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Sunday, July 13, 2014

All eyes on the defending champion at State Am

It’s a new year, a new venue and a fresh start for Granite State golfers hoping to be crowned New Hampshire Golf Association’s State Amateur champion. Yet whenever the State Am has been discussed this spring and early summer, it’s still Stratham’s Golf Club of New England and the final duel between Michael Martel and Chris Rivard that’s on people’s minds.

Not surprisingly. ...

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It’s a new year, a new venue and a fresh start for Granite State golfers hoping to be crowned New Hampshire Golf Association’s State Amateur champion. Yet whenever the State Am has been discussed this spring and early summer, it’s still Stratham’s Golf Club of New England and the final duel between Michael Martel and Chris Rivard that’s on people’s minds.

Not surprisingly.

Hudson’s Rivard, who golfs out of Candia Woods Golf Links, was 4-up heading into the clubhouse after 18 holes of the 36-hole final. During their lunch break, New Ipswich’s Martel, a Crotched Mountain Golf Club member, regrouped and flipped the script over the final 18 holes. Well, 17 to be exact, as Martel wrapped things up in 35 holes on the 17th green to win the 110th State Am championship 2-and-1.

There’s been talk of a final rematch heading into Monday after last year’s exciting finish. Unfortunately, that is impossible. One of those finalists isn’t even teeing off at Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown.

If he stops by the course at all this week, Rivard will only be a spectator.

Rivard got married on June 7, and took a three-week honeymoon to Europe with wife, April. He felt he’d do a disservice to himself and the other golfers to take the links without the proper preparation.

“I was hitting the ball real well before the wedding and before I left for the honeymoon,” said Rivard, who with his wife landed in Venice, Italy, before going on a 12-day Mediterranean cruise. “I just haven’t had that much time to get back on the golf course since we returned.

“I honestly didn’t think I’d be competitively tuned up to play this week.”

The news came as a shock to Martel. He was one of those hoping for an exciting rematch in Saturday’s final.

“I’m surprised by that,” Martel said. “Chris is a great golfer and a competitor. Our match was one of the best I’ve played in.”

Martel has his own game to focus on. He is the defending champion, and the target is on his back until somebody beats him.

There’s a strong cast of characters lining up for the challenge, including one that will tee off with Martel at 8:05 a.m. on the first tee, Craig Steckowych of Portsmouth Country Club. They will be joined by Hanover Country Club’s Nick MacDonald.

There’s three more perennial contenders in the 8:15 group teeing off immediately following Martels’ threesome: Pembroke Pines Country Club’s Jim Cilley; Nashua Country Club’s Phil Pleat; and, perhaps the hottest golfer of the summer so far, Joe Leavitt, of Atkinson Resort and Country Club.

Martel knows he’s being chased right out of the gates.

“I guess I feel a little pressure right now,” Martel said, “but once we all tee off on Monday the pressure will be gone. It’s a new tournament. Last year is in the past once the first round starts.”

Rivard wishes he was in the field for this 111th State Am, but isn’t going to kick himself for not being involved. There was a much bigger event he was a part of.

“You know, marriage only happens once,” said Rivard, who will be back on the links this summer starting July 30 at The Ouimet Memorial Tournament in Massachusetts. The NHGA Stroke Play and Mid-Am events are still a question mark. “Not playing in one golf tournament in one summer really isn’t that big a deal to me in the grand scheme of things. I got married went on an amazing trip with my wife and I’ll take that over a golf tournament any day.

“I have a lot of good friends playing this week, and I’ll be rooting for all of them to get a win.”