FALMOUTH FORESIDE — It can be hard to comprehend a 20-year-old golfer as having a lot of experience, but with Ryan Gay of Pittston, that’s the case.
Gay called on that experience as he dropped a 2 1/2-foot par putt on the 18th hole to win his third Maine Amateur Golf Championship by a single stroke Thursday.
Gay, the defending champion, needed to make that putt to avoid a playoff with his buddy, 19-year-old Jason Harris of Bath. Gay posted a 1-over-par 71 at Portland Country Club for a three-day total of 1-under 209.
Harris, playing in the lead group of an important tournament for the first time, turned in the day’s best round, a 68, but a missed 6-foot par putt on the final hole that proved to be the difference.
“I’ve been reading chapters in a putting book,” said Harris. “It’s all about (following) routines.
“I was focused (on his routines) until the last hole. I came off it a little bit.”
The ball rolled past the cup an inch to the left.
“I didn’t hit a very good putt. I pulled it,” said Harris.
Third place went to Jason Gall of Cumberland, who matched Gay’s 71 and finished three strokes back at 212.
Seth Sweet of Madison took fourth at 216 after firing a 72, and 1998 Maine Amateur champ Eric Crouse of Portland moved up to fifth at 217 when he recorded the only other under-par round of the day, a 69.
Two-time Maine Amateur winner Ricky Jones of Thomaston was sixth with 73-218, and first-round leader Mike Doran of Portland finished seventh with 76-219.
The experience factor made its presence felt for Harris even before the round began.
“I didn’t think I was going to be as nervous as I was,” said Harris.
Gay complimented Harris, though.
“It was his first time in the lead group. He played great,” said Gay.
The two play together a lot, but they tried not to let that affect them.
“I think we both tried to let each other do our own thing,” said Gay.
The front nine didn’t create much in the way of drama.
Gay and Harris each shot 34, while Gall was at even-par 35. Gay was holding a four-stroke lead at the turn.
Then games started heating up or cooling down, or both.
Harris birdied 10 and 11 to cut Gay’s lead in half, and Gall birdied 12 to get within three.
Gall gave his birdie back with a bogey on 13, and they all bogeyed 14.
“I thought I hit a pretty good shot,” said Gay of his 5-iron tee shot on the 204-yard par-3, labeled on the scorecard as the easiest hole on the course. “I hit it right where I wanted, but it flew (over) the green.”
Gay knocked the next shot on, but left it 14 feet above the hole and two-putted for bogey.
That turned out to be good enough, because Harris and Gall both missed the green as well and matched Gay’s bogey.
Gay also bogeyed 15 as he hit his tee ball way right near the top of a ridge of rock ledge, bumped it back down to the fairway, knocked his third shot on and two-putted for bogey, although his long par putt from the front right corner to the back left pin didn’t miss by much.
Harris almost birdied 15 to tie Gay then, but his 10-foot putt curled left of the cup at the last moment.
Harris had already started celebrating the birdie when it turned past.
“I really thought I had my putt on 15,” said Harris, who had to wait two more holes before catching Gay.
Gall, who tied for second in last year’s Amateur, three-putted from 8 feet, turning a possible birdie into a bogey. He dropped four strokes off Gay’s pace and his victory attempt would have to wait another year.
After all three birdied 16, Harris saved par on the par-3 17th while Gay bogeyed it from the right bunker and the two were tied.
Harris teed off first on 18, ripping his drive about 300 yards out to the right side of the fairway. Then it was Gay’s turn.
He crushed his drive, cutting the corner a bit on the dogleg left and drilling it down the left side of the fairway about 30 yards beyond Harris.
“I slowed everything down and made a good swing,” said Gay. “I should’ve done it earlier in the week.”
Harris had a little trouble, though.
“I had a big clump of mud on my ball,” he said. Because they were playing the ball as it lies, he wasn’t allowed to clean off the mud. His 9-iron from 158 yards dropped in the right front bunker.
Gay then hit his second shot from 122 yards to 12 feet above the cup, setting up the putting finish.
The two are still good buddies, though, and will be at the New England Amateur in Rhode Island next week.
“We’re going to play (the practice round) and stay together,” pointed out Gay.
As for Gay’s future Maine Amateur plans, he wants to add two more.
“I’d like to get five before I turn pro,” he said, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever come close to matching friend and mentor Mark Plummer of Manchester, who has won the Amateur 13 times.
“I don’t plan on staying an amateur forever,” stated Gay firmly.