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Joe Duball's NH Golf: MacDonald looking to recapture the magic

By JOE DUBALL
July 07. 2018 11:17PM
Nick MacDonald (Mark Bolton/Union Leader file photo)



It's funny how competitive golf comes and goes in a player's life. That's a fact Lebanon native Nick MacDonald knows as well as anyone.

The 29-year-old member of Baker Hill Golf Club in Newbury begins his quest for a second New Hampshire Golf Association Amateur Championship today at Hanover Country Club with plenty of nostalgia in play. MacDonald will not only be playing his former home course, but he'll do so nearly a decade after his first State Am title.

MacDonald was 21 and a member of the University of Hartford men's golf team when he won the 2010 New Hampshire Golf Association Amateur Championship at Eastman Golf Links in Grantham. He followed that title up the next summer with a runner-up finish at the State Am and first place at the NHGA Stroke Play Championship. MacDonald also qualified for the U.S. Amateur Championship in both years.

The triumphant roll on the links came and went in a hurry for MacDonald. He said he did not play any competitive golf in 2012 or 2013 as he focused on building a career after graduating from Hartford in 2011. MacDonald, now a securities trader for Concord-based Granite Investment Advisors, has returned to the sport since the hiatus but on a more casual basis.

"I've played just like I do every year in terms of practicing and playing on the weekends," MacDonald said. "It's more interesting for me not being in college and playing in a bunch of tournaments. I've tried to play at least one event a year the past five years or so. The tough part now is just the nerves when I do play in a tournament."

MacDonald's participation in NHGA events has indeed been scarce in recent years. He's played in just seven of the 16 individual championship tournaments the NHGA has put on since 2014. MacDonald's most recent NHGA appearance came at this year's Players Invitational, where he tied for 11th. His last NHGA win came in the 2016 Mid-Amateur Championship while he finished second at last year's Players Invitational.

"I'm still playing competitively but just not the big events anymore," MacDonald said. "It takes getting comfortable again because it is not the same as going out and playing with your buddies on the weekend. There's that give-and-take to it."

MacDonald has played in just two of the last four State Ams, reaching the quarterfinals in both 2014 and 2016. The decision to return to the State Am field comes at the right time considering the familiar confines of Hanover CC.

"It really should play to my advantage," MacDonald said. "I've had more ups than downs there for the most part. I know the holes pretty well while also knowing where to miss shots and how the greens are. I really should be able to use all that."

MacDonald said that his greatest challenge will undoubtedly come on Hanover's greens. He recalls the course was made fast for the big tournaments he played there while cutting his teeth as a teen. Beyond putting, MacDonald sees few pitfalls considering what he feels he's capable of doing off the tee.

"Everything is sound for me at Hanover, but especially with my length," MacDonald said. "I'm going to hit a lot of drivers and sand wedges. As long as I putt well, it should be a pretty fun week for me."

While MacDonald has had some surreal moments on the golf course, bringing everything full-circle with a win at Hanover this week would undoubtedly take the cake.

"It'd be awesome to win an event in the town next to where I grew up and on a course that I put a lot of my practice in before and during college," MacDonald said. "It'd be similar to winning at Eastman, which is 15 minutes down the road from Lebanon. Just being in that local environment would make a win that much sweeter."

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James Pleat is another player taking a trip down memory lane this week in Hanover. Pleat, a Nashua Country Club member, is returning to his old college stomping grounds as he was a member of the of the Dartmouth College men's golf team.

"I was actually up there a couple weekends ago for my five-year college reunion," Pleat said. "It's been a little while but still kind of crazy it's been that long. Just going up there gives you so many memories when you're on campus, and it's the same on the golf course."

Across 32 tournaments and 80 rounds for Dartmouth, Pleat managed an average score of 74.73 while winning one tournament. That one top finish came at Hanover Country Club during his freshman year when the Big Green hosted the Dartmouth Invitational.

"It was my third college tournament and I ended up winning it in a playoff," Pleat said. "Doing that in front of a bunch of new guys as this freshman just coming into things was huge. Playing well right off the bat like that will always be a great memory."

Another memory for Pleat was rounding up pals after morning classes and playing "The Loop," which is a quick six-hole jaunt through the first five holes before coming back down No. 18.

Pleat is still in search of his first State Am victory, but is no stranger to wins in NHGA events. The 27-year-old won the 2017 Mid-Amateur Championship and the 2015 Stroke Play Championship. Like MacDonald and other former competitive-turned-casual golfers in the field at Hanover this week, Pleat pointed to his mentality as the key to success over anything he knows about the layout of the golf course.

"There's absolutely a certain mindset that comes with tournament play," Pleat said. "You really can't get into it the same with any little games (on the course) or even playing for money with buddies. It's not the same and you're not really grinding the same as you would on things like 3-foot putts at the State Am.

"I've been practicing and getting the reps when I can, but you need to get into a mode after a few months off like I've had."

Pleat will tee off with MacDonald and two-time State Am champion Craig Steckowych at 1:10 p.m. today.

Jane Blalock, from Portsmouth, reacts after making a putt during the 2010 Handa Cup tournament at Wentworth By The Sea Country Club. Blalock and Laura Shanahan Rowe will play in the inaugural U.S. Women’s Senior Open next weekend at Chicago Golf Club. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader file photo)

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New Hampshire golf will be represented in a landmark event for the United States Golf Association next weekend. The inaugural U.S. Women's Senior Open will tee off at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill., July 12-15 with Hampton resident Laura Shanahan Rowe and Portsmouth native Jane Blalock being among the 120-player field. The two Granite State golfers were among 462 players to enter into the first-time event, which is for players age 50 and over who meet handicap requirements.

Shanahan Rowe, who is the teaching pro at Sagamore Golf Center in North Hampton, grabbed the third and final qualifying spot out of a field of 25 players at an 18-hole qualifier at Ferncroft CC in Middleton, Mass., on June 18. The 58-year-old won the New Hampshire Women's Golf Association Amateur Championship in 1999 and 2002 and added a U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur Championship in 2001 before turning pro in 2003.

Blalock, 72, accepted one of many player exemptions to join next weekend's event. The 1969 LPGA Rookie of the Year was one of the best golfers in the world in the 1970s. Blalock nabbed 27 LPGA Tour wins and once made 299 consecutive cuts, which is a professional record for both men and women. 

Blalock is also the founder and CEO of the Legends Tour.

The field of 120 will be cut down after Friday's second round. The tournament's final two rounds will be broadcast on FS1.

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The NHWGA A/B Divisions Combined Tournament was held at The Country Club of New Hampshire in North Sutton on Tuesday. The pairing of Mary Jane Cormier and Melissa Harman were gross winners at 1-under-par while Ulrika Hedkvist and Jennifer Reardon took home the net win at 19-under.

Two-women teams made up this "Pick Your Own Partner" 18-hole four-ball stroke play tournament. The lower score of each pairing was the score taken for each hole.

Here are the full results: 

Gross Scores: 1. Mary Jane Cormier/Melissa Harman, 1-under; t-2. Betsy Knights/Amy Peters, 2-over; t-2. Joanne Botos/Chrissy Lumb, 2-over; 4. Diane Rankins/Rowena Wilks, 3-over; 5. Connie Manus/Sylvia Prive 5-over; 6. Robin Ruth/Bethany Hamilton, 6-over.

Net scores: 1st Net: Ulrika Hedkvist/Jennifer Reardon, 19-under 2. Kay Iturralde/Karen Ralston, 13-under; t-3. Jean Macleod/Linda Barton, 12-under; t-3. Peg Crowley/Karin Mahoney, 12-under; t-3. Corey Richardson/Kimberly Miller, 12-under; t-6. Lynn Casserly/Nancy Brouillette, 11-under; t-6. Carol Howe/Mary Ellen Kenney, 11-under; t-6. Therese Theriault/Pat Minishak, 11-under t-9. Cindy McLaughlin/Barbara Chase, 10-under; t-9. Sharen Fuller/Pam Lapointe, 10-under; t-9. Linda Pletch/Brenda McGee, 10-under; t-9. Rita Marchese/Linda Berlind, 10-under.

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Members of the NHWGA will be competing in the 62nd annual New England Women's Golf Association Championship starting Monday at The Woodland Club in Falmouth, Maine. Two-time defending NHWGA Amateur champion Chelsea Sedlar highlights a group of six Granite State golfers in the event. Joining Sedlar are Shivani Vora, Paige Macleay, Betsy Knights, Kim Lazenby, Brooke Barrett and Melissa Harman.

The three-day, 54-hole stroke play event is open to any amateur woman golfer with a handicap index no greater than 17.4 and is a legal resident of one of the six New England states. The field will be 108 players for 36 holes and then cut to 70 low score players, including anyone within 10 shots of the leader in the player's respective category, for the final round of play on Wednesday.

N.H. Golf appears in the New Hampshire Sunday News during the summer. To reach Joe Duball, e-mail jduball@unionleader.com.


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