Locals struggle at N.E. Amateur tourney
EAST PROVIDENCE â€” There were more than a half dozen birdie putts that either lipped out or just missed the mark. There were two holes that he probably wished he could have had back.
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But after an opening round of 3-over 73 at the 82nd annual New England Amateur Championship on Monday, Pawtucketâ€™s Kyle Hoffman was perfectly content with how he shot the ball at the challenging and tricky Metacomet Country Club.
â€śI was hitting the ball great,â€ť he said. â€śI hit a lot of fairways, lots of greens, but nothing dropped today. Nothing fell. I had a lot of chances. I had a lot of good shots. I am still happy with the way I played.â€ť
Hoffman is in a 12-way tie for 51st in the field of 156 golfers, a group that includes recent R.I. Amateur champion Brad Valois. Connecticutâ€™s Peter Williamson of the Hanover Country Club holds the early lead in the 72-hole event with a sterling 6-under 64.
Defending titlist Brian Higgins of Bellingham rebounded from a tough opening nine and shot 74, tied at 65th with a large group. Recent Cumberland High grad Jamison Randall was among eight tied at 77th with a 75.
Hoffman, a former standout from Bishop Feehan and Bryant University, where he recently graduated with a degree in business management this past May, played in one of the final threesomes of the day. Unlike the players in the morning rounds, he had to contend with an often-steady rainfall and occasional wind.
Still, Hoffman was consistent throughout his afternoon round, one that included 14 pars and a birdie. The 22-year-old golfer was 1-over 37 on the front nine, a score that could have been even better if not for a three-putt for par on the ninth hole.
â€śI drove it into the trees left and then I played a low three-iron that got on the front edge of the green,â€ť said Hoffman, about the 463-yard hole. â€śI lagged a 50-footer to about 4Â˝ feet and that one lipped out on me. That kind of started the lip-out parade there.â€ť
The â€ślip-out paradeâ€ť was in full force on the back nine. Hoffman had a chance for birdie on nearly all of the nine holes, but couldnâ€™t get a single one.
Hoffman began the back nine with three consecutive pars. On the 12th hole, he had a 25-foot birdie putt that just missed the cup and rolled about a foot away. The 13th proved to be an unlucky hole for the former Bulldog, who settled for a bogey 6. He hit his tee shot about 300 yards down the middle of the fairway. His approach shot was a club too much as it landed to the back of the green, about 30 feet beyond the cup.
â€śIt was playing a lot shorter than we thought,â€ť he said.â€ť I lipped out a three-footer there, too, for a bogey. That was an unfortunate double there.â€ť
To Hoffmanâ€™s credit, he rebounded from the mistake and was even-par the remaining five holes.
â€śI had a good up-and-down on 14 and had birdie looks on 15, 16, 17 and 18,â€ť he said. â€śI was right around the cup. It just didnâ€™t drop. If half those looks dropped, my score could have easily been a little lower.â€ť
Hoffman is just a few days removed from a solid showing at the R.I. Amateur Championship. He made it to the Round of 16 where he was eventually ousted, 1-up, by runner-up Steven Merluzzo of Metacomet.
â€śThe first round [at the R.I. Amateur] I didnâ€™t play too well. I was six-over,â€ť he said, referring to his score of 77. â€śIt was kind of the same thing. I was hitting a lot of greens but the greens were really firm and it wasnâ€™t holding anything.
â€śThe second round I bounced back and shot two-under  and tied for 10th in the qualifying and got a pretty good seed. I won the first match, 5-and-4. The second match, I played really well. It went all the way to 18. I just missed a six-footer there to extend that match.â€ť
As for Higgins, who plays out of the Franklin Country Club, he got off to not-to-favorable start on Monday. He began at the 10th hole and finished his first nine at 6-over 40. He came back and shot a 34 on the back nine.
â€śI just started off with two or three loose swings and put myself in some bad situations,â€ť Higgins said. â€śThis course will eat you up if you make mistakes.â€ť
The Bellingham nativeâ€™s troubles began right away on the 228-yard 10th where he shot a double-bogey five. He also had a double-bogey 6 on the 13th.
â€śThat hole kind of favors the draw,â€ť he said. â€śI pulled out my three-wood and hooked it and went out of bounds.â€ť
Higgins had another bogey on the 14th and again at the 17th. He had three birdies and five pars coming into the clubhouse.
â€śIt just didn't start off great. It was a tough, tough start for me,â€ť he said. â€śBut I played good coming in. I had my chances to make five or six birdies and I made three.â€ť
While he wasn't pleased with how his day began, Higgins admits it won't affect his mindset as he prepares to defend his title.
â€śIt's golf and it happens,â€ť he said. â€śI wasn't discouraged. It's a 72-hole tournament. There are still a lot of holes left. If I was discouraged, I would have shot an 80.â€ť
Randall, who made it to the Round of 16 at last week's R.I. Amateur before losing after 21 holes to Valois, was at 1-under after the first nine, which he began at the 10th. He labored on the final nine holes with four bogeys and a double bogey. He finished up with a birdie on the ninth.
The New England Amateur continues today with a second round of 18 holes. The 40 lowest scores and ties move on to Wednesday for the final two rounds.