NHGA State Am: Just like old times, Mielcarz wins match

Bob Mielcarz

BRETTON WOODS — Jim Cilley’s path to a second State Am title will go through a man who has won nine of them.

Cilley, of Penacook and Lochmere Golf & Country Club of Tilton, will face Bob Mielcarz of Concord and Concord Country Club today 8:40 a.m. in the 112th NHGA State Am’s round of 32. Mielcarz, 65, holds the record for most State Am championships and had planned on retiring after 2012.

“He came out of retirement just so I could play him,” Cilley joked. “I had never gotten him in match play and I was like ‘I never had to play him. That’s awesome.’ And now I’m going to get him.”

Cilley, the No. 13 seed, won it all in 2011 and advanced with a 3 and 2 victory over Eric Foster of Laconia Country Club on Wedneon Wednesday morning at Mount Washington Resort Golf Club. 45th-seeded Mielcarz beat Brett Wilson of The Golf Club of New England, 2 and 1, and also had a solid 1-over round on the opening day of stroke play.

“My objective was to make match play because this was more of a vacation than it was serious golf because I’m way past my prime,” Mielcarz said. “I didn’t want to come up here and shoot a couple of 80s. And I didn’t do that, so that was good. And now I’m by one round and we’ll see where it goes from here.

“I don’t expect to be around too long this week. There’s too many good players now. But I’m having fun and I’m meeting some new people and seeing a lot of old friends. So I’m having a great time.”

“Most everyone hits it a lot further than I do and (Jim) certainly does. So I’m going to have to try to do well on the short holes. And I’m probably going to give up some disadvantage on the par-5s, where he might be able to reach some holes in two that I can’t.”

After taking the 2011 crown, Cilley made the semifinals in 2012 and 2014.

“My match play record is certainly better the last three, four years than it was prior to winning,” he said. “I think I figured out how to play match play a little bit more than I used to.

“I’m definitely hungry to win another. There aren’t a lot of guys that have won two. … Joey Leavitt, I played with him the first two days and it’s going to take something pretty special for somebody to beat him. There’s a lot of younger kids.”

Leavitt, the No. 2 seed and defending champ, advanced to the round of 32, as did No. 1 seed Connor Greenleaf and fellow frontrunners Chelso Barrett, Nick Pandelena and Matt Paradis.

No. 4 seed Cameron Salo, who made match play for the first time in nine tries, also advanced and hopes to be in the frontrunner conversation as well.

Salo, 23, of New Ipswich and Bretwood Golf Course of Keene, came back from down two after two holes to defeat Zach Pollard of Hanover Country Club, 3 and 1, on Wednesday.

Salo’s first two tee shots both tailed into the rough to the right of the fairway. He went on to settle for a double-bogey and a par, both of which were bested by Pollard.

“A little mixture of nerves and the cold weather,” Salo said. “Couldn’t really get a good feel of the greens.”

But he would bounce back with three straight wins on holes five through seven to go up one. Up by the same margin after 14, he birdied the next three holes to close it out.

“It feels good to get the first match over with and won,” said Salo, who has faced his share of adversity to make it this far in a State Am.

“I’ve missed the cut a couple times by a couple strokes,” he said. “I never really took the time to learn from it. I’d just get frustrated and try not to do the same thing. And then this past week with the U.S. Am qualifiers is when I really took the time to learn from my mistakes. And that’s when I came out here, swung freely. I was comfortable. First two rounds, I mean that’s the first time I was under par for 36 holes. So it feels good. I’m really confident right now.”

Salo climbed all the way to a single-digit seed with a 2-under 140 in stroke play. His younger brother Damon, who plays golf with him at Johnson & Wales, had already set a high standard by making the championship round of the State Am last year. Damon also made the round of 16 in 2013. Cameron’s uncle, Bryce, has competed in the State Am in the past as well.

Damon is the No. 11 seed this year and defeated Rob Zimmerman Jr., 4 and 2, on Wednesday to advance. If he and Cameron are to meet in a sibling showdown it would be in the championship round.

Former UNH hockey player Matt Fornataro was eliminated on Wednesday as were former champions Michael Martel, Dan Arvanitis and Craig Steckowych.