AUBURN, Maine— There haven’t been separate brackets for beards and peach fuzz at the Maine State Golf Association Match Play Invitational this week. It has only worked out that way.
Two Portland men reached the present-meets-the-future championship round of the fourth-annual tournament at Fox Ridge Golf Club.
Matt Greenleaf, he of the thick whiskers and nearly a decade’s experience in the golf and ski industries since graduating from the University of Maine at Farmington, will meet Joe Walp, a 19-year-old who’s heading back to Bryant University in Rhode Island for his sophomore year.
Each won his third and fourth match in a span of about 32 hours Wednesday to earn Thursday’s 7 a.m. tee time.
“I’ve fought through a few matches this week,” Walp said. “It’s pretty tiring. It’s a long day, especially when it’s hot out.”
Greenleaf, 31, ground it out against two crafty veterans.
He edged Mike Doran, a longtime friend and fellow club champion at Sable Oaks in South Portland, 1-up, in the morning quarterfinal. Then he survived a late scare before dismissing 2010 match play champion Joe Alvarez of Hampden, 2-up, in the semis.
Walp chased No. 2 seed Jack Wyman, 22, of Falmouth, 5-and-4 in the quarterfinals and later ousted 16-year-old Luke Ruffing of Manchester 3-and-2.
Doran and Greenleaf have exchanged bragging rights at their home club the past three years, with Doran taking Greenleaf’s title in 2012 before Greenleaf returned the favor this summer.
“We’re all friends. Everybody I’ve been playing the past two days, we’re good buddies and we’ve played a lot of golf together,” Greenleaf said. “He played brilliantly this morning. We both played well. The putts just fell my way a couple of times.”
Greenleaf and Doran each shot 1-over 73. Doran birdied the 227-yard, par-3 16th — a hole that would bite Greenleaf later in the day — to square the match. Greenleaf regained the advantage with a birdie on the par-5 17th.
Steadiness was the strategy again for Greenleaf in the semifinal. Pars provided him a two-hole advantage when Alvarez bogeyed No. 3 and No. 4.
Alvarez’s only gains came on the eighth hole and later on the 17th, when Greenleaf drove his Day-Glo yellow ball into the tall grass to the right of the fairway. He took a one-stroke penalty and nearly lofted his approach shot into another unplayable situation before conceding the hole.
“I kind of thought I should have hit 3-wood off that tee, but I was hitting my driver good all day,” Greenleaf said. “It was a little bit of a scare.”
Greenleaf was still miffed after missing a 5-foot, downhill putt for the win on the undulating 16th green. It missed by about two inches to the right.
“That’s one I really wanted, and I thought I made it. They’re fast, they’re quick and they’re tricky,” Greenleaf said of the Fox Ridge greens. “It’s par your opponent to death. That’s been my game plan all week, to be a couple over par each round, and it’s worked out.”
While Greenleaf carded a 74 in the afternoon round, Alvarez — who knocked out top seed and Maine Amateur champion Ricky Jones of Thomaston in the quarterfinals — ballooned to a 77.
Alvarez had a chance to force a playoff, but his drive to 18 was a pop-up that barely made it onto the fairway. He then scalded his second shot over the green while Greenleaf landed safely in two, cementing his place in the final.
Greenleaf also reached the championship in 2011 at Augusta Country Club, losing to Ryan Gay, who has since turned pro.
“I love the match play. It’s fun for me,” Greenleaf said. “A little different mentality. I get to swing a little different. Take more chances, absolutely.”
Jones was 3-up through six holes before Alvarez went on a tear that included birdies at 8, 14 and 15 for a 1-up victory.
On the high school and college side of the draw — as it worked out after a flurry of upsets by the younger players in Tuesday’s early rounds — Walp and Ruffing cruised into their semifinal clash.
Walp eagled the ninth hole for a 35 on the front nine and a commanding four-hole lead before putting away Wyman with a birdie on 13 and a par at 14.
“The first (match) went really well,” said Walp, who lost to Curtis Jordan in the 2012 match play semifinals. “I just didn’t make too many big mistakes.”
Ruffing needed one playoff hole Tuesday to knock out Scott Weymouth and two extra holes in his second-round match with Steve Lycette.
The home-schooled high school senior showed that he could take care of business on the other side of regulation, too, beating fellow 16-year-old Reese McFarlane of Cape Elizabeth, 3-and-2, in the quarters.
McFarlane shocked Maine golf legend Mark Plummer in the opening round but never got rolling against his contemporary. That’s because Ruffing birdied 2, 5, 7 and 9 for a blistering 32 and a 5-up lead on the front.
One-over par was good enough the rest of the way.
“It was crazy. This is my first time playing match play. It’s a ton of fun. I love it so much more than stroke play,” Ruffing said. “There’s more strategy. If you’re out of a hole, you can just pick up and go to the next hole. Stick it in there and fire at every pin. I love playing aggressive.”
Ruffing also took the first hole from Walp, but the Deering High School product won five of the next eight to take control.
“He’s a good player,” Walp said. “I don’t think he had the best round the second time.”
Walp doesn’t believe he has played a previous round with Greenleaf, but there is a connection between the two finalists besides where they pick up their mail.
Greenleaf coached Walp’s older brother, Mike, when he was in charge of the Southern Maine Community College golf team.