After losing in the championship match a year ago at the 91st Salem Country Club Invitation Fourball -- the third defeat in as many appearances in the title round -- even the ever-optimistic Joe Mahoney, Jr., began to wonder: Will I ever win this tournament?

“Last year was maybe my 20th Salem Fourball,” Mahoney recalled. “Losing in the final last year made me zero for twenty; zero for three in the final – and with three different partners. I appreciated the fact it was a pretty good achievement just to reach the final. But I still felt an element of failure.

“But when we got to the final this year (for the second time with Thomson’s Tom Finocchio), I didn’t want to be compared to the Buffalo Bills (losers of four Super Bowls without a victory). So I’m relieved we finally won out.”

Yes, to use literary license on a famous phrase, the fourth time was the charm.

Mahoney, 55, and Finocchio, 49, with whom Joe had lost a title match previously, turned back Gary Neals and Thomson’s Dom Petruzzelli, 3 and 2, in the final, Mahoney getting that enormous albatross off his back.

‘‘We’re grinders and it paid off,” said Mahoney. “We play well together. It helped we’d been there before. We were able to shake off some negative stuff and hold on for the win.” Like when Neals holed a 60-foot birdie-net eagle putt on No. 11, and Mahoney-Finocchio were able to match it for a halve and retain their 2-up lead.

They never lost their 2-up edge the rest of the way. Success. Finally.

Surely better than when Mahoney-Finocchio lost their other title match appearance on the home hole to Nick Velonis and Sandy Gove. Mahoney’s first final came when he was a social member with full member Tom Hayman (when social members at that time were eligible to play with a full member). It was a heartbreaker, a 20th hole loss to Matt O’Keefe and Steve DiCarlo.

The win this year was doubly sweet for Mahoney because he had lost last year’s final with 11th hour partner Rob Tarallo of Thorney Lea, member Ken Haskell taking home the hardware with Fred Davis of Ipswich CC. Finocchio had had to withdraw due to a death in the family.

“Rob was a fine partner, got me all the way to the final, and we work together besides,” Mahoney said. “And to jump in on such short notice was quite a gesture. But he knew I’d be back with Tom this year and I’m sure he’s happy for us. Tom and I have been partners in this event for probably 10 years.”

They changed the Neals match by winning Nos. 6-7-8. When Finocchio made net birdie on 15 they were home free.

The new champs were most fortunate to even reach the final when they started their semifinal round match by falling 4-down after five holes against Steve Ross and Gannon’s Jay Fiste, coach of the last two state champion St. Mary’s golf teams.

Mahoney-Finocchio were three down at the turn and two down with three holes to go when they stormed back to win Nos. 16-17-18, the final hole with matching up-and-downs for decisive pars. Ross’s putt to extend the match to sudden-death lipped out.

Adding to the drama, Finocchio was in a wedding later in the day at Turner Hill in Ipswich, so the last thing he wanted was extra holes.

“I’m just glad I didn’t go 4-for-4 in finals,” Mahoney cracked, “with three different partners. It’s pretty exciting for me when you consider. The prestige of the tournament, the great players who have won it and all the tradition and history that go along with it.”

The victory also gives Mahoney temporary bragging rights within the family clan that includes the DiLisios, since Joe is first cousin to Dana DiLisio’s wife Cheryl, mom of the latest generation of talented golfing DiLisios, Anthony and Steven. The latter plays for Duke and will be one of the favorites at the Massachusetts Amateur July 15-19 at The Country. Club.

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Congrats to our recent local qualifiers for the Massachusetts Junior at Crumpin-Fox August 19-21. They qualified at Ould Newbury, all shooting 74: Michael Papamechail and Aidan Leblanc of Beverly Golf and Tennis and Aidan Daly of Essex CC.

A strong group from the region qualified at Gannon in Lynn for the Massachusetts Public Links, set for Bayberry Hills August 6 and 7: Drew Semons of Beverly was medalist with an even par 70, followed by Athan Goulos and Robbie Forti of the Meadow at Peabody with 72s, Christopher Austin of Beverly with 75, Phil Miceli of Sagamore with 76 and a pair of 78 scorers, Dave Barker of Far Corner and Chris Lyons of the Meadow at Peabody.

Bass Rocks’ Todd Scarafoni shared third low pro honors at the NEPGA pro-am at Thorny Lea with 73. Kernwood’s Frank Dully returned 75, one shot better than Gloucester native Dan Gillis of Nabnasset Lake.

Kirk Hanefeld’s performance last week, making the cut at the U.S. Senior Open, is even more impressive when USGA stats show the Salem CC Director of Instruction placed 57th out of the 60 players competing all four rounds in driving distance (257.16 yard average). It brings out even more the fact that he has always been considered an exceptional shotmaker.

Good week for Rob Oppenheim on the Korn Ferry Tour (formerly Web.com). Rob had a chance to win on the final day but shot 70 for 271, 11 under, and finished T-7. A 67 would have gotten him in a playoff but he bogeyed two of the last four holes. He is now 39th in money with $83,458.

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Reading The Greens is a weekly golf on North Shore golf by Gary Larrabee, a former Salem News sportswriter from 1971-1995. He has covered golf locally and beyond for the last 50 years.

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