NHGA Jr. Golf: McKee has a little extra, tops Gillis in playoff
SALEM — James McKee, with the New Hampshire Golf Association Junior Championship on the line, stared down the putt of six, maybe seven feet.
It seemed much longer.
“It felt like 20 feet,” McKee said later with a smile. “Downhill. A little slider, right to left.”
Miss it and the tight 2014 NHGA Junior duel between a pair of sharp-shooting 15-year-olds Windham’s McKee and Brandon Gillis of Nashua — would move on to playoff hole number four at Campbell’s Scottish Highlands Golf Course.
McKee nailed the putt and in short order was celebrating his first NHGA Junior title — “The first tournament I’ve actually won,” he said — and holding the silver bowl that is awarded to the winner.
McKee survived a clutch putt by Gillis on the last hole of regulation and then won with a birdie on hole No. 17, a par 4 and the third playoff hole.
It wasn’t a bad way to close out the first appearance in the final for either golfer, Gillis said.
“Losing on a birdie is a great way to lose,” Gillis said. “I give him a lot of credit for that birdie.”
Gillis was the medalist on Monday with a 3-under round of 68 and McKee was tied for the runnerup spot with an even par 71 with Tom Hixon of Wentworth by the Sea, who was the defending champion.
Hixon lost in the first round of match play on Monday afternoon.
McKee and Gillis marched through Monday and two more rounds of match play on Tuesday and went head-to-head through 21 holes – neither giving an inch and both of them piling up the pars — starting at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.
Each was just under par for the day and nobody led by more than 1-up.
The match was all even with three holes left in regulation.
McKee won hole No. 4 with a birdie and Gillis got the match back to all-square with his par on No. 6.
They matched pars through the next eight holes. Gillis took his only lead of the day on No. 16 with a par when McKee had bogey.
McKee won No. 17 with a par and quickly it was all-square again.
“That was disappointing, but you have to forget about it and go on to 18,” Gillis said.
Gillis was in trouble on No. 18.
Both golfers were on the par 5 hole in two shots and they were both 30 or so feet from the hole.
Gillis went first and slid his putt some 12 feet past the hole. McKee, who will be a sophomore at Windham High School and plays out of Windham Country Club, got his putt close and was going to be able to tap in for his birdie.
Gillis, who will be a sophomore at Nashua North and plays out of Souhegan Woods in Amherst, needed his 12-footer to get the match to a playoff.
“It was do or die, just go for it all the way,” Gillis said. “I hit a good putt and it broke three or four inches. It was the best putt I hit all day.
The putt took the match to extra holes.
Each had a par as they played No. 17 again as the No. 1 playoff hole.
They had pars again at No. 18.
Then it was on to what turned out to be the final hole, a third look a No. 17 in the span of about half an hour.
It was just about what McKee expected to cap off an exhausting three days of golf.
“I knew it was going to be tight going into the first hole,” he said.
“We didn’t make a lot of mistakes. It was sort of like I did the first two matches. I waited for kids to make mistakes. Brandon didn’t make any mistakes today. There was nothing wrong with his game today.” Nor was there with McKee’s.
Both McKee and Gillis have busy summers of golf ahead. They could have earned spots in the State Am by virtue of their medal play at the NHGA juniors, but have other commitments that week.
Early next week, each will try to qualify for the United States Junior Amateur. McKee plays his 36-hole qualifier at Tashua Knolls Golf Course in Trumbull, Conn., on Monday, and Gillis is at Colonie Country Club just outside Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday.