As a member of Augusta Country Club in Manchester, Ryan Gay of Pittston occasionally gets to play with 13-time Maine Amateur Golf Championship winner Mark Plummer of Manchester.
Gay may be absorbing something from Plummer’s experience and tournament preparation as the 18-year-old prepares to defend his first Maine Amateur title.
“I’m not thinking like I’m defending, I’m just thinking of it as a tournament I want to win,” said Gay.
The 90th Maine Amateur gets under way today at 7 a.m. at Martindale Country Club in Auburn, a 6,468-yard par-71 formerly semi-private club now open to the public.
The field of 126 players will play a second round Wednesday before a cut to the low 40 and ties for Thursday’s 18-hole finale. Those who make the cut automatically qualify for next year’s Amateur, which will be held at Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor.
Gay and Plummer, who won in 1989 and 1996, the last two times Martindale hosted the Amateur, will be paired again for the first two rounds, along with two-time Amateur champ Ricky Jones of Thomaston.
That was the final group in 2008, when Gay started in third place, trailing Jones by three strokes and Plummer by two. Gay shot a final-round 68 and defeated Plummer by two strokes and Jones by five.
“Yeah, the last person off [last year] and the first person on [this year],” said Gay.
The usual procedure is to have the Amateur champ, Maine Junior winner and Mid-Amateur victor in the first group, according to Executive Director Nancy Storey of the Maine State Golf Association, which conducts all three tournaments.
But Gay was also the Junior champ, and Eric Higgins of Kennebunk was the Mid-Am winner but he turned pro, so the MSGA decided to go with the 2008 Amateur final group.
The Amateur will actually be the second and third straight days Gay will be playing with Plummer, as the two played a practice round at Martindale Monday morning.
Gay wouldn’t say who played better this time.
“We hit a bunch of balls on each hole,” explained Gay. “I got a feel for the greens.”
And that’s the key to Martindale, according to Gay.
His game plan this year “is to keep the ball below the hole,” Gay said. “If you get above the hole, the greens are fast and so tilted you could putt right off the green.
“You have to drive the ball in the fairway. That way you can control the ball [on the approach shots] and get below the pin.”
Gay expects the conditions to be better at Martindale than they were last week at the Charlie’s Portland Maine Open, where he finished as the low amateur.
That even takes into consideration the possibility of the occasional thunderstorm and showers today and Wednesday.
“Martindale drains better [than Riverside Municipal Golf Course in Portland], and we’ve had some dry weather since then,” said Gay.
Gay expects the course to be even more of a challenge than it was Monday.
“The greens will be a lot faster [Tuesday] than they were [Monday]. They’ll roll and double-cut them,” he said.
He expects it will be fine, though.
“The course is in really good shape,” he said. “It should be fun.”
In addition to Plummer and Jones, Gay expects that 2008 Paul Bunyan Amateur Golf Tournament champion Joe Alvarez of Hampden and 2002 Greater Bangor Open runner-up Jesse Speirs of Bangor will also be among the contenders.
“It’s just a matter of who gets hot,” said Gay.