31st Stroke Play Championship
By Paul Kenyon
PAWTUCKET _ Brad Valois has added Stroke Play Champion to his long list of Rhode Island Golf Association titles.
The four-time State Amateur winner captured the Stroke Play for the first time on Wednesday and did it in exciting fashion, edging Bobby Leopold, the guy who beat him in this year’s Amateur final, in a playoff at Pawtucket Country Club.
The two finished the regulation 54 holes at 4-under 203, one off the tournament record. Valois won with a par on the second playoff hole. Leopold missed the green left, chipped to 10 feet and then missed the par putt. Valois had stuck his approach on the 435-yard par-4 within five feet. Knowing he could win with two putts, he gently lagged his birdie attempt inches from the hole and tapped in for the victory.
``It was an eventful day,’’ the Metacomet star said.
He began the day four strokes back and recorded a sparkling 5-under 64 in the morning 18 to take a three-stroke lead into the final round. He lost his lead when Leopold went 3-under in his first eight, including an eagle. Valois forced the playoff by draining an eight-foot birdie putt on the last hole, then won it in the playoff.
While Valois has had another solid year _ earlier this week he qualified for the U.S. Mid Amateur _ he has not won titles, so there has been some frustration.
``This feels good,’’ he said. ``I needed a win.’’
Valois said a friend at Metcomet got him to try a new putter.
``They started dropping this morning,’’ he said. ``It helped. ‘’
Both players had chances to win on the first playoff hole, the 379-yard 18th. Leopold hit his approach within 15 feet, Valois within eight. But both birdie putts lipped out.
The playoff in the 31st annual Stroke Play was a fitting ending since there were so many twists and turns during the 36-hole final day. Valois had burst out of a tightly bunched pack after Tuesday’s opening round with a stellar performance in the morning’s second round. Starting on the back nine, he had birds at 10, 11, 13 and 16 for a 30 on the back side, then had birds on 3 and 8. Even with a bogey on the closing hole, he had a 5-under 64 and a 134 total through 36 holes, good enough for a three-stroke lead.
The race tightened early in the final round. When Valois bogeyed both 9 and 10, he dropped to 2-under for the tournament. Leopold, playing four holes behind him, eagled the eighth, the course’s only par-5. That vaulted him out of a four-way tie for the lead with Valois, first-day leader Ryan Pelletier and 2012 champion Jamison Randall and into the lead at 4-under.
Leopold was steady from there, running off nine straight pars on the back. While the other contenders were unable to make a charge, Valois birdied 14 to get to 3-under and then drained his eight-footer on the 18th to tie Leopold for the lead.
Two of the rising stars in RIGA play, Kyle Hoffman and Mike Hamilton, tied for third at 2-under 205. Those two played in the same threesome with Valois and put on the best show of the tournament in the final round. Hamilton recorded a 65, Hoffman 66 and Valois 69. The three combined for a best-ball of 60 over the final 18.
Leopold was bidding to become only the third payer in RIGA history to win Amateur and Stroke Play in same year. Charlie Blanchard did it in 2002 and Garrett Medeiros in 2010
In the morning’s second round, 69-year-old Paul Quigley, who has won this event nine times, shot a 68, one better than his age. It was the second straight year in which Quigley bettered his age in the tournament. He had a 67 last year when the event was at Crestwood. Quigley finished the tournament at 215. He was edged out for the Senior Division title by his longtime rival and fellow RIGA Hall of Famer, Dr. George Pirie
At the other end of the age spectrum, 14-year-old Patrick Welch had rounds of 68 and 69 to finish at even-par 207, in a tie for fifth.
Another of the day’s highlights was the appearance of RIGA Hall of Famer Norm Lutz. Lutz is the greatest player in Pawtucket history. He won the club championship 19 times, over six different decades beginning in 1958. A former Amateur champion and RIGA president, Lutz still plays to an eight-handicap.
Round 1 Recap
PAWTUCKET _ Ryan Pelletier is always happy to spend a day at Pawtucket Country Club, never more than on Monday for the 31st R.I. Golf Association Stroke Play Championship.
Pelletier continued the strong play he has displayed much of the summer, recording a 3-under 66 to take the first-day lead in the 54-hole tournament. Playing on his home course, Pelletier had three deuces (on 5, 13 and 15) on the way to recording five birdies against two bogeys.
Pelletier, who combined with Kyle Hoffman to win the RIGA Four-Ball Championship earlier this summer, competed in the New England Amateur Championship last week.
``The greens there were incredible. They had them rolling so fast. They had to be like 13 (on the STIMP meter),’’ he said of the conditions at Winchester, Mass., Country Club. Pelletier played solidly, tying for24th, but was more than happy to return to his home course for the stroke play.
``Here they’re perfect. They’re just the right speed. The whole course is perfect,’’ he said of the conditions provided by superintendent Mike Whitehead.
Conditions were so good _ there was virtually no wind on a perfect weather day _ that Pelletier was not alone in posting strong numbers.
Six players broke par and 21 are within four strokes of the lead. It took a score of 74 to qualify for Wednesday’s 36-hole finale.
State Amateur champion Bobby Leopold continued the stellar play he has displayed all summer, posting a 2-under 67 that included three birds, one on the final hole. Former Four-Ball champion George Cidale tied Leopold for second as he, too, birdied the last for his 67.
The group at 1-under 68 included Brendan Lemp of Misquamicut, Jamie Griffiths of Wannamoisett and Eric Ahlborg of Warwick. Lemp went out in 3-under 32 on the way to his 68, Griffiths had four birds on the day and Ahlborg finished strongly with six pars and two birds in his last eight.
There actually was one other player under par, Dan Boutelle of the home club, but he did not get credit for it. Boutelle shot a 68. But he signed his scorecard for a 69. He birdied the par-3 13th, but signed his car showing a par on that hole.
The good news for Boutelle is that he can continue playing despite signing an incorrect card. The rules say a player who signs for a score lower than he actually recorded is disqualified. A player who signs for a score higher than he shot can continue but must take the higher score.
In addition to Boutelle, the group at 69 included seven-time player-of-the-year Charlie Blanchard. Those at 70 included four-time State Amateur champion Brad Valois. Valois already has had a big week. On Monday, he qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship by shooting a 2-under 70 at The Ranch in Western Massachusetts. Valois eagled the par-5 first hole and played even from there. The other qualifiers included former URI player John Kelly, who earlier this month won the Mass Am Championship.
Two other Rhode Islanders, Leopold and Blanchard, shot 72 and missed getting into a playoff for the last of the four available spots by one stroke.
Directions to: Pawtucket CC