AUBURN, Maine — It wasn’t long ago that Andrew Slattery wasn’t sure he could compete with the best golfers that Maine had to offer.
He’d been learning and improving, but the progress he’d made hadn’t translated into confidence.
“I think something finally clicked,” Slattery said, trying to explain the transformation in his game the past two years. “I finally played in enough other tournaments to get the hang of playing under pressure. When I finished the Maine Amateur in Augusta (in 2013), I finished seven-over par on my front nine and was even the rest of the tournament.
“That’s when I knew I could play and knew I could compete with these guys. I just started playing with a different mindset and not playing scared. I tried to play like I do every Saturday. It shouldn’t be any different.”
With last year’s Maine Amateur title already on his resume, Slattery claimed the Maine Match Play Championship title Thursday on his home course, Martindale Country Club. He beat Jeff Cole of Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland 2-and-1. He joins Ryan Gay, John Hayes IV and Ricky Jones as golfers with both titles.
“That was just special,” Slattery said of the Maine Amateur title. “That’s the first one. That’s like the flagship event of the year. But this one is awesome. You have 32 people in the field. All 32 could have won this thing, so it’s five rounds of golf compared to three. You’ve got to play well five times.”
Slattery eliminated Hayes and Joe Walp Wednesday and handed Cole his second straight championship loss Thursday. Slattery won 11 and 12 on the back nine to go 2-up. Though Cole tried to rally, Slattery finished the match with a birdie on 17.
“I’d never made it to Wednesday before,” Slattery said of the Match Play Championships, where he is now 8-4 overall in five years. “Coming in, I wasn’t exactly confident. I never had been coming into this tournament. I kind of changed the way I thought about it.”
After successfully slogging through a wet pair of rounds Tuesday, Slattery’s confidence and expectations grew as he advanced for the first time.
“After (Wednesday), I was worn out,” he said. “John Hayes and Walp are two really good golfers. I thought if I got by that, I’d have a pretty good chance (Thursday). To be honest, (Wednesday) I thought I played better because I had a really long day ahead of me. I wasn’t expecting to win. I wasn’t thinking I was going to lose, but I wasn’t expecting to win against John and Joe.”
Cole lost to Jones 6-and-4 a year ago as Jones won four of the last five holes. Thursday, Cole knew he had a chance again, but couldn’t get the shots he needed.
“I know I can get there,” Cole said. “Now I just have to win it. I didn’t play very well at all last year against Ricky. I wasn’t trying to beat him. I was just in awe. This year, I wanted to beat him. I thought I could. I knew I could. I’ve just got to make putts. I missed two or three putts and I lost 2-down.”
Neither golfer putted very well early. Cole had a chance at birdie on the first hole but lipped it out. He still won the hole, but his miss seemed to set a tone.
“You’ve got to see one go in early,” Cole said. “It’s so huge. It’s big in stroke play but even more in match play, to get that positive vibe going.”
Slattery evened it on the third hole with a par and then went 1-up on the fifth hole with another par. Cole went back ahead on the eighth with a birdie while Slattery double-bogeyed.
“I didn’t feel like I had a rhythm until I hit my 12th tee ball,” Slattery said. “The whole front nine, I was scraping it around and just trying to make pars and trying to hang on, hoping he didn’t do anything special to put me in the hole.”
The two ended the front with pars and started the back the same way. The match shifted on 11 and 12.
Slattery made par on 11, but Cole bogeyed, three-putting the hole away.
“You can’t three-putt,” Cole said. “You can’t three-putt against anybody in this field, especially Andrew. You can’t give up shots like that.”
Going two-up with just five holes to play put the pressure on Cole.
“You go 2-up out back, if you’re shooting the ball well and hitting every green, usually you’re going to win,” Slattery said. “I was just trying to hit every fairway and every green and hope a putt goes in here and there.”
Cole was hoping for something similar. He was producing opportunities but needed a putt to spark him in the homestretch. He missed a chance at 13 that would have closed the gap. After both golfers parred the next three holes, Cole birdied the 16th hole with a 20-footer to get him within one.
“I was hitting the shots and putting myself in position,” Cole said. “So I felt good. I tried walking a little bit more. I tried to relax and get the putter going. All it takes is that one putt. I knew I had to make one.”
His rally was short lived. Cole missed a try at birdie on the 17th hole. Slattery then finished off the match with a 10-foot birdie putt of his own.