FALMOUTH, Maine — Some athletes routinely claim to ignore the scoreboard. Others mysteriously talk about ascending into “the zone,” a tunnel vision that makes them oblivious to their surroundings.
Andrew Slattery, a golfer from West Minot, was only a household name among his family and friends prior to this week’s 95th Maine Amateur Golf Championship. But he achieved measures of blissful ignorance Thursday afternoon during his championship-round showdown with Portland’s Joe Walp.
“Around [hole] 10 or 11, I just got lost. I didn’t really know where I was at. I didn’t know where Joe was at. I didn’t know where I was in relation to him,” Slattery said. “Normally, my mental case is every hole. I know exactly what I need to do. Today, I just got lost. I think it was just nerves, all the people.”
Turns out tuning out was one of the best experiences Slattery, 25, has known in his life.
The Martindale Country Club member rallied from a two-stroke deficit, took the lead with a birdie on the 15th hole and sank three consecutive pars to claim the title at Woodlands Club.
Slattery overcame a nightmarish start to shoot his second consecutive 71 and an overall 2-under 214. The only other player under par was Walp, who shot the low front nine of the week at 33 before missing a fistful of short birdie and par putts to settle for 70.
“I’m still in shock,” Slattery said. “It has not set in yet. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever won.”
The win puts Slattery in select company.
He is the first player from Androscoggin County, Oxford County or Franklin County to win the Maine Amateur Golf Championship since Dan Ladd of Norway in 1993. Three-time champion Ralph Noel was Martindale’s most recent winner in 1981.
Drew Powell, 16, of Bangor, finished third and was the top junior with 221. Matt Greenleaf of Portland was fourth at 222 after a final-round 78.
Defending champion Ricky Jones of Thomaston (223) finished fifth, and Joe Baker of Norway (225) wound up sixth.
Slattery led Greenleaf by one stroke and Walp by two heading into the final round. Ten minutes after tee time, that advantage was gone, courtesy of Walp’s tap-in for birdie and Slattery’s bogey after a fried-egg lie required two shots from a fairway bunker.
Soon after, it was back to the relatively uneventful storyline Slattery penned throughout the week — birdies at 3 and 8, bogey at 5. But Walp added birdies at 2, 6 and 9 and guarded a one-stroke lead at the turn.
“I had a good front,” said Walp, who had only one bogey through the 12th hole. “Birdieing one and two helped quite a bit.”
Greenleaf played himself out of the picture with a 39 on the front nine. Walp then appeared poised to pull away when Slattery smacked his drive from the 10th tee left and into a pile of mulch under a grove of trees.
Slattery played it safe with a pitch onto the fairway and ended up with a miraculous, 18-foot bid for par, which he left just short. Walp had an opportunity to pull away. But in a harbinger of what would betray him down the stretch, his 10-foot birdie try veered left.
The deficit doubled to two. Slattery insists he had no idea.
“If I knew I was trying to catch him, I was going to be overly aggressive,” he said. “If I knew I was trying to stay in the lead, I would be too protective. I just had to play my game.”
Walp opened the door at 11 by returning Slattery’s favor and cranking his drive far right, into a lateral hazard.
There was no such convenient escape for the leader, who swallowed the one-stroke penalty and took a drop. From there, a sensational drive preserved par.
“I flew [over] the bunker,” Walp said. “I was probably five feet in the hazard, and it just wasn’t worth trying to play it out.”
Slattery’s real comeback began with a birdie on 12, though Walp matched it. But Walp missed a two-foot par putt on 13.
“All week I was putting well,” he said. “I don’t know. I left almost every putt high coming in. It was way too much break, or I just hit it too hard — one of the two. I just pulled it a little bit. I wasn’t too upset with that one. I didn’t feel like I hit that bad of a putt.”
Walp also bogeyed the next hole, falling into a tie for the lead.
Slattery stuck his third shot to the par-5 15th within two feet, and the ensuing birdie put him ahead to stay.
Nothing came easily, though.
After missing the green at 16, Slattery chipped to within three feet and saved par.
Walp missed another short birdie bid on the par-3 17th, playing at a perilous 215 yards, and Slattery two-putted from long range.
“He hit an absolutely beautiful golf shot on 17,” Slattery said. “That had to be the best iron shot of the tournament. I will never root against anyone. I want us all to play well. But for him to miss that putt, that was a heartbreaker for him. All I wanted to do was get out in three.
Again, Walp was closer than Slattery on 18. Slattery tapped out his par before Walp’s putt to force a playoff drifted wide.
“It just didn’t move,” Walp said. “I thought it was left to right, and then it stayed there the whole way, right on the edge.”
Slattery’s best previous finish in the Maine Amateur Golf Championship was a tie for eighth at Augusta Country Club in 2013.
He didn’t begin to play the game seriously until his senior year at Poland Regional High School. Now Slattery, who works at Martindale, has an associate degree from Central Maine Community College and plans to enroll at the University of Southern Maine in the fall, joins an elite list of champions.
His name falls among those of state hall of famers Noel, Mark Plummer, Ron Brown, Sean Gorgone, Ray Lebel and Dick Diversi.
“In high school, I couldn’t even break 40 for nine on the forward tees at Poland Spring,” Slattery said. “I had no clue it would ever get to this.”