East Providence, RI – Bobby Leopold (Wannamoisett CC – RI) decided not to watch the finish of the 88th New England Amateur Championship on Thursday at Metacomet Country Club.
He had completed his play with a 3-under-par 277 total. He was not sure where he stood. He was trying to dry off after a late afternoon rainstorm drenched him and all the other late finishers. He was not happy with the way he finished with two late bogeys. He was within sight of the 18th green, but while everyone else on the patio was watching the last twosome finish, Leopold did his best to avoid seeing what was happening.
Finally, after a few minutes, his brother-in-law, Tyler Cooke, who had caddied for him, told him.
“You won,” he told Leopold.
The new champion broke into a big grin even as he continued to dry himself off.
“I just couldn’t watch,” he said.
Seconds later, he gave himself a chance to enjoy it.
“This is one I’ve wanted for quite a while. This one is nice,’’ he said.
Leopold, a two-time Rhode Island Amateur champion fired rounds of 69 and 70 to win by one stroke. The two players he could not watch, the two guys in the final twosome on the course, Billy Walthouse (Longmeadow CC – MA) and Kevin Silva (Montaup CC – RI), both missed birdie putts on the par-4 18th and settled for second, one behind Leopold. Walthouse finished 71-71 while Silva had 72-70. The only other player to finish under par was New Hampshire’s Matt Paradis(Concord CC – NH) at 279.
The 32-year-old Leopold, who works in the family insurance business, is the first mid amateur to win the event since Connecticut’s Jeff Hedden won in 2011 at age 47. The tournament also was held at Metacomet’s tight, hilly, 6,412-yard, par-70 course that year.
Leopold is the first RIGA member to win since Matt Broome in 2008. Other Rhode Islanders to take the title include Brad Valois in 2006, then all the way back toBilly Andrade in 1983 and Brad Faxon in 1980 and ’81. Faxon remains the last player to win two in a row.
Leopold’s performance decided what was an extremely tight competition throughout. The final round began with a four-way tie for first at 3-under, with everyone involved having championship credentials. Walthouse won the Hornblower Memorial last month, Leopold has taken multiple titles in Rhode Island and is a former player of the year in the state, Jackson Lang (Nashawtuc CC – MA) is the reigning Atlantic-10 Conference champ and Paradis is a two-time runner-up in the New Hampshire Amateur, the second one coming just last week.
Leopold was as steady as a rock for most of the final round with 13 pars and two birdies in his first 15 holes.
“I played well,” he said. “I didn’t putt as well as I wanted, but I played well.”
He spoke about how he missed two birdie putts inside 10 feet early on the final nine. Still, his lead got as high as three strokes because everyone else was struggling in the heat and on Metacomet’s speedy greens.
Just as the leaders were finishing, the sunny day did what seems to happen so often this summer. A small storm cell popped up on radar. Officials monitored it as it approached the course. They could see it included heavy rain. But it was small and did not contain any lightning. And, there was a bigger cell, with lightning, not far behind it. They decided to play on.
Most of the players were caught off guard with no umbrella or rain gear. They were soaked as the rain came down in buckets for a few minutes, eased up, and then fired up with heavy rain again for a couple more minutes.
Leopold made bogey on both the 16th and 17th holes to give others a chance, then hit his drive way right on 18, near the clubhouse and practice putting green. He was able to knock it on and make routine par.
Walthouse, a recent University of Rhode Island graduate, made birdie on the 16th hole to pull into a tie, but then carded bogey on the 17th hole. Silva, a former Rhode Island champion, made birdie on 17 to get within one of Leopold.
That set up the finish in which either one could tie with a birdie. But both made par and Cooke had to tell Leopold he was the champion. Leopold tied for second in the tournament last year. The fact that the event was only about 25 minutes from his home in Coventry, allowed Leopold’s wife, Taylor, and the couple’s two children to take in the finish. The happiest one was their three-year-old son, Grayson.
“He’s always asking me if I won a trophy,” Leopold related. “Now I can tell him I did.”
DAY 3 NOTES
With only two par-5s at Metacomet, eagles were scarce during the tournament, but not for Matt Naumec (GreatHorse – MA). The member at GreatHorse in Massachusetts made eagle on both of the par-5s, the 2nd and 9th, in the third round. They helped him to a 68 for 212, five strokes off the lead going to the final day.
With less wind than at any point during the event, scores were good in the morning. Fifteen players broke par, the most of any round, led by a 66 from Matt Cowgill (Wayland CC – MA).
Mark Turner (Bass Rocks GC – MA) did his best to keep the title in his family, but one bad stretch early in the final round ruined his chances.
A year ago, Turner competed in the U.S. Amateur Championship in Tennessee, then drove home overnight to arrive in Hartford in time to caddie for his older brother, James, in the New England Amateur Championship. His brother finished strong to win the event.
This time, James Turner did not have as good as week, finishing 44th.
His brother, on the other hand, was only three strokes off the lead following a third-round score of 69. He pulled one stroke closer with a birdieon the 2nd hole. But he then went 5-over through the next four holes to fall out of contention. He finished with a closing 73 and tied for sixth at 282.
Tournament officials proclaimed the new format for the tournament a success and said it will continue.
Until this year, each state was given an allotment of slots and it decided, usually based on past performance, which players would be given a berth in the tournament. This year, officials decided to hold qualifying events so that anyone who wanted to play could earn a spot. Several events were held around New England.
The result was that the number of applicants jumped by just over 100, from an average of 225 to 330 this year. Jesse Menachem, the executive director of the Massachusetts Golf Association said reaction to the new system was positive and that it would “most definitely” continue that way.
Next year’s tournament will be held at the Portland Country Club (ME).
* Paul Kenyon contributed to this report.