For nearly four decades Bob Mielcarz has been a fixture at the New Hampshire Golf Association State Amateur, and with nine victories the longtime Concord Country Club golfer is its most prolific winner.
With the 2012 tournament slated to begin Monday at Concord, however, Mielcarz said he's pretty sure this week's renewal will be his State Am swan song.
“I think I've been hanging around too long,” the 62-year-old said. “I don't want to keep playing so long that I end up playing someone's grandson. It's bad enough that I've played father-and-son combinations, but I don't think I want to hang around until the next generation rolls around.”
Mielcarz played his first State Am in 1975 and hasn't missed one since. He posted three consecutive victories in 1977-79, added one in 1982 and four in the '90s before surpassing Tommy Leonard's record eight State Am crowns with his triumph at Bretwood in 2000. By his count, he's reached the quarterfinals 15 times, the semifinals 13 times and the final 10 times, with his only championship-match loss coming to Peter Houle at Rochester in 1989.
Although he's not sure he has the stamina or the game to compete for the title anymore, Mielcarz won't close the door on the possibility of a storybook ending to his 38th State Am start.
“I think with the home course knowledge that I have, and a game that's still reasonably intact, I might be able to advance through the match-play bracket,” he said. “Who knows? If I get deep enough in the tournament, then I find a little comfort zone because I've been to the quarters and the semis and the finals so many times. I actually seem to play better deeper in the tournament than early in the tournament.”
The last time the State Am visited Concord in 1993, Mielcarz captured his sixth title, defeating Peter Malley, 1 up, in the 36-hole final. He was also the qualifying medalist, shooting 69-73.
► Round 1 tee times for the NHGA State Am
► Round 2 tee times for the NHGA State Am
► Past NHGA State Am champions
Although the course has undergone some renovations over the last six years, Mielcarz expects it will play similarly to the way it did in '93, when it took a two-round qualifying total of 159 to advance to match play.
“I don't think the course is a lot different,” Mielcarz said. “We've straightened out a couple of doglegs and added a couple of ponds on the back nine, and I don't necessarily think the holes play that much differently. They just look quite a bit different.”
Measuring a little more than 6,500 yards from the tips, the par-70 layout is similar to the last two State Am venues, Eastman Golf Links and Nashua Country Club, in that it rewards precision more than sheer power.
“Driver is just not the club to hit on a lot of holes at Concord, just like it was not the club to hit on a lot of holes at Eastman and Nashua,” Mielcarz said. “It's a course that I think brings more players into the mix.”
Winning at Concord will require distance control on approach shots and wizardry on the greens, added Rich Thibeault, the club's head pro.
“The greens are the main defense of the golf course, and getting above the hole, the green speeds get a little fast and it's difficult to score from back there,” Thibeault said. “A good wedge player and somebody who can keep the ball below the hole should do very well.”
Concord resident Jim Cilley will defend the title he won last year at Nashua, where he defeated Hanover's Nick MacDonald, 1 up, in the final. Although he plays out of Canterbury Woods, Cilley plays Concord frequently as a guest and feels the course suits his strengths as a straight driver and good iron player.
“I'm not like some of these young guys who bomb it out there 300 or 320 (yards),” said Cilley, 31. “But you really don't have to be that at Concord Country Club. You really just need to keep the ball in play.”
Cilley, who tees off at 12:34 p.m. Monday in a group that includes Mielcarz, will seek to become the first repeat champion since Mielcarz in 1995-96. Moreover, he will be the only one of last year's semifinalists competing this year.
MacDonald, the 2010 champion, is not entered because of a work conflict, while Nashua's James Pleat will be caddying for his father, Phil, at the U.S. Senior Open. Hooper's Ryan Kohler, meanwhile, will be competing in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in Utah.
Phil Pleat (Nashua), a three-time State Am champion who qualified for the U.S. Senior Open by virtue of his runner-up finish in the USGA Senior Amateur last fall, will be another notable absentee, as will State Junior champion Chelso Barrett (Bretwood) and 2011 quarterfinalist Damon Salo (The Shattuck), both of whom will join Kohler in the U.S. Amateur Public Links field.
In addition to Cilley and Mielcarz, players who bear watching at Concord this week include 2011 quarterfinalists Dylan Evans (Stonebridge), Chris Kelloway (Portsmouth) and Joe Leavitt (Atkinson); two-time champion Craig Steckowych (Portsmouth); 2009 NHGA Mid-Amateur champion Joshua Chamberlain (Crotched Mountain); recent Seacoast Amateur winner Michael Mahan (The Oaks); and teen standouts Jake Nutter (Manchester), Nick Fairweather (Windham) and Chris Houston (Laconia).