Thomaston’s Ricky Jones holds off Stirling to win third Maine Amateur golf title

Ricky Jones of the Samoset Resort Golf Club lines up a putt at the 94th Maine Amateur Championship being held at Augusta Country Club in Manchester on Wednesday morning.
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Ricky Jones of the Samoset Resort Golf Club lines up a putt at the 94th Maine Amateur Championship being held at Augusta Country Club in Manchester on Wednesday morning.
By Pete Warner, BDN Staff
Posted July 11, 2013, at 3:54 p.m.

MANCHESTER, Maine — Ricky Jones was well aware the 94th Maine Amateur Championship was his to lose.

With a six-stroke advantage going into Thursday’s final round, his goal was simply to stay focused on his own game.

The Thomaston golfer shot a 1-over-par 71 on his way to a three-day total of 204 (6 under) to capture his third Maine Amateur title at rain-soaked Augusta Country Club.

Jones, overcame two bouts of pouring rain and a 41-minute delay on the front nine and held off a determined charge by 20-year-old Tommy Stirling of Gorham, who wound up only two strokes back at 206, 4 under par, on the par 70 layout.

“The last couple times I’ve been out this year I’ve just said, I’m playing my own game, I don’t care what anybody else does,” said Jones, who plays out of Samoset Resort in Rockport. “If they shoot a number to beat me, then they deserve it.”

For a time, it looked as though that could happen.

Stirling fired a 3-under 67 Thursday, posting birdies on three of the first four holes and three of the final four holes.

“I never really would have thought I’d start birdie, par, birdie, birdie, but I kept it going,” said Stirling, who will be a senior at Southwest Oklahoma State University this fall.

Stirling, who plays at Sable Oaks in South Portland, had trimmed a six-shot deficit to two through seven holes. However, after the rain delay he stumbled with a bogey on nine and a costly double-bogey on No. 10 and could not make up the difference.

J.J. Harris of Bath Golf Club, the runner-up each of the last two years, was the only other player under par Thursday. His 1-under 69 put him alone in third place at 212, while 18-year-old Sam Grindle of Island Country Club on Deer Isle (2 over) and three-time Maine Amateur champion Ryan Gay of Pittston (4 over) tied for fourth at 213.

Rounding out the top 10 were Jack Wyman of Portland Country Club (214), 13-time winner Mark Plummer of Augusta Country Club (216) and three players at 217: Andrew Slattery of Fox Ridge Golf Club in Auburn, defending champion Seth Sweet of Lakewood and Jason Gall of Augusta Country Club.

Len Cole of Bangor, out of Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono, was 11th at 217.

The 41-year-old Jones, who won the event in 2003 and 2004 and finished as the runner-up in 2010 and 2012, didn’t take many chances. He registered his only birdie of the day on the 12th hole and settled for bogey on Nos. 7 and 13, while carding 15 pars.

“I was a little bit conservative,” admitted Jones, who departs Friday for his fourth U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, this one in Virginia.

“I figured if I shot 69, 70, 71 out here, it’s still a good score and they’d have to shoot an incredible number to beat me,” reasoned Jones, whose round was was a study in simplicity and effectiveness.

Playing with Stirling and Gay, Jones hit most of the fairways, landed approach shots on or near the green and consistently put himself in position to make pars. All of his 14 par putts came from inside eight feet.

Stirling demonstrated poise and aggressiveness while putting himself in contention early in his fourth Amateur outing.

He used well-placed approach shots to set up birdie putts inside 10 feet on Nos. 1 and 3, then rolled in a 14-footer for another on the fourth hole to go 4 under. Stirling was only two shots behind after Jones bogeyed No. 7.

However, the ensuing rain delay spelled trouble for Stirling. He missed a six-foot putt and bogeyed No. 9, then had difficulties on the 10th when he mishit back-to-back chips and wound up with a 6.

“I was trying to be cute with it and I just decelerated [the swing], that’s it,” Stirling said of the second chip. “The pin was tucked right on the front and I wanted to just barely get it on and get it close.”

Jones parred the hole and had his lead restored to five strokes.

From that point on, Jones was even more conservative and comfortable. A well-placed chip out of the rough up onto the 12th green led to his only birdie.

Stirling bounced back with a birdie on 11, then birdied 15, 17 and 18. Despite nearly chipping in for eagle on 18, he came up a bit short.

“This was one of the biggest stages [I’ve been on], I think,” he said. “I’ve never made a cut here, so that was pretty cool to finish second.”

There was no storybook finish for Gay, who was playing his final tournament as an amateur on his home course. He birdied No. 5 to get to 2 under, but hit into the hazard on the sixth en route to the first of three bogeys on the last four holes of the front nine. Gay was never in contention after that.

Playing in his second straight Amateur, Grindle more than held his own. He logged three birdies, but could not work around four bogeys on the front that left him at 4 over.

“I didn’t have my best game today, but I grinded it out and shot a decent score. I’m happy with it,” said the recent graduate of Deer Isle-Stonington High School, who won the 2012 Class C golf individual state championship last fall.

Grindle finished tied for 12th in his Maine Amateur debut a year ago.

“A good score was out there and maybe if it hadn’t rained and I had my best game, maybe [I had a chance to win], but I wasn’t going down without a fight.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/07/11/sports/golf/thomastons-ricky-jones-holds-off-stirling-to-win-third-maine-amateur-golf-title/ printed on December 21, 2014