ORONO, Maine — While Ryan Gay of Pittston is the two-time defending champion of the Paul Bunyan Amateur Golf Tournament, sponsored by Harris Golf, he admits his return to the top of the leaderboard this weekend is not a foregone conclusion.
He struggled at the University of New Mexico this year and has decided to transfer to another school for his senior year. He hasn’t decided where to transfer and will look into that this summer.
“I was falling into some bad [golf] habits,” said Gay of this past season at UNM.
He will be trying to reverse that course in the 48th Bunyan, which gets under way Saturday at Penobscot Valley Country Club for the 156 players in the A and B flights. Flights C and D, with 142 players, open at Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor. The two sets of flights switch courses for Sunday’s 18-hole finale.
Gay posted a three -under-par 69 at PVCC in the final round last year and rallied to defeat Ricky Jones of Thomaston and Bradford Tufts of Marblehead, Mass., by five strokes. JJ Harris of Bath, Joe Alvarez of Hampden and Shawn Gepfert of Topsham tied for fourth another two strokes back. All of those challengers except Tufts are back in this year’s tournament.
Micki Meggison of Gorham is defending her women’s title, too.
The top 12 scorers in A flight after the first round will be repaired at the end of the field Sunday. The other flights will keep their times.
Gay, who is also the two-time defending Maine Amateur winner and titlist in last year’s Maine Match Play Championship, carried those strong performances into his junior season at New Mexico.
“I started the fall well,” said Gay, “then I started working with my teammates and coach trying to make the perfect swing.”
Gay, and his game, struggled with the change. He is going back to what was working for him.
“My swing is unorthodox and I just have to work with it,” said Gay.
The return to familiar surroundings may help.
“I never liked New Mexico as a place to live,” he said. “It was a hard adjustment coming from Maine.”
And he’s familiar with both Bunyan courses, including winning his second Maine Amateur at Kebo in 2010.
“I’m excited for this weekend,” said Gay. “They’re both great courses with tough greens.
“They emphasize ball-striking, course management and putting, all things I have to do to get ready for [professional] tournament golf.”
He doesn’t feel his game is anywhere near ready for that yet.
“My short game is solid right now,” Gay said. “My ball-striking has not been, but it’s coming around. It’s getting better each day.”
He’s most encouraged about his short game.
“A good short game will always save you at the end of the round,” he said. “Hopefully, coming down the final holes, I’ll be in position to win.”
Jones would like another chance to dethrone Gay.
Jones, who won the Bunyan in 2001, ’04, ’05 and ’07, led Gay by four strokes after last year’s opening round, shooting a two-under-par 68 at Kebo. But he struggled to a six-over 78 at PVCC while Gay was fashioning his 69.
“I hit a lot of good wedges at Kebo,” said Jones. “I struggled with the driver [at PVCC].”
Change got the better of him, too.
“I was getting used to new clubs last year,” said Jones. They’re not new now.
“I love the clubs now,” he said. “[Last fall in the Maine State Golf Association weekend schedule] I shot 65 at Waterville and won by five, shot 68 at Falmouth and won by six and shot 68 at Fox Ridge and won by seven.”
This year, he feels like he might be a little behind other challengers because his home course, Samoset Resort in Rockport, didn’t open until April 27, a month or more after many clubs in central and southern Maine.
He has played OK, though, said Jones. He and pro Jeff Seavey tied for fifth among 84 teams in the New England PGA Pro-Am Championship on Tuesday, and he shot 69 in the MSGA weekly tournament at Province Lake two weeks ago to win low gross by four strokes.
“I feel like my swing is better,” said Jones.
The answer to any questions that Gay and Jones have about their games should be apparent by late Sunday.
The Rock Church of Bangor is putting on The Legacy Project Golf Tournament on June 9 at Hermon Meadow Golf Club and features more than $10,000 in gifts and prizes. The team scramble event begins at 8 a.m. with a shotgun start.
The top prize is a trip to Pebble Beach, Calif., but there will also be a free golf club for each participant and prizes for low gross, low net, pins, long drives for men and women and a hole-in-one.
The entry fee is $220 per team, including carts. Proceeds benefit the Rock Church Legacy Project, a program the church sees as bringing a legacy of hope and well-being in the community.
The tournament is open to the public. Registration can be done by calling Rock Church at 942-9977 or by going online to www.therocklegacy.com/golftournament.