CONWAY — James Pleat said he came into the 118th New Hampshire Amateur Championship just hoping to make some noise as the defending champion.
The 30-year-old from Nashua never expected to join the list of men to win the prestigious tournament in consecutive summers.
Pleat defeated fellow Nashua resident Brandon Gillis, 5 and 4, in the 36-hole final match Saturday at North Conway Country Club to become the 13th player to repeat as the State Am champion.
Pleat, who won his first State Am last year on his home course, Nashua CC, is the first to win consecutive titles since Bob Mielcarz (1995-96). Pleat’s grandfather, Thomas J. Leonard, Jr., won the State Am a record six straight times from 1947-52.
“I did not expect this to happen and I still can’t believe it, to be perfectly honest,” Pleat said after winning the match on the 14th hole. “I woke up (Saturday) morning and was like, you know, if I lose it’s OK because I made it this far but it’s really hard to get to the finals because there are so many good players in the state that I wanted to make the most of it.
“I never thought this would ever happen.”
With his dad and three-time State Am champ Phil as his caddie, Pleat capped a back-and-forth opening 18 holes with three straight birdies to take a 2-up lead into the one-hour break between rounds. The Dartmouth College graduate diverted a shot out of the trees onto the green before making birdie on 16 as Gillis, 22, posted his first bogey of the day.
Pleat had five of his 11 birdies in the second round. He strung together three birdies over holes 24-30 to build a 6-up cushion.
Gillis and Pleat previously played against each other only once, in the 2018 state four-ball tournament, before Saturday.
“I knew James was going to play well, I expected him to play well so I knew I had to make a lot of birdies and unfortunately I didn’t make as many as I needed,” said Gillis, who plays out of Sky Meadow CC in Nashua and collegiately for the University of Rhode Island. “I just played solid and solid just wasn’t good enough (Saturday).”
Saturday marked both Gillis’ first State Am final appearance and 36-hole match of his career. The Nashua North graduate dedicated his tournament performance last week to his friend, Tyler Almeida, who died unexpectedly last November at age 17.
“I felt his presence out there,” Gillis said when accepting the runner-up trophy. “I think he willed a few putts in for me (Friday).”
Pleat had not been to North Conway CC since riding in the golf cart with his dad as a kid the last time the course hosted the State Am in 2001. Throughout the tournament, Pleat said he hit the ball well and his putting game rounded into form in match play, when Phil began caddying for him after missing the cut out of stroke play.
“I felt like if I won or lost, it was a win this week so I was pretty relaxed — probably more relaxed than I was last year,” Pleat said.