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Monday, July 14, 2014

Leavitt hoping to recapture strong play that helped him win 2012 State Am.

Atkinson’s Joe Leavitt has been on point this season, at least at New Hampshire courses, which bodes well for the Atkinson Resort and Country Club golfer heading into Monday’s 111th State Am at Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown.

Leavitt is feeling good about every thing, including his chances to repeat his performance of 2012 at Concord Country Club. He was one stroke behind hometown favorite Bob Mielcarz after two days of stroke play qualifying before going on to win the State Am title. ...

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Atkinson’s Joe Leavitt has been on point this season, at least at New Hampshire courses, which bodes well for the Atkinson Resort and Country Club golfer heading into Monday’s 111th State Am at Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown.

Leavitt is feeling good about every thing, including his chances to repeat his performance of 2012 at Concord Country Club. He was one stroke behind hometown favorite Bob Mielcarz after two days of stroke play qualifying before going on to win the State Am title.

“I’m ready for it,” Leavitt said. “I feel really good. Coming out of the first few events I feel as good as I did the last time I won the State Am. Everything is just working for me right now. Hopefully it continues that way through this week.”

Coming off a strong year of college golf at the University of Rhode Island, Leavitt didn’t skip a beat heading into New Hampshire Golf Association action.

He opened the summer winning the Tournament of Club Champions event over Memorial Day weekend, shooting a 2-over par 74 for a one-stroke win at the Country Club of New Hampshire in North Sutton. He backed that performance up with a one-stroke win in the Players Invitational at Baker Hill Golf Club in Newbury the following weekend. Then he teamed with old Atkinson friend Nicholas Pandelena, a star golfer at Boston College, for second place in the Four-Ball Championship spread over two days (June 6-7) at Canterbury Woods Country Club and Owl’s Nest Resort and Golf Club in Campton. They were just one stroke behind the winners.

Leavitt’s only hiccup this summer came June 18-21 at the 53rd Northeast Amateur Invitational Golf Tournament at Wannamoisett Country Club in East Providence, R.I. Leavitt finished tied for 45th among 88 players, shooting a 13-over four-round total of 289 (74-72-72-71). The only other Granite Stater ahead of him on the leader board was Surry’s Chelso Barrett, who finished tied for third with an 3-over 279 (71-69-70-69).

He bounced back the following week, winning a regional event, the Joseph F. Healey Memorial Tournament. Leavitt (71-67-72-210) was nine strokes ahead of his closest competitor, Pandelena (74-71-74-219), at the three-day event held at his home course in Atkinson on Day One, Merrimack Valley Golf Course in Methuen, Mass., for the second round, and Renaissance Golf Club in Haverhill, Mass., for the final round.

“I was lights out from 7 feet in with the putter at the Healey Tournament,” Leavitt said. “I’m happy and confident with how I’m hitting the driver and the irons. It makes me feel even more confident with how I was handling my putter.”

Defending champion Michael Martel isn’t about to just get out of Leavitt’s way.

“I’m not hitting amazing,” Martel said. “I know there are guys that people are looking at after a couple of events and thinking they are the favorites, but I think I’ll be right there again.”

As hot as Leavitt has been this summer, it’s not an easy task to pick up multiple State Am titles, with two rounds of medal play only to hopefully make the cut for match play. To hoist the silver bowl on Saturday it means beating the grind, and one’s opponent in six rounds of match play with the Round of 64 Wednesday, Rounds of 32 and 16 on Thursday, quarterfinals and semifinals on Friday and the final on Saturday.

Being labeled a favorite hasn’t proved favorable in recent years. Forget winning two in three years, as Leavitt hopes to accomplish, actually repeating, as Martel would like to do, is even tougher.

Martel would be the first player to repeat at the State Am since Bob Mielcarz in 1995-96. The last 11 champions have all been first timers – Martel (2013), Leavitt (2012), Jim Cilley (2011), Nick MacDonald (2010), Camrin James (2009), Mark Stevens (2008), Tim Strout (2007), Matt Burroughs (2006), Craig Cyr (2005), Derek MacAllister (2004) and Austin Eaton III (2003). The last winner to have previously won a State Am title was Peter Harrity (2002, 1988).

“It’s always a talented group of golfers,” Martel said. “It’s never easy, but I think I’m hitting it well enough to get through the qualifying and match play rounds.”

Last year in Stratham, Martel, know for hitting the long ball, took advantage of the Golf Club of New England’s length. This year in Goffstown, distance isn’t as important a factor in determining the tournament’s outcome.

Martel, who tees off on the first hole at 8:05 a.m. with Portsmouth Country Club’s Craig Steckowych and Hanover Country Club’s MacDonald, and Leavitt, who tees off on the first hole at 8:15 with Nashua Country Club’s Phil Pleat and Pembroke Pines Country Club’s Cilley, may be able to use their driving ability to gain stroke advantage in the first seven holes on Monday. The course is open through those holes, before it tightens up and rewards accuracy the rest of the way.

Either way, getting to the greens may not be the only challenge. According to multiple golfers, the greens aren’t in the greatest shape at Stonebridge, which like every course in New England, is still dealing with the repercussions of a long winter.

Local favorite James Pleat, of Nashua Country Club, is one of those golfers.

“The greens are in pretty rough shape,” Pleat said, “but everybody is in the same situation. So you kind of throw that out the window.

“I’m just really excited to get back out there. I love playing in the State Am.”

He’s looking forward to getting out on a course that until a practice round earlier this summer with his father, Phil, he hadn’t played since a high school match for Nashua High School South back in 2009. Why? Because he’s had some success in the qualifying rounds at the State Am, sharing medalist honors with Portsmouth Country Club’s Joe Cooper in 2013 (lost in Round of 64) and holding them outright in 2011 (lost in semifinals) on his home course. Despite limited time on the links due to his new job in Boston, he’s hoping for more than just a strong showing in stroke play.

“I guess I do seem to play well in stroke play,” said Pleat, who tees off from the 10th tee at 12:35 p.m. “I like how Golf Club of New England played, and I feel like there are parts of this course that are similar. So I think I’m feeling good about going into opening day. My main focus is playing solid golf and staying consistent. That’s how to win this tournament.”

Other locals taking the course Monday are: Souhegan Woods Golf Club’s Michael Jensen (teeing off at 7:10, 10th tee), Chase Dembisky (7:20, 10th), Alan Bell (11:45, 10th), Patrick Paulson (1, first); Sky Meadow Country Club’s Jim Cardosa (7:35, first), Sam Nielsen (11:50, first), Rick Moreau (12:45, 10th); Nashua Country Club’s Tommy Ethier (7:45, first), Ryan Brogan (8:45, first), Kevin Crowley (8:45, first), Chris Miele (12:50, first), Rob Zimmerman Jr. (1:20, first); The Overlook’s Griffin Brown (8:30, 10th), Eric Wilbur (12:15, 10th), Ryan Friel (12:40, first); Amherst Country Club’s Michael Cole (8:40, 10th), Brian Nowak (noon, first), Chris Girouard (12:25, 10th), Steve Laterza (12:45, 10th), Justin Benson (1:35, 10th); Green Meadow’s Mark Brogan (8:40, 10th), Andrew Page (11:55, 10th), Richard Dichard (1:10, first); Passaconaway Country Club’s Marc Stanieich (12:20, first); and Merrimack native Josh Chamberlain (12:30, first), who plays out of Crotched Mountain Golf Club and Resort.