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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Keep eye out for Leavitt

George Scione

Word in collegiate circles is that sports like baseball and golf just can’t cut it in New England.

Winter is too long. Then again, the overall weather pattern is too erratic. ...

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Word in collegiate circles is that sports like baseball and golf just can’t cut it in New England.

Winter is too long. Then again, the overall weather pattern is too erratic.

Some say its partly the reason University of New Hampshire administrators had no problem cutting baseball, softball, men’s lacrosse and golf as varsity sports back in 1997. Sure, the main short-sighted reason for dismantling the programs were proportionality and budgetary constraints. But it certainly makes things easier that three of the four are spring sports, and the fourth, golf, has a short spring schedule after a full slate in the fall.

With all this said, can somebody please explain the University of Rhode Island’s success? No, make that dominance of the New England Amateur golf scene this summer.

There are plenty of southern college players in the field. So why are the Rhody golfers at or near the top of the leader board in three states?

Recent URI graduate Andrew Fiorenzano reached the final of the Rhode Island Golf Association Amateur Championship on July 11 at Montaup Country Club in Portsmouth, R.I. The Cranston native fell 4 and 2 in the 36-hole final.

In Massachusetts, John Kelly, a 2011 URI grad, won the Massachusetts Golf Association Amateur Championship at Kernwood Country Club in Salem, Mass. The East Longmeadow native captured his crown with a 3 and 2 victory in the 36-hole final on Saturday.

That same day, 10 minutes later and 80 miles north in Goffstown, Atkinson’s Joe Leavitt was locking up his second New Hampshire Golf Association State Am Championship title in three years.

Leavitt built a 6-up lead after 18 holes and finished things off on the 32nd hole (14th green) of the 36-hole final, 6 and 4, at Stonebridge Country Club.

It’s certainly been a good run for Rhody golf in the last two weeks.

Perhaps northern exposure isn’t so debilitating after all. New England weather certainly hasn’t hindered the progress of these three Rams.

URI golf coach Gregg Burke is one happy man.

“This is a great time for URI golf,” said Burke, who made the almost three-hour drive to Goffstown from Rhode Island to watch Leavitt’s title match. “Three straight Ams, three finals and two wins.

“You know what? We’ve got good kids who continue to love the game and continue to have a passion for it even after they graduate.”

That certainly describes Leavitt. The Central Catholic High School (Lawrence, Mass.) graduate won his first State Am as an 18 year old in 2012 at Concord Country Club. He went to Florida Southern College as a freshman before realizing New England was were its at. Specifically, Kingston, R.I.

Burke had recruited Leavitt out of high school, but the aspiring professional golfer did what was expected of a New Englander with such career goals – he flew south for the winter.

One season in Florida – where he played in three events, with his best finish (11th out of 83 golfers) up north at The McLaughlin hosted by St. John’s University and held at the Bethpage Red Course in Farmingdale, N.Y. – was enough.

Leavitt returned home. Perhaps the northern climate was best after all.

As a sophomore at URI, he finished in a tie for the individual medalist crown with a one-under 143 (71-72) over the 36 holes of play at the NEIGA Championship. He fell in the second playoff hole, earning All-New England honors. He was third overall at the Connecticut Cup. In his first tournament as a Rhody golfer he tied for fifth place in the Adams Cup of Newport.

The strong collegiate year has most definitely carried over into the summer.

“He’s got four wins already this summer,” said Burke, referring to Leavitt’s three NHGA tournament wins (Tournament of Club Champions, Player’s Invitational, State Am) and a big regional event (The Healey Memorial). “Like I tell the guys all the time, they can’t take wins off the resume.

“He’s playing great. He’s just matured so much during the school year. He’s a very different man than when we got him in last September, and I think that’s translated in his golf.”

It’s translated into more than golf. The kid isn’t a kid anymore. Leavitt carries himself like a pro already.

Lessons learned from Burke in Rhode Island, best friend and Boston College star Nicholas Pandelena every day on the Atkinson Resort and Country Club links, and most definitely his parents Bob and Erin Leavitt at home.

He still has two more years of growth to come at URI and at least one more summer on the NHGA circuit. Going pro will eventually come, most likely right after graduation in 2016.

One thing is for sure, Leavitt will be ready for the jump to the Web.com Tour. Heck, with the way his summer is going, he may be ready now, at just 20 years old.

Think Matt Bonner, Jeff Locke and Kendall Reyes.

Leavitt is just another Granite State fairy tale coming true before our eyes.

George Scione can be reached at 594-6520 or gscione@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Scione on Twitter (@Telegraph_BigG).