Ricky Jones of Thomaston has been having a good couple of weeks on the golf course as he gets set to try to win his third Maine Amateur Golf Championship this week.
Jones, who won his previous Amateur titles in 2003 and ’04 when it was conducted as a match-play tournament, qualified for next week’s U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in mid-June. He followed that by finishing as the low amateur at last week’s Charlie’s Portland Maine Open, an event he won as an amateur in 2006.
Jones, as well as a large number of other competitors, played a practice round Monday at Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor, site of the three-day, stroke-play event that kicks off at 7 a.m. today.
“The course is in great shape,” said Jones, who is also a four-time winner of the Paul Bunyan Amateur Golf Tournament. “I expect the greens will be harder and faster as we move along [in the week].”
Jones said the greens were softer than he thought they would be. If they stay like that, then scores could go low.
“If you hit the ball straight, hit it on the greens and make some putts, I think someone could shoot 65 or 64 out here today. I didn’t,” said Jones with a laugh, “but somebody could.”
Peiter DeVos, head pro at Kebo, is happy with the greens as they are.
“The greens are right where we wanted them,” he said. “They’ll run about 9½ to 10 on the stimpmeter [a device which uses a golf ball to help determine rolling distance of a putted ball].
“We’ll limit the amount of water we put on them now to try to keep them firm and dry.”
DeVos stressed that players must make sure their approach shots stop somewhere below the cup.
“If you get [a putt] on line, it goes in,” said DeVos. “If you’re above the hole, it’s almost a penalty shot.”
In addition, the rough has been grown to a depth of 2½ to 2¾ inches.
“If you miss the fairways, you’re gonna pay the penalty,” said DeVos.
For further local color, the fescue around the course has been allowed to grow higher, too.
“It probably looks like it did years ago before the watering [system] was put in,” DeVos said.
Jones said he has been playing consistently well lately, but occasionally he gets into a little trouble.
“I struggle with my driver,” he said. “I’ll hit it way right, get a little quick with it.”
He has been working on controlling that and felt he had it under control Monday, for the most part.
“I only hit one drive that I thought wasn’t as good as it could’ve been,” he said.
He finished with an even-par 70.
“I played pretty good on the front, made a few birdies,” said Jones, “but I fizzled on the back.
“I had trouble reading some of the putts.”
He played with Matt Greenleaf, a player out of Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland with whom he’ll be paired for the first two days.
“He played well,” said Jones.
Jones’ biggest competitor will likely be a familiar face, Ryan Gay of Pittston.
Gay won the Maine Amateur in 2008, beating Mark Plummer of Manchester and Jones. Gay was runner-up to Jesse Speirs of Bangor last year, and Jones was third again.
Gay has already earned one title at Kebo this year when he took the rain-shortened Bunyan in early June.
Gay posted a 2-under-par 68 to win by two strokes over Mike Norris of Newburgh. Jones wasn’t far off, though, as he tied for third at 72 with Jason Harvey of Bangor, Scott Sirois of Portland and Tobey Buteau of Scarborough.
Harvey, the 2009 Bunyan champ; 2009 Mid-Amateur titlist Sirois and Buteau are all in this tourney as well.
Joe Alvarez of Hampden, the ’08 Bunyan winner, Marc Siewertsen of Westbrook and David Gushee of Gorham should also contend.
Siewertsen finished fourth last year, and Sirois and Gushee tied for fifth with Plummer.
Plummer, a 13-time Maine Amateur champ, had been paired with Jones and Greenleaf for the first two days, but he has had to withdraw.