SALEM -- New Hampshire's best junior golfer, Chelso Barrett of Keene, plays with the swagger of a linebacker walking through the weight room.
He's tough. He'll outmuscle you. He'll get inside your head if you let him.
For all I know, Barrett is a polite 17-year-old who helps the elderly across the street. On the golf course, however, he'll stomp you into the ground with amazing shots and supreme confidence. On the rare occasion he mishits, Barrett isn't afraid to swear (work on it, kid) and show his frustration.
It's all part of the Teenage Intimidator.
Barrett is the favorite to win the 2012 New Hampshire Golf Association's Junior Championship, a three-day event concluding today at Campbell's Scottish Highlands Golf Club. He breezed through Tuesday's quarterfinals and semifinals, advancing to meet Matthew Killam of Newport Golf Club in the final. They'll tee off at 7 a.m. for the 18-hole match-play championship.
Good luck to Killam. I could play from the red tees and have a better chance of beating Matt Bonner in a free throw shooting contest.
It's a big day for Barrett but nothing compared to the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship held in Bremerton, Wash., last summer. The Keene phenom made a spectacular bid for a national title and finished runner-up to world-ranked Jordan Spieth, who joined Tiger Woods as the only multiple winner of the event.
Barrett won two 9-hole matches on Tuesday morning and later beat Ryan Tombs of Bedford High, 1-up, in the semifinal. It was a back-and-forth match with a great finish.
Tombs, playing out of Manchester Country Club, wouldn't rattle. It helped that Barrett underclubbed his way through the semis, often leaving himself with extra long putts. He three-putted four greens during the match and kept leaving open a window for his opponent. The match was all square through 12 holes — after Barrett launched his tee shot into a hazard.
“I just tried to stay confident with myself. I knew he wasn't really playing his best, and I could stay with him,” said Tombs, who lost the 13th and 14th holes and never recovered.
On No. 17, a par-four 317-yarder, Barrett could have played the hole conservatively but didn't. Leading by one hole, he grabbed his driver and launched a wind-aided tee shot that bounced onto the green. Both players made birdie, with Tombs extending the match by getting up and down from 70 yards.
“I can't believe he was able to keep that (tee) shot on the green. I thought it was a very bold play,” said Tombs.
On the par-five 18th hole, Barrett clinched the match by smacking his driver twice in a row. His second shot, a bomb from the fairway, nearly reached the green.
“When he hit driver off the fairway,” Tombs said, “I'm thinking, 'Is this kid crazy?'” No, he's the best.
Barrett, who'll play at Texas Christian University in the fall, is now in position for his second NHGA Junior Championship.
“It's exciting. I'm glad to be back in the finals,” said Barrett, joined by his 84-year-old grandfather, Toby, who wore green Chuck Taylor canvas sneakers on the course. “(The semifinal) kind of felt like a come-from-behind win, but it wasn't. I was up for the majority of the match.”
When asked if his reputation and style might intimidate others, Chelso said, “I don't know. If I'm playing good, maybe. Today I really didn't have my best stuff. I couldn't putt that well.”
Tombs, whose aunt, Tina, played in the LPGA, said the semifinal match was the toughest of his career. Barrett, who plays out of Bretwood Golf Course in Keene, brought out his best.
“It was a lot more serious and competitive. You could tell we both really wanted to win,” Tombs said.
Is there an intimidation factor when playing Barrett? “Of course. He's already committed to TCU. That's a Division I school and intimidating in itself. I tried not to think of all that,” he said.
Ben Robinson of Bedford, a senior-to-be at Bishop Guertin of Nashua, was among the half-dozen spectators watching Barrett and Tombs battle for 18 holes. Robinson spoke on behalf of teenagers across the state while describing Barrett's game.
“Fierce competitor. It can be intimidating because he's so well known, and he has the game to back it up,” Robinson said. “Everyone thinks he's the best. It's like he's the benchmark.”
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Kevin Gray's email address is email@example.com. Twitter: @graymatter11.