WATERTOWN — Matt Doyle and Kyle St. Pierre are a pair of rising seniors at their respective high schools and two of the best junior golfers the state of Connecticut has to offer.
Although both juniors play in the same high school league, the Southern Connecticut Conference, and have been the top golfer at each of its respective programs — Doyle at Hand, St. Pierre at Shelton — the two have never played a high school match against one another.
Hand and Shelton were scheduled to meet twice this spring, but high school spring sports were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That first match finally came Thursday morning, in the championship final of the Connecticut Junior Amateur. It was close as expected, with Doyle taking the 79th edition of the title, 2 and 1, at Watertown Golf Club.
“I want to win, but at the same time, you don’t want to beat down your friend,” said Doyle, who played in the same group with St. Pierre just one other time — in the 2019 Junior Amateur stroke-play round. “Two years ago, I was the runner-up in this. I knew going in I would have my shot at redemption and I got it. It feels great, an honor to win.”
Doyle, 17, was coming into the Junior Amateur on a hot streak. After losing in the opening round of the State Amateur at Shorehaven GC to the club’s reigning club champion, Jason Jaworski, Doyle blitzed the field at last week’s Connecticut Junior PGA Championship, winning by 10 shots at Keney Park GC.
This week, Doyle was the fifth seed after Monday qualifying. He trailed just once in his five matches leading to the title.
“All I needed to do was stay consistent and keep making pars,” Doyle said. “If some of those birdies drop, everybody else is going to keep getting a little greedy and I needed to stay steady and stay in there.”
Said St. Pierre: “Matt is a really good player. He never leaves himself out of it, always grinding.”
Doyle won the first and third holes with birdie on Thursday, then the fourth with par to go 2-up. St. Pierre birdied the par-5 seventh hole to cut the deficit in half.
It ended up being the last hole he won.
The 11th hole was the last one that wasn’t halved. St. Pierre hit a tree with his tee shot. The ball dropped straight down, less than 125 yards off the tee. St. Pierre failed to get up and down par, then conceded Doyle’s short par putt and Doyle regained his 2-stroke advantage.
“I blocked it, it bounced (straight) down. I hit wedge over the tree to the fairway,” said St. Pierre, the No. 15 seed. “I had 160 (yards), I was trying to put it close. It went to the back of the green. I knew I had to make that (par) putt.”
St. Pierre birdied the par-3 14th hole, only to have Doyle follow up with a birdie of his own.
“That was a great putt. I did not expect him to make that,” St. Pierre said.
Both golfers also birdied the par-5 16th before St. Pierre failed to birdie 17, then conceded the par attempt — and the match — to Doyle.
Doyle has had a degenerative hip condition called Legg-Calve-Perthes since birth. This is when the blood supply fails to reach the ball part of the hip joint and the bone slowly begins to die.
Doyle deals with pain every day. He has to use a golf cart when he plays. He has verbally committed to play college golf at Division I Elon and Doyle said he has already worked it out with the university to be able to use a cart during matches.
“Hip reconstruction surgery would put me out of golf for over a year and a half. I wouldn’t be able to walk for a year,” Doyle said. “We were going to do it in between the sixth and seventh grades. We (the family) decided not to operate. Right now, we will hold off until hip replacement at age 25 after college.”
Doyle lost to Connor Belcastro in the 2018 Junior Amateur final and St. Pierre fell to Ben James, the eventual champion, in last year’s semifinal.