NEWRY, Maine — After two straight years of disappointing finishes, Seth Sweet of Madison was able to lift as his own the crystalware that comes with winning the Maine Amateur Golf Championship.
Sweet, 17, held off charges by JJ Harris of Bath and Ricky Jones of Thomaston to win by three strokes at the challenging Sunday River Golf Club on Thursday.
The recent Madison High School graduate, the third youngest player to win the Amateur, shot a final-round 7-over-par 79 for a 219 total after he posted 2-under-par 70s the first two days.
Harris, also the runner-up last year at Portland Country Club in Falmouth Foreside, shot a 76 for his 222 total. Jones, a two-time Amateur titlist, posted a 73 to match Harris’ total.
Norway’s Joe Baker had the low round of the finale, finishing with a 70 to earn fourth place at 223.
Sweet had only one thought after sinking the final putt of the tournament.
“Finally,” he said.
“I’ve been putting in a lot of work,” said Sweet. “I was fourth the last two years, and I’ve been gritting my teeth [waiting to try again].”
He held a six-stroke lead over Harris and nine-stroke edge over Jones to start the day, but Sweet’s round hit a bump right away as he double bogeyed the first hole.
“For a lot of people, seven on that hole [would have been a problem]. Most people look at that par 5 as a birdie opportunity,” said Jones, who has also won the Maine Open once and Paul Bunyan Amateur four times. “It didn’t help that JJ and I let him [up].”
Harris made par and picked up two strokes, but Jones bogeyed and only gained one.
Sweet admitted he was a little nervous at the start, despite the big lead.
“I thought I’d be more relaxed, but I still had the same old nerves,” he said.
Sweet was able to put that bad start behind him. He parred No. 2 to start a string of 14 holes that he played 2 over par, giving few opportunities for his challengers to gain ground in bunches.
“I knew they were going to make a run,” said Sweet, “and I had to have my castle up before they came.”
Harris knew his chances were slipping away as the round rolled on.
“I didn’t make the 4-, 5- and 6-foot putts that I should have,” he said. “I had a lot of missed opportunities.
Jones missed four birdie putts over the last 10 holes.
“Nine, it broke too much, and 10, it didn’t break enough,” he said.
He missed two more, on 13 and 17, the first pulled a little left and the second came up short.
“I had to wait for him to make a big, big mistake,” said Jones of Sweet.
The closest Sweet came to that was a second double bogey, on the par-3 16th when he hit his tee shot into the front bunker. The sand was fluffier than he thought and his first bunker shot stayed in the bunker. His second came out a little long and he two-putted for 5.
Sweet didn’t let it get to him. He had thought about what a bad hole would mean, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“I was going to be in contention whether I had a bad hole or not,” he said. “If they made a 4 and I made an 8, I’d still be in it.
“I was just thinking about the shot coming up next. I just stuck with the plan and kept everything the same.”
At that point Sweet was 2 over par for the tournament, three strokes ahead of Harris, who bogeyed 16, and Jones, who made a long putt to save par.
Sweet bogeyed 17, as did Harris, and Jones was within two with the tricky 443-yard downhill dogleg left par-4 18th to go. Out of bounds hugs the right side and bunkers sit on the outside edge of the elbow.
Jones, teeing first, hit into one of the bunkers, but he had a decent lie. Harris had a nearly perfect lie on the same line as Jones but on the right side of the fairway. Sweet, hitting last, was in the center of the fairway but farther back than he would have liked.
The left half of the green, where the pin was Thursday, is protected by a water hazard.
Harris hit over that and rolled up to the level the pin was on, while Sweet and Jones ended up on the front right portion of the green, a long way and downhill from the cup.
Jones hammered his putt first, getting up to the top level, but just barely.
“I saw how he hammered his putt,” said Sweet, who was on a similar line. “I knew I could hit it as hard as I wanted.”
He did, and his ball stopped within a couple of feet of the hole.
Harris two-putted for par, and Jones took two more putts and made bogey.
That only left Sweet to roll the ball in to complete the win and be congratulated by family and friends.
“This was new for me. I never had a lead before,” he said. “… I didn’t know how to handle a five-shot lead [starting the back nine]. … Middle of the fairways and center of the greens sounds easy, but when you’re thinking a thousand different things, it’s not.”