Kohler grabs early Stroke Play lead

HUDSON– Ryan Kohler of Spofford didn’t take golf seriously until four years ago, when he was 24. Nashua’s James Pleat was practically born with a golf club in his hand.

The duo played in the same threesome in Tuesday’s opening round of the New Hampshire Stroke Play Championship at Green Meadow Golf Course and posted two of the three best scores.

As good as the golf is at amateur tournaments, the divergent stories and backgrounds of the players are often more compelling. Tuesday was no exception.

For most of his life, Kohler dedicated himself to baseball. He was a standout at Fall Mountain Regional in Langdon and went on to play four years at Keene State College.

He always liked golf, but never had the time it takes to get good until four year ago.

He made up for lost time quickly. Last summer he reached the semifinals of the State Am at Nashua Country Club before losing to eventual champion Jim Cilley.

This summer he qualified for the U.S. Public Links Championship. On Tuesday, Kohler, who plays out of nine-hole Hooper Golf Club in Walpole, shot a three-under 69 to take the first round lead in the 72-hole championship.

It’s been an incredible summer for Pleat who, after finishing up a strong spring season at Dartmouth caddied for his father Phil at the U.S. Senior Open, qualified for the U.S. Amateur and spent last weekend playing in a member-guest with his father in Southern Ireland.

In three weeks he and his father will be just the third father-son team in history to play in the U.S. Amateur, in Cherry Hills, Colo. Tuesday, feeling a bit jet lagged, Pleat shot a 71.

There are more stories. Hudson’s Chris Rivard won the Stroke Play event in 2006. It was his last amateur tournament until Tuesday. He turned professional, moved South, but never lined up the kind of sponsorship it takes to make a serious bid.

Rivard, 33, played in his last tournament as a professional at the New Hampshire Open last July, then went about the process of getting his amateur status back. He became an amateur again four days ago and shot a 70 on Tuesday to hold down second place.

What are the odds that two players from Crotched Mountain Golf Club would be in the top five after the first day? Pretty good, if one of them is Amherst’s Josh Chamberlain, who shot a 72 on Tuesday morning for a share of the early lead.

Mike Martell, another player who calls Crotched Mountain home, posted a 71 late Tuesday afternoon.

Chamberlain, who reached the State Am final in 2009 and went on to win the Mid-Am title that year, has been searching for his game for most of the summer and finally found it Tuesday.

“I’m starting to hit it good,’’ Chamberlain said. “I only missed two greens and probably had 10 birdie putts within 12 feet.’’

He didn’t score as well as he could have, but a relatively uneventful round of one birdie, one bogey and 16 pars still felt pretty good for the 31-year-old entrepreneur, who buys and sells Chinese porcelain on the internet.

There was a much more eventful 72 posted by Bedford’s Jake Nutter, who got his with five birdies, two double bogeys and a bogey.

Also shooting a 72 was New London’s D.J. Lantz, a player who is still recovering from the effects of losing in a State Am final.

Lantz was hotter than anyone at Concord Country Club three weeks ago, until he was smoked by Atkinson’s Joe Leavitt 8 and 7 in the finals.

“I took some time off and hung with some friends,’’ Lantz said. “I hit it pretty well, but didn’t make any birdies, and Joe made a lot of birdies.’’

Leavitt wasn’t quite as sharp on Tuesday, shooting a 76.

Tied for eighth, at 73, is three-time tournament winner Phil Pleat of Nashua and two-time winner Craig Steckowych of Portsmouth.

Local players with a good shot of finishing in the top 40 (plus ties) and making it to Day 3 are Jeff Sullivan of Sky Meadow (75) and John DeVito of the Overlook (75).

Overlook golfers Ryan Friel and Griffin Brown are at 76, along with Green Meadow’s Richard Dichard and James Jackson. Also at 76, Nashua’s Randy Bragg.

Still in contention at 77 are the Green Meadow duo of Steven Lane and Josh Kibbe.