BANGOR, Maine — Jesse Speirs is plugging away.
The 27-year-old Bangor native has been playing on the Canadian PGA Tour but has returned to Bangor to try to win the 54-hole Greater Bangor Open for the second time.
It is the 48th annual GBO, and the winner will pocket $9,000.
He won in a playoff in 2011.
“It’s fun coming back,” Speirs, who was hitting balls at the driving range before teeing off for the first round early Thursday morning, said.
“This is where I grew up playing. Bangor is still my hometown, even though I live in Memphis now,” Speirs said. “I have a lot of good memories here.
“It’s great to be back here to see my friends and see my parents [Don and Debi]. I haven’t seen them that much,” Speirs added.
He recorded a 1-under par 68 Thursday and is tied for 11th, eight shots behind leader Mike Van Sickle of Wexford, Pennsylvania, who shot a course-record 60.
Speirs has played four events on the Canadian PGA Tour so far and has put up respectable scores, but he has yet to make a cut.
He shot a two-over par 146 through two rounds of the PC Financial Open in Vancouver, British Columbia; an eight-over 152 at the Syncrude Boreal Open in Fort McMurray, Alberta; a seven-over 149 at the Players Cup in Winnipeg, Manitoba; and, last weekend, he shot a four-over-par 148 at the Staal Foundation Open in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
He made two cuts in five events a year ago and had a top-25 finish. In 2012, he made one cut in seven tournaments. He played one tournament in 2011 and failed to make the cut.
He explained the top money-makers on the tour can earn spots in the PGA Tour or the Web.com Tour, which is one step below the PGA Tour.
“I need to pick up some ground. I have some work to do,” Speirs said.
“My game is good, but I need to piece everything all together. You have to minimize your mistakes and have clean rounds. My rounds have been pretty clean, but I’ve got to get my game a little bit tighter,” Speirs said.
He played two years of college golf at Texas Christian before transferring to the University of Mississippi for his final two years.
He said the Canadian Tour is challenging.
“The competition is really good. It’s as good as anywhere other than the PGA Tour and the Web.com Tour,” Speirs said. “And it has gotten a lot tougher. The courses are good. They play a lot like New England courses. They’re always in really good shape and the greens are fast.
“I would like to be further along, but I’m getting a little better every year and that’s all you can ask for,” he added.
He works on all aspects of his game, but his emphasis lately has been on his short game.
“My putting and chipping are getting a lot better, but you always have to keep tabs on everything. You have to drive the ball well, you have to keep it in play and you’ve got to make putts. That takes a little pressure off everything else,” he said.
Bangor’s Ed DePhilippo, his longtime caddy for the GBO, has noticed an improvement in Speirs’ game.
“There’s a 100 percent difference in his game [from last year to this year]. His short game is a lot better,” DePhilippo said.
Speirs knows it won’t be easy to win the GBO this week, and he said the course is playing a “little softer” than normal.
“It’s usually a bit firmer. I thinks the greens will get a little firmer. It rained last night. We’ll see what happens the rest of the week,” he said.
“There are a lot of good players here. It usually takes a score of six to nine under par to win it,” he observed. “You need to shoot two- or three-under par every day.”
The Canadian PGA Tour is on break, so Speirs will follow this tournament by playing in the Charlie’s Maine Open Championship at the Augusta Country Club on Monday and Tuesday.
He will continue going to PGA qualifying school in Texas to try to earn a spot on the Web.com Tour.
Golfers who used to survive the first two stages of qualifying at Q-school and then finish in the top 25 of the gruelling six-round third stage would earn PGA Tour cards. But that was changed a year ago so that the top finishers now earn Web.com cards, not PGA cards.
The top 75 money-winners on the Web.com Tour and Nos. 126-200 on the PGA Tour play three tournaments and, after the three tournaments, the top 50 players earn PGA Tour cards.