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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Atkinson’s Joe Leavitt, New Ipswich’s Damon Salo in State Am golf final

GOFFSTOWN – Joe Leavitt has Damon Salo’s number. It’s 16.

Until Friday, the Round of 16 was the furthest Salo had reached in State Am competition. He had been denied entry into the quarterfinals three times. The last came in 2013 in Stratham. His road block, Leavitt, who put the ball within six inches of the last hole to eliminate Salo at the Golf Club of New England. ...

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GOFFSTOWN – Joe Leavitt has Damon Salo’s number. It’s 16.

Until Friday, the Round of 16 was the furthest Salo had reached in State Am competition. He had been denied entry into the quarterfinals three times. The last came in 2013 in Stratham. His road block, Leavitt, who put the ball within six inches of the last hole to eliminate Salo at the Golf Club of New England.

That all changed Friday morning, when the New Ipswich resident teed off in a quarterfinal match against 2010 champion Nick MacDonald, of Hanover Country Club. The former Mascenic Regional High School star and soon-to-be Johnson and Wales (Miami, Fla.) senior beat MacDonald 3 and 2, then disposed of Derryfield Country Club’s Matt Paradis 2 and 1 in the semifinals later in the day.

Waiting in the clubhouse was Leavitt, the 2012 champion, who 35 minutes earlier had eliminated 2011 winner Jim Cilley, of Pembroke Pines Country Club, 5 and 4 in their semifinal match. The soon-to-be University of Rhode Island junior topped best friend Nicholas Pandelena 2 up in an all-Atkinson Resort and Country Club quarterfinal earlier in the day.

Now, Leavitt and Salo meet again in tournament play – teeing off at 8 a.m. Saturday for 36 more holes in the New Hampshire Golf Association’s 111th State Am final.

“We have good matches when we play,” Salo said. “I’ve played him when I was 14 and 15 years old I played him. Then that Round of 16 match. We’re good buddies, you know. It’s not going to be buddy-buddy tomorrow though. We’ve got to battle it out.”

Salo has followed his opponent’s progress for a while. He keeps tabs on what Leavitt’s done in college and what he’s done this week.

“I know what kind of player he is and how he handles himself,” Salo said. “He’s been in this situation and won it, so he’s definitely got an advantage experience-wise, but I’ve been playing a lot of golf too. I think if we both play well it will be a great match. I think we’ll see some good golf tomorrow.

“We’re both playing well. He definitely has an advantage for experience, but these greens, it’s a putting contest that’s what we’ve been saying all week. On these rough greens, it’s just a putting contest and whoever can keep it in the fairway.”

He kept it in the fairway and took care of business on the green Friday.

“Nick MacDonald, he’s a great player,” Salo said. “He made a lot of pars. He made 14 straight pars and I made a few birdies going in, so I felt like I needed to make more to win, because he was giving himself opportunities every hole. But he didn’t play his best today, which was good for me, but I plugged away and ended up winning that match.

“Then I went to play Matt and he was killing everybody – he didn’t lose a hole in like 50 holes. For me to win over him, that’s a great feeling.”

Paradis had made the match-play portion of the State Am look like child’s play, winning his previous matches 3 and 2, 6 and 5, 5 and 4, and 6 and 5. Salo jumped on a few early mistakes by the 16-year-old golfer to grab a 2-up lead through six holes. After losing the eighth, he responded with a win on nine and earned another hole with the win on 11 for a 3-up lead.

“He keeps it really straight and hits a lot of greens, so I was like alright then, I’ve got to do the same thing then,” Salo said. “So I just played my game. I didn’t really worry at all about what he was doing. You’ve got to focus on your own game, so I just made birds and that’s how I did it.”

When Salo went 3 up on the 11th hole, he felt a little more comfortable with the spread. Even a Paradis eagle on the 14th didn’t do much to dent Salo’s confidence as the match was winding down.

“Throughout the whole week he was ahead, and people were following him and trying to catch up to him. So he was more comfortable the whole week, and to put pressure on him, he definitely got a little nervous. That’s what you’ve got to do in match play is put pressure on people. So hat was a good feeling to get some birdies in.”

Leavitt’s quarterfinal match with Pandelena went to the 18th green, where Leavitt nailed a key approach shot to earn the semifinal berth against Cilley. It was a rough first hole for the Atkinson golfer, who after driving his first shot into tall grass on the left of the fairway eventually dropped the first hole.

Leavitt took control from that point on, draining a birdie on three to square the match, hitting par on seven to go 1 up, birdieing seven to go two up and 10 for a 3 up lead as they headed down the home stretch.

Errant shots on the par-3 13th and par-5 14th ultimately did Cilley in.

“I was hitting a lot of fairways,” Leavitt said. “I’m hitting that 2 Iron club on most of the par-4s and hitting it down the middle every time. I made a few nice putts on the front nine to get a good comfortable lead going into the back.

“Then on the back nine, I knew that if I just played it smart, Jim was going to have to make some birdies to beat me. And I played pretty smart. It was a big birdie on 10 to go to 3 up, and I knew that once I made that birdie I could coast. That was big for me. That’s a big lead with only eight to go. So I knew after that if I just hit fairways and greens it was enough to force Jim to make some putts. He made a couple of mistakes that are kind of uncharacteristic of him, but fortunately for me I played smart and played the course right.”

It’s the same game plan Leavitt plans on using in Saturday’s final against Salo.

“Every time I play him we have a great match,” said Leavitt, who is 4-0 between NHGA Junior Championship matches and the 2013 Round of 16. “He a good kid. He’s a good friend of mine. It’s going to be a fun match to watch, I can guarantee you that.”

FRIEL’S RUN ENDS IN QUARTERS

The Overlook Golf Club’s Ryan Friel admits that his game wasn’t the hottest prior to the State Am. With his first strike of the ball Monday at Stonebridge Country Club, his cold game got warmer. It heated up a little more each day.

During the 36-hole qualifying, Friel shot an even par on Day One and followed it up with a four-over 76 on Day Two. The four-over 148 two-day total was good enough for 21st heading into match play.

He recorded a 1-up victory over Legends Golf member Austin Fox in the Round of 64, followed that up with a 3 and 2 win against Pembroke Pines Country Club’s Josh LaCasse, and reached the quarterfinals by beating Loudon Country Club’s Bob Landry 4 and 2 in the Round of 16.

That’s when Pembroke Pines Country Club’s Jim Cilley screwed things up. Cilley pulled ahead and finished up early with a 5-and-3 win over Friel in the quarterfinals.

“I just didn’t have it on the front nine, really,” Friel said. “I hit my first real good shot on the ninth hole, which is a little too late. Then I three-putted from like 8 feet instead of making the birdie.”

Happy with how his game had progressed over this week, Friel was disappointed in Friday’s outcome.

“I felt pretty good about it,” Friel said. “Until, today really.”

Next up for Friel is the NHGA Stroke Play, Aug. 5-7 at Green Meadow Golf Club, and the Mid-Amateur Championship, Sept. 23-25 at Lochmere Golf and Country Club in Tilton.

PARADIS STREAK ENDS

Derryfield Country Club’s Matt Paradis graduated from Manchester Central High School and the NHGA Junior Tour to play with the big boys.

Technically, this was his third State Am, but he’s never put together a week of golf like he did at Stonebridge Country Club.

“It was a great tournament,” the 18 year old said. “I’m more than happy to get here to the round of four. Damon played unreal today. Kid didn’t miss a shot. I had a couple putts I should have made that would have brought it to the last hole, but it was a great run and I had fun doing it.”

He lost in 2012’s Round of 64 at Concord Country Club and advanced to 2013’s Round of 16 at Golf Club of New England in Stratham during his two previous State Am appearances.

This week in Goffstown, the wannabe third generation firefighter (dad Daniel and grandfather Roger both Manchester firefighters) – who will attend the academy in Melbourne, Fla., in December – was burning up the greens.

From the start of his back nine during his Round of 64 win over Nashua Country Club’s Tommy Ethier until the final hole in his Round of 16 victory over Nashua Country Club’s Ryan Brogan, Paradis went 45 holes without a loss.

Saturday’s finalists took notice. Salo was well aware of the streak, which was snapped on the first hole of quarterfinal play by Newport Golf Club’s Michael Killam.

“That’s pretty remarkable,” Leavitt said. “To do that, in a field like this, with the guys you’re playing – I mean that’s real tough to do. I don’t think I’ve even touched a streak like that. That’s good playing by him. He can obviously play if he’s gotten this far.”