Banner year for NH golf

An extraordinary era of New Hampshire golf culminates on Monday in the opening round of the U.S. Amateur in Denver.

A record five New Hampshire players will play in the tournament, including one – recent Dartmouth graduate Peter Williamson of Hanover – who is ranked among the top amateurs in the world.

Nashua’s father and son duo of Phil and James Pleat become just the third such combination in the long history of the tournament, first contested in 1895.

Keene’s Chelso Barrett, who put New Hampshire golf on the map last summer by reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior Am, is in the field. So is New Castle’s Nick McLaughlin, who played high school golf at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass., and will play at the University of Virginia this fall.

Forty-three states and 21 countries will be represented by at least one golfer at the U.S. Am. California leads the way with 40 qualifiers, while 23 Texans will be on hand and 20 players who call Florida home.

Four other states, Georgia (12), Illinois (11), Pennsylvania (11) and Ohio (10) have double-digit entrants.

But only four other states, or a total of 11, have more representatives than tiny New Hampshire, which leads all New England states. Massachusetts and Connecticut have four each, Rhode Island has two and Maine and Vermont are among the seven states with nobody in the field.

The easy analysis is to call it all a fluke, a one-year aberration, and that might be partly true. Phil Pleat, one of the older golfers in the field at 56, is there because he reached the U.S. Senior Amateur finals last summer.

The fact that he and Barrett, two Granite Staters, reached the finals of a USGA national championship in the same year defies all reasonable odds.

But don’t be surprised if New Hampshire players make a little noise next week. Phil Pleat, going against the top young amateurs in the world, is a long shot to qualify for match play, but Williamson is considered a legitimate contender to win the whole thing and the other three, James Pleat, Barrett and McLaughlin could all be playing when match play begins on Wednesday.

Players from Southern tier states have an obvious advantage when it comes to developing as golfers, but it’s no reason for snow belt golfers to raise a red flag.

Of the 43 states represented, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois rank between fifth and seventh in the number of qualifiers. New Hampshire has the same number as Arizona, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Socio-economic factors certainly figure into it, and might help explain why Louisiana has just two representatives, while Mississippi and Arkansas have one each.

The theory is: New Hampshire’s best young players will eventually mitigate that geographical disadvantage by heading South for college, like this summer’s State Am winner Joe Leavitt of Atkinson will do when he enrolls at the University of South Florida next month.

But of this week’s chosen five, three played college golf in New Hampshire. Phil Pleat played at the University of New Hampshire when it still had a varsity program in the late 1970s. James Pleat and Williamson were teammates at Dartmouth this spring.

The women are coming

After two straight years on very difficult golf courses, the New Hampshire Women’s Golf Association will bring its 2013 championship to a course that should bring the aggregate scores down a little, Nashua Country Club.

Last year at the Golf Club of New England, Manchester’s Tara Watt won the championship at 20 over par. Fifty scores in triple digits were posted by players in the tournament.

This year’s winner at Hanover, 15-time champion Dana Harrity of Rye, finished 15 over and only 14 triple digit scores were recorded.

Nashua will prove challenging, but nobody should feel completely overmatched.

Gary Fitz can be reached at 594-6469 or
gfitz@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Fitz
on Twitter (@Telegraph_GaryF).