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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Nashua’s Brandon Gillis reached NHGA Junior finals

SALEM – It wasn’t how Brandon Gillis wanted to win, but the Nashua 15-year-old golfer will take the 1-up victory nonetheless.

All square at the 18th tee, Gillis and Newbury 17-year-old Alec von Svoboda drove up the fairway for what became a dramatic conclusion to their New Hampshire Golf Association Junior Championship semifinal match at Campbell’s Scottish Highlands on Tuesday. ...

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SALEM – It wasn’t how Brandon Gillis wanted to win, but the Nashua 15-year-old golfer will take the 1-up victory nonetheless.

All square at the 18th tee, Gillis and Newbury 17-year-old Alec von Svoboda drove up the fairway for what became a dramatic conclusion to their New Hampshire Golf Association Junior Championship semifinal match at Campbell’s Scottish Highlands on Tuesday.

Both reached the fringe in two shots, with von Svoboda getting the edge of the green out of a mound of tall grass to the right of the fairway. They each took a chip shot closer to the pin for three strokes. As von Svoboda addressed the ball to putt, it moved. The Baker Hill Golf Club member called the match official over to explain what happened and was penalized a stroke. When Gillis got his 15-foot putt within a tap of the hole, von Svoboda conceded, losing the 18th by one stroke and the semifinal match by one hole.

“I definitely didn’t want it to go down that way,” said Gillis, who plays out of Souhegan Woods Golf Club. “It’s just really a bummer that his ball moved. I definitely would have liked to make that putt back there just to ensure in my mind that I had it.”

He almost had it a few holes earlier. After misreading a putt on the eighth hole and three-putting on the ninth hole, Gillis let a 2-up lead slip away into an all-square situation heading into the back nine.

Gillis would rebound with what he considered “the best drive of the day” off the 10th tee as he took the hole with a par to von Svoboda’s bogey. Gillis increased his lead back to 2-up by paring the par-3 11th.

A von Svoboda par on the 12th cut the deficit in half, before Gillis reversed things again on the 13th with another par and a 2-up edge.

The two halved 14 and 15 as Gillis held on to his 2-up lead with three holes to play. A win on the 16th would lock up the match.

It didn’t play out that way for Gillis, whose drive bounced from the fairway into a hazard. A drop and stroke penalty put him behind von Svoboda by two shots, which is how the hole ended in favor of the recent Bishop Brady graduate. He would follow that win with another two-stroke victory on the 17th hole and the duo went to 18 all square.

“I don’t think there was much more that I could do,” Gillis said. “He made two birdies in a row. Something I was not expecting, but was really great.

“It’s definitely hard losing two in a row, and then trying to think that you’re all square again – like right back where you started – is difficult.”

Gillis will tee off at 7 a.m. in Wednesday’s final round against Windham’s James McKee out of Windham Country Club. The Windham High School 15-year-old beat Wentworth by the Sea Country Club’s Lukas Linemayr, 7 and 6, in the championship flight’s other semifinal match.

It was an improvement on last year’s event, when McKee fell 3 and 1 to Derryfield Country Club’s Matthew Paradis. This time he jumped out to an early lead an pulled away.

“I got off to a birdie-eagle start,” McKee said. “It was hot out there, and I was just trying to stay focused. Even on the small putts and just put 110-percent effort into every shot.”

Gillis and McKee have history, having played against each other in Challenge Cup events.

“I feel like it will be a good match,” said McKee, referring to Gillis and von Svoboda as a possible final opponent. “They’re both really good players and I know how they play. As long as I stick to my game plan I think I can come out and perform well.”

Despite a couple of hiccups, Gillis feels he’s in good shape heading into Wednesday’s final.

“Pretty happy with how I’m hitting right now,” Gillis said. “Definitely would like to tighten up my short game for tomorrow. But for now I’m just going to lay low and get to bed early.

“Three days in a row getting up at 5 o’clock.”

Still, reaching the final is a good thing for Gillis despite another early tee time – especially considering he didn’t get out of 2013’s Round of 16, losing 3 and 2 to Atkinson Resort and Country Club’s Mark Mancini of Methuen, Mass.

“Definitely exciting considering the way I played last year in match play,” said Gillis, competing in his fourth NHGA Junior Championship. “Match play has never been my strong point, but this year I somehow found a way to squeeze out a few rounds.”

Notes

Nashua’s Sam Nielsen, of Sky Meadow Country Club, the only other local golfer to qualify for the Championship Flight, dropped his Round of 16 match 4 and 3 to von Svoboda.

In Second Flight action, Nashua Country Club’s Austin Baker reached the semifinals, while Passaconaway Country Club’s Dan Pleva and Souhegan Woods Golf Club’s August Darula fell in he quarterfinals.

Michael Jensen, of Souhegan Woods Golf Club, reached the semifinals as the lone local in the Third Flight.

Nashua Country Club’s Tommy Ethier won the Fourth Flight title, while Amherst Country Club’s Cam Smith was bounced in the quarters.

Sky Meadow Country Club’s Jack Shields came up short in the Fifth Flight final, and Souhegan Woods Golf Club’s Brennen Gillis was a quarterfinalist.

Green Meadow Golf Club’s Christian Sullivan rounded out the area golfers with a solid showing in the Sixth Flight. He ultimately lost in the final.