Kohler wins NH Stroke Play title

HUDSON – New London’s D.J. Lantz has a welt just above his waist, a painful reminder of just how close he came to winning the New Hampshire Stroke Play Tournament, which concluded Thursday at Green Meadow Golf Course.

James Pleat has the painful memory of two short putts, one on the 15th hole and another on the 16th Thursday afternoon that might have kept him from his first New Hampshire Golf Association adult championship.

Portsmouth’s Craig Steckowych, whose 5-under 67 on Thursday morning got him in contention, will remember the four three putts on his first nine holes on Thursday afternoon that quickly put him out of the running.

And Spofford’s Ryan Kohler now knows just how tough it is to take a sizable lead into the final day of a tournament, especially when that final day is a grueling 36 holes in sizzling heat.

But the 28-year-old Kohler, who took up the game just four years ago, fought off some stiff challenging to win his first NHGA cup.

Kohler always knew where he stood against Pleat, because the duo played together for all 72 holes and wound up taking the top two spots. Pleat, five back when the day started, pulled to within three of Kohler on Thursday afternoon, and could easily have caught him had those short putts fallen.

What he didn’t know is that Lantz, the runner-up in this year’s State Am, had come from eight shots back to tie him after his 14th hole on Thursday afternoon.

Lantz was six under at that point and Kohler was two-over from the afternoon round. Then, for the Lake Sunapee golfer, disaster struck.

He hit his tee shot under a tree on the 15th hole. He tried to punch it out aggressively, but his ball ricocheted off a tree and came right back at him, causing both the welt and an additional one shot penalty.

As quickly as he got back in contention, the triple bogey took him out. Lantz wound up tied for second, three behind the winner, with Pleat at three-under 285.

Pleat got to within three of Kohler with a birdie on the 10th hole of the afternoon round, but failed to sink a couple of makeable birdie putts down the stretch that could have made it interesting. And when Kohler curled in a difficult birdie putt on the 16th it was all but over.

“The ones on 15 and 16 were tough,” Pleat said. “Not only did I miss mine, but he made tough putts on both holes.’’

A total of 19 golfers scored better than Kohler over the final 36 holes, when the winner shot rounds of 73 and 74. But his 69 on Tuesday and 66 on Wednesday made him tough to catch.

“I realize now it’s really hard playing with a big lead,” Kohler said. “It’s tough not to be defensive, to go out there were the same aggressiveness I had the first two days.

“But mostly I struggled on the greens today.”

Recent State Am champion Joe Leavitt of Atkinson was six over and 14 off the pace after Thursday morning’s round. He tied the course record in the afternoon with a 65 and wound up tied for fifth with Steckowych.

Bedford’s Jake Nutter, who finished fourth at 286, looked like he might pull into contention on Thursday afternoon.

Amherst’s Josh Chamberlain was just six off the pace at two-under after Thursday morning, but shot a 76 in the afternoon finished 10th at 290. Hudson’s Josh Kibbe was one stroke better, taking ninth at 289.

The Overlook’s Ryan Friel finished tied for 11th at 291, two strokes better than Nashua’s Phil Pleat at 293.

The Pleat’s will fly to Denver on Thursday to play practice rounds before the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills the following week. They’ll be just the third father-son duo in history to play in a U.S. Amateur.

Ryan Kohler will probably be flying high as well for a couple of weeks, but not in an airplane.