver and bronze medals with David Ayrassian finishing in fourth just one stroke behind Megerdichian.
I recently spoke with Kassabian, who broke the AYF Olympic Golf record two years in a row. “Technically, this 67 is my lowest score ever,” he said. “This year, course par was 69 because they shortened one hole due to irrigation construction and I was two under. Last year, the course par was 72, and I shot three under for a 69.”
After graduating college last summer, Kassabian played golf almost every day at the Plandome Country Club in Manhasset, NY. Now that he’s an underwriting associate, he does not have as much time. He thought he would do well in the Olympics, but he did not think he would break his own record.
“I was at the driving range on Friday morning, and everything seemed to click. I believe the course was suited to my style of play but not without its challenges. Last year, I started off under par. This year, I started over 1 over par on the first 5. I decided to focus on the basics and what I was taught. I also wanted everyone to do well and for all of us to have fun. It worked, as I shot 3 under the rest of the way.”
Kassabian was not the only member of his family participating in the Olympic Games. His brother Armen also played in the tournament. He shot an impressive 82. I also learned that the Ariyan sisters are his cousins.
Jelalian, 27, is a physical education teacher in Rye, NY. She coaches field hockey, lacrosse and basketball. She has played AYF golf for five years. For the past several years, either Jelalian or her New Jersey teammate Shayna McCarthy has won the golf tournament.
“I loved the course,” she told me. “Some of the holes were challenging. I knew I had bogeys on the par 3 hold and was getting par on the par 4s. I wasn’t expecting to shoot under 40 let alone break Michelle Hagopian’s impressive record.”
She played with her father over the summer, and that helped her game. Coincidently, her dad’s alumni foursome was right behind hers for the shotgun start. When she finished, tallied her score and realized how well she did, Jelalian waited and told her dad. Needless to say, Baron Pete was very happy.
Jelalian also said she would be interested in playing 18 holes. “At the end of nine, everyone is having so much fun and doesn’t want to stop,” she said. “The amazing part was that there were 11 women golfers. This is the most I have seen in the years I have played golf at the Olympics. Many women said they want to play golf. I would love to see even more women play next year.”
Both Kassabian and Jelalian, while happy to have record-setting gold medal performances, have valued the camaraderie and friendship they have built in the AYF. They both said the exact same thing: “We celebrated Sunday night for both of us setting new records.”