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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Atkinson’s Joe Leavitt wins New Hampshire Amateur Golf title

GOFFSTOWN – For the first time in 12 years the top amateur in New Hampshire is a familiar face. The title was also won in familiar fashion.

Atkinson Resort and Country Club’s Joe Leavitt won the 111th State Amateur Championship at Stonebridge Country Club, his second in three years, to snap a streak of 11 straight first-time winners. ...

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GOFFSTOWN – For the first time in 12 years the top amateur in New Hampshire is a familiar face. The title was also won in familiar fashion.

Atkinson Resort and Country Club’s Joe Leavitt won the 111th State Amateur Championship at Stonebridge Country Club, his second in three years, to snap a streak of 11 straight first-time winners.

He was part of that string, winning his first in 2012 at Concord Country Club.

As was the case in winning his previous championship, Leavitt built a 6-up lead after 18 holes and finished things off before reaching the 33rd hole (15th tee). Saturday, his title run was complete when Bretwood Golf Club’s Damon Salo conceded the 14th hole on his seventh shot to give Leavitt a 6-and-4 win and the silver bowl.

“Two’s a lot,” said Leavitt, who as was the case two years ago had his father Bob on his bag. “It feels pretty good to win it twice. Once is nice, but to come back and win it two years later, after losing in the final four last year, it just goes to show what type of player I am. I’ve always been very successful in match play, and that’s why I think I play so well in this tournament. I’m already looking forward to next year.”

Next year could be his last year on the New Hampshire Golf Association circuit. Heading into his junior year at the University of Rhode Island, he’s contemplating turning pro immediately after graduation in 2016.

That decision is still two year’s away. Saturday, from the first tee, Leavitt was on his game. He shot a 30 on the front nine holes against 21-year-old Salo, of New Ipswich.

It was deja vu for Leavitt, who in 2012, only needed 29 holes (11th hole) to lock up his 8-and-7 win over D.J. Lantz, of Lake Sunapee Country Club. It was a similar start and finish to both matches.

“Funny thing is, when I won it in 2012 I had shot a 30 on the front nine against D.J., and I did it again today,” Leavitt said. “I come out ready to go. I like the environment. I like the crowd. I like the people. It was just fun.

“Honestly, I played bad Monday and Tuesday. I’ve been getting better as the week went on. I hit it about the same as I did Thursday and Friday, but my putter got hot today and that was the key.”

Leavitt opened with a 25-foot putt for eagle on one (par five) for a 1 up lead as Salo birdied. The duo birdied the second hole and Salo made it all-square with a par on the third hole. Leavitt regained his 1 up advantage with a birdie on the par-three fourth hole, and held the edge as both golfer recorded pars on the fifth and sixth holes.

Leavitt started making his move on the par-four seventh, benefitting from Salo miscues off the tee, and in the rough. With his ball in the native area on the left side of the fairway, Salo took an unplayable. The ball then moved after he addressed it, and he was assessed a one-stroke penalty. After hitting out, he conceded the hole to Leavitt, who went 2 up.

Par for both golfers on eight set the stage for Leavitt to open his lead to 3 up on the ninth, as he was able to sink his birdie putt from 8 feet and Salo missed from a similar distance.

“That’s a good start,” Leavitt said. “I played awesome today. I think I was like eight or nine under for the day, I only had two bogeys. To get off to a start like that, to make an eagle and then a birdie, and I was only one up and I was three-under through two. That front nine, I shot a 30 and that was the best nine holes I’ve played all week by far. I probably made more putts on that front nine of further length than I did all week.”

Salo bounced back on the par-five 10th hole with an eagle of his own, cutting Leavitt’s lead to 2 up. The 11th went Leavitt’s way. With Salo three-putting for bogey, Leavitt parred for a return to 3 up.

The Atkinson 20-year-old extended it to 4 up on the 12th hole, finding the rough on the left side about 130 yards from the pin. An iron shot to within 7 feet set Leavitt up perfectly for another birdie, while Salo’s fairway shot from 117 yards out came within 20 feet of the flag and he had to settle for par.

Leavitt’s lead reached 5 up with par on the par-three 13th and climbed to 6 up with par on the par-four 15th. Salo cut into the lead once more on the par-five 17th, draining his birdie put from 15 feet as Leavitt two putted from 30 feet.

A par on the par-four 18th pushed Leavitt’s lead back to 6 up at the turn of the 36-hole final.

“If I had to choose, I wouldn’t want to take that break,” said Leavitt regarding the lunch break after 18 holes. “Because you’ve got a lot of momentum going. I mean if you’re 6 up, you’re rolling. But I knew I could just hit it down the middle and probably make a solid birdie on one. He was going to have to make eagle. I figured if I just kept hitting fairways I was going to force him to have to make birdies. Then I got into some trouble on the front nine, but I hit some pretty sweet shots to get out of trouble.”

For Salo it was a needed rest, and he remembered his good friend’s second-half run last year to win it all. He remembers it well. After all, he was caddying for Michael Martel when he reversed course and battled back from four holes down to beat Chris Rivard for the 2013 title.

“A couple of my friends were coming up to me and telling me that it wasn’t over,” Salo said. “I knew there was an opportunity and I knew I could do it. You just have to put pressure on him.”

The duo halved 19 (first hole), 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 to keep Leavitt at 6 up with 12 holes remaining. Leavitt’s par to halve 24 was perhaps the shot of the match.

His tee shot on the par-three sixth hole (24th of match) soared over the green into native lands past the back bunker. Salo’s shot off the tee was 15 feet from the hole. Leavitt opted to go the round-about way, rather than taking a straight line toward the hole. He went up into the rough behind the green, 20 feet from the pin and then chipped it home for par from there. Salo’s birdie putt stopped short, leaving 2 feet for par.

“I think a lot of guys would have said OK, let’s try to hack this and get over the bunker, and then ended up in the water,” Leavitt said.

“But there was kind of like a swale in front of me, and there were two pieces of straw sticking up behind my ball, so I didn’t really have an angle that way. So I figured if I put it in the back of my stance, hit a runner, and I could kind of ride along the slope there. It rode it nice, but it just came up a little short. Even then I was still in a good spot to make three. I just wanted to get it somewhere where I could make a three, because I knew Damon had a tough putt with that wedge. That was one of the best threes I’ve made in a long time.

“That was probably one of the biggest holes, momentum-wise, in my life. He would have gotten it to five, and who knows what would have happened after that. That was probably one of the biggest chips of my life.”

His lead did eventually fall back to 5 up after halving the 25th, as Salo birdied 26. Another halve on 27 led into Salo’s birdie on 28 for another hole off Leavitt’s lead, now at 4 up with eight holes to play. The duo halved the 29th with par, as Salo came up 3-feet short on his 45-foot birdie putt attempt.

Leavitt regained his 5 up advantage on the par-four 30th hole, where he drained his birdie putt from 15 feet. With a halve of the 31st hole, Leavitt had a five-hole lead and only five holes remaining. It set the stage for his victory on the par-five 32nd.

Leavitt’s 4 wood found the fairway, while Salo’s driver sent his tee shot out of bounds. His provisional shot hit a tree and came to rest just inside a stone wall along the right side of the fairway.

Salo chipped his provisional out into rough just off the fairway, where he laid up from about 260 yards – leaving 50 yards to the flag. Leavitt laid up with his second shot to within 40 yards of the pin, then put his third shot to within 7 feet, at which point Salo conceded the hole and match.

“I played well all week,” Salo said. “I hit iron shots really well. Again, I putted well today, but he putted better. I don’t know, I was kind of surprised he made a lot of those putts, but he made them and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“He’s just so consistent. I think he had like three bogeys the whole day, and it’s pretty hard to compete with that.”