Amateur Golf. There’s nothing amateur about it while competing for your state’s amateur title. To those who took vacation days, are working nights, or simply home on college break, it’s the highlight of the competitive golf season. This week, my son and I competed in the 114th New Hampshire Golf Association (NHGA) State Amateur Championship.
The NHGA hosts several qualifying sites throughout the state for competitors to attempt to gain entry into the main event. 30+ players were exempt from qualifying which left around 100 spots open. See this post to read more about my qualifying round.
The host for the 2017 championship was Bretwood Golf Course, in Keene. With two courses open for daily public play, their facility offered a spectacular test of golf for the state’s best players. Competitors would play 18 holes on Monday and Tuesday to determine the top 64 players who would advance into match play on Wednesday. From there, it’s win or go home.
After qualifying for the event, my son and I played two practice rounds at the course. The goal of these rounds were to pick lines off of various tee boxes as well as to gain familiarity with the green complexes. As usual, I created a yardage book for the course to take notes with. The course isn’t overly complex, but it serves as a nice backup for tough situations or in the event my rangefinder goes belly-up.
Medal Play Qualifying
Monday was certainly a day full of expectation and nerves. Starting on the tenth hole, I had dreams of an opening par. A weak tee shot to the right and a hook on the approach shot (hello, hazard) quickly crushed those dreams. What surprised me, however, was the calm and complete lack of frustration during the opening debacle.
The 11th hole (my second of the day) is a ninety degree dogleg left. Relatively short, at 346 yards, one simply lays up with a long iron, and then hits a wedge to a shallow green fronted by a river and backed by thick woods. Snap hooking the tee shot into the wooded dog leg wasn’t the ideal play. It was far too early in the round to get greedy, but there was a gap. I’d have to hook a shot under some trees, over the river, and to the green. The pin was 139 yards away. A low 9 iron came off perfectly and rolled out to about 30 feet. Par was saved, and momentum back on my side.
Four missed greens were compounded with a 0% up and down percentage to leave me +5 for the day. The putter was cold. Stone cold. There was no time to reflect at the end of the round because “Little Ricky” was 5 holes behind and I promised to come back and caddie for him.
Looping for his last three holes was a great end to the first day. He posted +4 to beat pops by one. Bragging rights were his, but I was more proud of him than he was of himself. The youngest competitor in the field, and he found himself T-39. Not bad, kid.
Day two. Moving day, as it were. Knowing that my game was actually in good shape, it was time to bring confidence and aggressive play. A front nine of one under par was a refreshing contrast to the prior day’s start. After finding the water on the island green 13th hole, there was work to be done. Both the 17th and 18th holes were setup for birdies. And birdies were found on both. Even par, 72, and a solid effort for day two.
With a two day total of 149 (+5) I found myself T-30 heading into match play. No time to gloat, I needed to hustle back out and steer the kiddo into the house.
Meeting him on the 16th green, I watched as he made bogey from an unfortunate green-side lie in the cabbage. That left him at +9, which was the cut line at the time.
“What’s the cut?” he asked.
“Do you really want to know?”, I replied.
“You’re on it. You need to finish birdie-birdie. Let’s get to work.”
He never showed a bit of nervousness. On both 17 and 18 he had make-able birdie putts but neglected to find the bottom of the cup. In the end, it was a 156 (+9) finish, and a tie on the cut line.
At the conclusion of play for the day, 8 players would play off for 7 spots to secure the 64 player match-play field. But there would be no playoff. Unfortunately, one of the competitors had left earlier in the day and was over an hour away when it was time for the playoff. There would be no playoff, and the 7 remaining players would advance to match play.
Match Play: Round of 64
Due to a terrible forecast for Thursday, Wednesday would see both the round of 64 and round of 32 played. There was lots of golf on tap!
Firing an even par front nine, I was 2 up thru the turn. Fast forward to the 16th green, I was dormie with two putts to win the match. Those putts would have to wait over an hour as the horn blew for dangerous weather and we all made our way into the clubhouse.
Five groups behind, my son was playing against a fellow Nashua Country Club member, James Pleat. He was clearly out-gunned, but determined to give his best effort and learn as much as possible from the experience. Meeting up in the clubhouse during the delay, he gave the reply of how he was 4 down thru 10. His +4 front nine wasn’t going to cut it against James’ even par round. Ultimately, he’d fall 6&5, ending his first state-am experience with an amazing story to tell and a treasure-trove of invaluable experience under his belt.
At the resumption of play, a 20 foot lag putt would secure my victory in the round of 64. It was on to the round of 32: virgin territory.
Match Play: Round of 32
Co-medalist honors for the stroke play portion were shared by two players who both shot 137 (-7). One of them was my opponent, John DeVito. He fired a bogey-free 65 the day prior and was hotter than hot. Having played several casual rounds with John in the past, I knew it was going to be a tough, but enjoyable match. John’s a great great player and an even greater guy to hang out with.
A lone bogey and single birdie on my front nine was a decent even par start, by my standards. Unfortunately (for me) it paled in comparison to DeVito’s 3 birdies and -3 start. He kept the pedal down, shooting at flags like they were target dummies, and closed out the match in efficient form, 6&5. It was an absolute clinic, but one that was fun to be part of. That ended my championship week, but it was filled with wonderful memories and valuable experience.
The final match featured Mike Martel and Matt Paradis. Mike plays out of our club so we drove back to Keene to support him and follow the action. The 36-hole match didn’t disappoint with an absolute birdie barrage being thrown down by both players. In the end, Mike won 2 & 1 to claim his second state-am title. A huge congrats to Mikey, and his family, all of whom have worked hard to get him to this point in his golf journey.
I would like to take a moment to specifically call out the NHGA and commend them on an amazing job for the championship week. In particular: Executive Director Matt Schmidt, Tournament Director Greg Howell, Director of Communications Kate Kellar, and USGA P.J. Boatwright Interns Maggie McGovern and Chelsea Sedlar. The five core staff members of the NHGA put in some serious hours this week and put on a world-class event.
The NHGA couldn’t be what it is without its army of loyal volunteers, many of whom are board members. Thank you to all the familiar faces who come out in the capacity of rules officials and observers. Your help is GREATLY appreciated!
Finally, the 2017 state-am took place at one of my favorite golf courses in New Hampshire. A big hats off to Bretwood Golf Course, and the Barrett family for hosting. The grounds crew did a fantastic job, including dealing with multiple rain events. Giving up your golf course for a week is a huge commitment, but I know that every player in the field was appreciative of what the Barrett’s have done.
Hats off to everyone.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the week was the fact that my son and I competed in our first state-am together. Both of us making match-play was exciting for not only us, but our friends and family. According to Bryce: “I’m one of the elite 64 players in the state…at least for this week!”
Winning a match and advancing to the second stage was noteworthy for myself. It validated some mental work that I’ve been doing this season and also serves as a solid foundation for the rest of the competitive schedule this year.
The next big event is coming in less than two weeks: The 84th New Hampshire Open. Work started yesterday with a practice round to scout out the new tees Manchester Country Club has built as well as the massive tree removal that’s taken place.
See you in ten short days at Manchester Country Club!
Hit ’em well.