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Friday, August 8, 2014

Atkinson’s Joe Leavitt wins New Hampshire Stroke Play golf title

HUDSON – Historically speaking, the names Pleat, Mielcarz, Arvanitis and Steckowych are what roll of the tongue of the current crop of Granite State golfers. It’s a who’s who of amateur talent representing Nashua to the Seacoast over the last 35 years.

Tucked away in the southeastern part of the state, Atkinson is trying to claim ownership of the latest addition to that list. ...

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HUDSON – Historically speaking, the names Pleat, Mielcarz, Arvanitis and Steckowych are what roll of the tongue of the current crop of Granite State golfers. It’s a who’s who of amateur talent representing Nashua to the Seacoast over the last 35 years.

Tucked away in the southeastern part of the state, Atkinson is trying to claim ownership of the latest addition to that list.

Atkinson Country Club’s Joe Leavitt won his fourth New Hampshire Golf Association event and second major title of the summer, carding a 1-under 71 in his first 18 holes Thursday and a 4-under 68 on his final 18 to hold off Round 2 co-leader Connor Greenleaf for a two stroke victory in the Stroke Play Championship at Green Meadow Golf Club.

Leavitt finished the three-day event with an 8-under 280 (70-71-71-68).

He is the first golfer in NHGA history to win the State Am and Stroke Play in the same season.

“It does mean a lot,” said Leavitt, who also won the NHGA’s Tournament of Club Champions and Player’s Invitational earlier this summer. “I think this year I stapled myself as not only one of the best players in the state, but I think one of the best NHGA players – I mean I don’t want to say all time – but I’ve won like 10 NHGA events, two State Ams, and now this. It means a lot to have a record like that, it feels good.”

Heading into Thursday’s final two rounds, Leavitt was in a four-way tie for third. The Overlook Golf Club’s Griffin Brown, Manchester Country Club’s Jake Nutter, Hooper Golf Club’s Ryan Kohler and Leavitt were all one stroke behind Greenleaf, of Windham Country Club, and Merrimack native Josh Chamberlain, of New Boston and Goffstown’s Stonebridge Country Club.

It didn’t take long for Leavitt to tie and pass the co-leaders. Starting on the 10th hole for his first 18, he would par every hole to the turn. He would par the first hole (his 10th) then sandwich two more pars on three and four with birdies on two and five. A bogey on the seventh hole didn’t hurt too badly surrounded by pars on six, eight and nine to finish his morning round with a 1-under 71 and 4-under overall heading into the afternoon tee times.

With four bogeys (seven, eight, 12 and 14) two birdies (13, 17) and an eagle (18), Greenleaf remained atop the leaderboard at 4-under alongside Leavitt.

Chamberlain’s first 18 wasn’t as pretty. He bogeyed four, six, seven, 14 and 17, while triple-bogeying 18 to fall out of contention at 4-over with 18 holes to play. His afternoon round went slightly better, including four birdies on two, nine, 15 and 18, but it was too late to play catch-up as Chamberlain settled for a 13th-place tie with Derryfield Country Club’s Matt Paradis with a 6-over 294.

“I swung the club like a caveman,” Chamberlain said. “I was a mess from tee to green, and the putts weren’t falling like they were the first two days. I was just all out of sorts. I shot a couple over my second round, but still nothing felt comfortable. Nothing felt good. I couldn’t putt and my biggest problem was I can’t get off the tee. On a course like this, if you can’t get it off the tee and hit it for decent yardage to leave yourself short irons in then you’re not going to score.

“To be honest with you, where I was after the first two days, the way I was hitting it I didn’t deserve to be there. I made a lot of putts and it was kind of smoke and mirrors. I guess today the more likely score came out.”

The same could be said for Leavitt, who as has been the case all summer, saved his best round for last.

The University of Rhode Island standout recorded five birdies in his afternoon session – starting with back-to-back birdies twice on the first and second holes then again in and out of the turn on the ninth and 10th holes, before hitting for four on the uphill 520-yard, par-5 18th just for good measure.

“I played well all week,” Leavitt said. “I didn’t putt well at all for four rounds – I mean I don’t think I hit a putt outside of 10 feet really – but I was striking the ball really well. Especially my irons and wedges. I was pretty much spot on from anywhere inside 150 yards. So that kind of got me through to the end here. Anything inside 100 I was putting real close and I was able to make the 5- to 8-footers that I need to.

“I just tried to focus on hitting fairways and greens and that’s what I did. I played really well and I’m really happy.”

Trailing by two strokes at the turn, Greenleaf chipped in for an eagle the 556-yard, par-5 13th hole to join Leavitt at 7-under. However, a bogey on 14 and another on 16 erased his recovery to the point that another birdie on 18 could only get him within two shots of Leavitt.

“I missed a couple putts coming in that I probably should have made,” Greenleaf said. “I had the putts the way I wanted to and they just kind of touched the lip and didn’t drop.

“I just didn’t get it done.”

Nashua Country Club’s James Pleat (74-71-72-71 – 288, even par) was the highest local competitor, finishing his four rounds in a tie for fifth with Rochester Country Club’s C.J. Konkowski. Pleat was joined locally in the Top 10 by Brown (69-72-72-76 – 289, 1-over) in seventh and the duo of Nashua CC’s Phil Pleat (69-76-75-71 – 291, 3-over) and Passaconaway Country Club’s John DeVito (76-74-70-71 – 291, 3-over), who finished tied for eighth along with Atkinson Resort and CC’s Nicholas Pandelena.

But this day, actually this summer has belonged to Leavitt.

“It’s been a heck of a summer,” Leavitt said. “This is the fourth NHGA tournament I’ve won. I won the two biggest ones and the Player’s, and it’s been awesome this summer. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer overall. I had good finishes in all my other events. I mean the worst I played this year was last week at the New Hampshire Open, but, I mean it happens, you play a bad round here and there. But I couldn’t ask for a better summer – this is awesome.”