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Nashua;44.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nskc.png;2014-09-17 07:33:26
Monday, June 23, 2014

Local players ready for summer season

Sixty-six of the Granite State’s top junior golfers will take over Campbell Scottish Highlands in Salem on Monday as the New Hampshire Golf Association’s newly sponsored Golf and Ski Warehouse Junior Tour tees off with the 2014 Junior Championship.

Defending champion Tom Hixon, of Rye and Wentworth by the Sea Country Club, leads the field into action. Hixon had a solid senior season at Portsmouth High School, helping the Clippers to fourth in the Division II team tournament and finishing second overall in the Division II individual tournament at Beaver Meadow Golf Course in Concord. ...

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Sixty-six of the Granite State’s top junior golfers will take over Campbell Scottish Highlands in Salem on Monday as the New Hampshire Golf Association’s newly sponsored Golf and Ski Warehouse Junior Tour tees off with the 2014 Junior Championship.

Defending champion Tom Hixon, of Rye and Wentworth by the Sea Country Club, leads the field into action. Hixon had a solid senior season at Portsmouth High School, helping the Clippers to fourth in the Division II team tournament and finishing second overall in the Division II individual tournament at Beaver Meadow Golf Course in Concord.

With last summer’s favorite, and this fall’s Division II high school champion, Connor Greenleaf, of Windham, not in the Junior Championship field it could be a two-man race to the top between Hixon and Nashua’s Brandon Gillis. The duo tees off from the first tee, along with Bretwood Golf Course’s Macky Seppala, in Day One’s first threesome at 7 a.m.

Gillis, who plays out of Souhegan Woods Golf Club in Amherst, dominated Division I play as a freshman at Nashua North and walked away from October’s tournament as the individual champion.

While Hixon went on to win last year’s Junior Championship, Gillis was the only Greater Nashua golfer to even qualify for the Championship Flight match-play after finishing tied for second in opening round stroke play. Gillis would fall 3 and 2 in the Round of 16 to Methuen (Mass.) native Mark Mancini, who plays out of Atkinson Resort and Country Club.

After his strong fall campaign with the Titans, he felt good heading into the spring and finished tied for eighth, just four strokes off the lead at the NHGA Tournament of Club Champions event on May 24 at Country Club of New Hampshire in North Sutton.

“I’m feeling good,” said Gillis following the club champions event. “There are a couple small things I need to work on heading into the summer, but overall I think I’m ready for the tournament season.”

Two other local contenders joining Gillis and Hixon at Scottish Highlands for the three-day event are Bishop Guertin standout Tommy Ethier, who finished sixth in the Division I tournament as a freshman, and Nashua South junior Sam Neilsen, who was seventh at the Division I tournament. Ethier qualified for the First Flight last summer, falling 4 and 3 to Concord Country Club’s Doug Champagne. Neilsen, who plays out of Sky Meadow Country Club in Nashua didn’t compete in the 2013 championship event.

With a decent showing in the Division I tournament and some solid practice rounds this spring, Neilsen feels comfortable heading into Monday.

“I’m playing pretty well,” said Neilsen, who tees off from the first tee at 8 a.m. with Bretwood Golf Course’s Roman Ojala and Hanover Country Club’s Phin Choukas. “I think everybody is still trying to get into tournament shape after the long layoff. High school season ended six or seven months ago, so there is some time away from an actual course. I think those of us who were having good fall seasons have to get back in that rhythm.”

Ethier opens his tournament on the first tee at 7:20 a.m. He’ll take the links with Manchester Country Club’s Patrick McGinley and Souhegan Woods Golf Club’s Brennen Gillis.

Merrimack’s Brennen Gillis and Litchfield’s Austin Baker, of Nashua Country Club, both reached the semifinals of the Fifth Flight in last year’s Junior Championship. They return in hopes of jumping the field into Championship Flight contention.

While Gillis tees off with Ethier and McGinley, Baker finds himself on the first tee with Campbell’s Scottish Highlands’ Mathew MacDonald and Atkinson Resort and Country Club’s John Keenan Jr. at 7:40 a.m.

The remaining locals teeing off Monday morning are Amherst Country Club’s Cam Smith, at 7:30 on the 10th tee; Souhegan Woods Golf Club’s Michael Jensen, of Nashua, from the 10th hole at 7:40; Green Meadow Golf Club’s Christian Sullivan, of Nashua, on the first tee at 8:10; Souhegan Woods Golf Club’s August Darula, off the 10th tee at 8:10; Hollis Brookline standout Jack Shields, out of Sky Meadow County Club, at 8:20 on the first tee; and Passaconaway Country Club’s Dan Pleva at 8:30 off the 10th tee.

For Darula, who just completed his sophomore year at Souhegan High School, it’s going to be a challenge to go from slower greens at Souhegan Woods to the faster greens at Scottish Highlands.

“A lot of courses took a beating this winter and spring,” Darula said. “Souhegan Woods is definitely one of the courses that got hit hard. I’ve been able to get a round in at Campbell’s and the greens there seem in great shape. I definitely saw a difference in how the ball reacted and moved on the greens there, compared to my home course.

“It took me about nine holes to get used to the faster greens, and in this situation, I don’t think I’ll have nine holes to get comfortable. It’s a strong field of golfers.”