WEST CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- Lifelong resident C.J. Konkowski landed in Kansas on Friday for the 89th Amateur Public Links Championship this week.
He took off by himself from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., to compete in his first United States Golf Association event from July 14-19. But the 21-year-old college student knows he won't be alone.
Alongside friend and fellow golfer Chelso Barrett, Konkowski said he will also have the support of his mother, Linda -- even if it is only in spirit. Linda died of natural but undetermined causes on May 14 and Konkowski told the Reformer he qualified for his first USGA event the following month with a new angel looking over him.
"It's definitely providing more motivation," he said this week. "It's always good to make everyone proud."
Konkowski, who plays club golf at the University of New Hampshire and will enter his senior year in the fall, said the USGA held a full-day, 36-hole qualifier at Bretwood Golf Course -- where he works -- and the top two golfers advanced to the tournament. Konkowski said Barrett was No. 1 and he finished second. The 89th Amateur Public Links Championship will be held at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan., about 30 miles from Wichita.
Konkowski said it will be nice having a friend with him for support, especially after experiencing a family tragedy.
"The field is so big it doesn't really feel like you're competing against (a friend)," he said. "I've never really been out there before. It's always fun to go to a new place you've never been to before."
He also told the Reformer on Thursday his nerves were starting to build up, but that is perfectly normal. He said the best players in the world -- like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- also get nervous, but the greats always find a way to handle the pressure.
Among the people home in New Hampshire rooting for Konkowski is his best friend and co-worker Tim Manwaring, who said he plans to follow Konkowski's performance online and talk with him throughout this week.
"It's really cool. I was happy for him. With his mom passing away, I'm excited he got this opportunity," said Manwaring who works at Bretwood's pro shop and helps with outside operations. "He deserves it. He's a good player."
He said golf has greatly helped Konkowski take his mind off the pain of his mother's death. He said they don't talk about the tragedy often, but hitting the links has definitely allowed Konkowski to direct his focus elsewhere.
Manwaring said Barrett was at a separate tournament in Oklahoma last week and will meet up and room with Konkowski in Kansas.
Qualification for a tournament like the Amateur Public Links Championship had long been a dream for Konkowski. He said he never would have started playing were it not for a friend getting him interested at the age of 13. He took advantage of the affordable junior membership at Pine Grove Springs Country Club in Spofford and started playing almost every day that summer. He began practicing every day by the time he was a senior at Keene High School and now plays club golf at UNH.
Konkowski said he is majoring in business administration and wants to make his career working in the golf industry in some fashion. His qualification for the tournament has already earned him shout-outs on Twitter from parties that include UNH Club Golf, the New Hampshire Golf Association and the National Collegiate Club Golf Association.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.