During the heat of the afternoon Thursday at Willow Brook Country Club during the first round of the 113th Texas State Amateur, word began to get around that Bobby Massa was having a good round.
He just eagled number two, someone in the 19th hole said about the Dallas golfer who once lived in Tyler from 2010 to 2015.
That guy is freaky long, someone else said.
With that, it was out into the heat to watch some golf. Massa was playing the fourth hole. Thanks to the help of Bill Evans, who was driving a shuttle cart for the players, I hitched a ride out onto the course.
I was familiar with Massa from about 10 years ago when he was an aspiring pro who won the Meadowbrook Invitational in Kilgore and was runner-up to Clark Dennis in an entertaining match at Center Country Club.
Watching his booming drives in those days, I naturally nicknamed him “Bobby Mash It.” It is fun to watch a guy hit a ball so far and just shake your head with amazement.
Arriving at the hillside overlooking the fourth green, Massa was surveying a short birdie putt to go 7-under par through 13 holes. The athletic 34-year-old fitness trainer rolled it right in. He has the look of a slender Bryson DeChambeau, powerfully strong but no unnecessary bulk to get in the way of a swing that is a blur.
It was on to the fifth hole, one of the longest at The Brook from the back tees, about 445 yards.
Wielding his green shafted driver and wasting no time, Massa bombed his drive into the humid East Texas sky and it seemed to hang forever before touching ground on the right side of the fairway, within 100 yards of the green and with a perfect angle to the pin location on the left side of the green. Massa wedged to within five feet of the hole, straight up hill, and rolled it in — 8-under par through 14.
In my mind, knowing his last hole was a relatively short par 5, I went on 59 alert. Sure he would need to birdie all of his remaining four holes but at this point Massa was making golf look easy. The sixth hole at Willow Brook is an exacting par 3 from an elevated tee to a narrow green closely guarded on each side by deep bunkers.
Massa pulled his iron shot just a little and found the left bunker from which he exploded his second shot some 15 to 20 feet past the hole and bogeyed for the first and only time during his opening round to slide back to 7-under.
That squashed the possibility of a 59 unless Massa could go birdie, eagle, eagle his last three holes. Farfetched but the ninth hole, Massa’s last one, is a relatively short par 5 and the eighth a driveable par 4 for someone with his length.
But first, the long par 4 seventh that doglegs left with a carry over a creek and then uphill from the fairway to the green. Massa was hitting last and cracked another tee shot but with a slight pull into a giant pine stand guarding the left side. When it’s your day, it’s your day and Massa’s ball went right through the limbs of the pine without the slightest ricochet.
Only 60 yards short, Massa pitched past the hole about eight feet but failed to make the putt. Then on the short eighth hole, he waited for the green to clear some 335 yards away factoring a cutting of the corner of the dogleg and then drove to the right of the green but with only about a 40 yard pitch to green sloping away from him. His pitch ran long, some 20 feet past the hole, and two putts meant another par.
Massa seemed a little perturbed that he let two birdie chances get away but on the ninth, a par 5 bending to the left, he crushed his last tee shot of the day and placed it perfectly in the fairway about 160 or so yards from the hole. From there he hit a 9-iron to 10 feet and drained his putt for a third eagle of his round and a 62, 9-under par.
The round is a new course record at Willow Brook by two shots as member Clay Hodge has a 64 on the new layout that opened in late 2017.
At the scorer’s table adjacent to the ninth green, as Massa and his two playing partners tallied their scores before signing their scorecards, fellow competitor Matt Van Zandt joked, "is there a handicap in this deal?"
Van Zandt and young Josh German of Mabank, a freshman at Sam Houston State, are not short hitters but could only marvel at the length of Massa’s drives.
“He was out hitting me some 50 to 60 yards every hole,” Van Zandt said. “His driving length is impressive but it was his wedge game and putting that also were spot on.”
Massa was in good spirits after his round.
“It’s just one round so let’s not get too carried away,” Massa said. “I started hitting the driver well today, was finding fairways and that gives me an advantage. And I plan to keep hitting the driver and see what I can do.”
A native of Grand Prairie, Massa played his college golf at the University of Texas at Arlington and played out of The Cascades while living here. He turned pro but gave up the chase for tour stardom in 2015 and applied for amateur status that he first employed in 2020. He partnered with Chris Wheeler of Addison to win the North Texas Four Ball Championship at The Tempest earlier this year.
“I never lost my love for the game even when I wasn’t playing much,” Massa said. “So I am glad to be back and just hitting and hoping.”
Five players are four strokes back with 66s and so Massa has a long way to go to claim a state amateur title. He goes out early on Friday and then the field will be cut for the weekend.
As I said, Massa is fun to watch.