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Bangor native Jesse Speirs ready to defend Greater Bangor Open golf title Thursday

Michael C. York | BDN
Michael C. York | BDN
Jesse Speirs takes a swing from the hazard on the practice green at Bangor Municipal Golf Course on Wednesday, July 18, 2012.
By Dave Barber, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The last time Bangor native Jesse Speirs was home was a year ago when he won the Greater Bangor Open Golf Tournament.

Despite being spread around the country, the Speirs family is a close-knit one, so there was no question that Jesse would be back this week to defend his title.

“I would have had some explaining to do [to his mother, Debi, especially],” said a smiling Speirs Wednesday at Bangor Municipal Golf Course, site of the 46th GBO.

“I’m trying to give her as many hugs as I can this week,” said the 25-year-old pro who now resides in Memphis, Tenn.

Most of the Speirs children and their families are in town this weekend, something Jesse said he had been anticipating as he played in tournaments around the U.S. and Canada.

A water leak has ruined some rooms at the Speirs household, according to Speirs, and put a damper on some of those plans. Speirs is spending this week at the home of a friend, Ed DePhillipo.

Others are doing the same or staying in hotels, which was not what Jesse was expecting.

“I’ve been living in hotels the last five weeks,” said Speirs. “I was looking forward to being in my own bed, but it was not to be.”

Speirs expects things to go more smoothly on the golf course. The GBO pro-am kicked off the tournament schedule on Wednesday and the three-day, 54-hole regular portion of the event starts Thursday and continues through late Saturday afternoon.

“It’s nice to have won it and have that behind you,” Speirs said. “It will be exciting to defend and it should be a fun week.”

Speirs defeated Mike Ballo of Stamford, Conn., on the first playoff hole to win last year’s GBO after the two tied at 7-under-par 200. Bangor Muni, which normally plays to a par of 71, is a par 69 for the GBO as the two short par-5 holes on the back nine are converted to par-4s.

Ballo has not returned this year, but there is no shortage of contenders among the 103 pros and amateurs who signed up.

Winners of the three GBOs before Speirs’ victory are back — Scott Hawley (2010) of Shewsbury, Mass.; Marc Hurtubise (2009) of Chambly, Quebec, and Shawn Warren (2008) of Windham, who won the 2004 Maine Open as an amateur.

Other notables include Dustin Cone of Jensen Beach, Fla., who prevailed in a playoff against Jim Lytle of Ocean Ridge, Fla., to win this year’s Maine Open at Augusta Country Club in Manchester. Cone also won the 2010 Maine Open and tied Warren for third in last year’s GBO.

Michael Carbone of Brewster, Mass., won the 2011 Maine Open in a playoff over Warren and John Hickson of Topsham.

Hickson, a Hampden native, won the 1997 GBO and the 2008 Maine Open and could contend this week, also.

Mack Duke of Loxley, Ala., was low pro Wednesday with a 61. Cone, Warren and Eric Ross of Burlington, Ontario, tied for second at 65.

Will Mitchell of Bowmanville, Ontario, won the long drive contest at 353 yards, edging out Egloff at 350, Speirs at 348 and Warren at 347.

Speirs was encouraged by his practice round Monday at Bangor.

“We got 27 holes in [while dodging the rain],” said Speirs. “The greens are rolling out pretty good, and they should get quicker through the week.

“The greens seem to be holding a lot of moisture, and that would be good if they hold up.”

Speirs has been playing in a number of tours over the past year, but the most significant came in May when he qualified for this year’s Canadian Professional Golf Tour.

“It’s nine events, and we’ve played five already,” said Speirs. “The events are well run, the courses are in great shape and it’s a lot of fun.”

Unfortunately, according to Speirs, it almost went bankrupt, but the PGA Tour may be looking into purchasing it, like it did with the Latin American tour.

“They used to have 14-15 tournaments, now it’s nine,” Speirs said. “Plus, it’s a limited [golf] season [in Canada] and a tournament takes up the course for a whole week, Sunday to Sunday.

“But they have a great fan base and a lot of support.”

Speirs has not made a cut yet on the Canadian tour, but he’s hopeful.

“My game’s close, I just haven’t been able to put two good rounds together to start [a tournament],” he said. “I feel like I’m going in the right direction, but it hasn’t really clicked yet.”

Speirs did cash a check at an eGolf tour event, the River Hills Classic in South Carolina in May. He tied for 35th, along with McLean, and picked up a check for $1,630. He has also played in some NGA Tour events (formerly the Hooters Tour).

His best experience this year, he said, may have come when he lost a playoff in a Monday qualifier for a Nationwide Tour event in Valdosta in April.

“I got a brief glimpse of almost getting there,” he said. “Anything you get, you’ve got to take the positive away because golf is such a brutal game.”

The only way to overcome that is one step at a time.

“You set goals you can achieve, keep your eye on the big goal and keep going,” he said.

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