GREENLAND — The top two seeds advanced as expected in Wednesday’s first round of match play at the 116th New Hampshire Golf Association Amateur Championship. But top-seeded Ryan Brown and second-seeded Brandon Gillis didn’t take the same path to keeping their title hopes alive at Portsmouth Country Club.
Brown, a member at Manchester CC, was first off the tee Wednesday and had the fastest match of the day with a 7-and-5 win over Nashua CC’s Derek LeClair. In contrast, Gillis, also from Nashua CC, needed 19 holes to down Green Meadow of Hudson’s Phil Smith after Smith squared the match on the 18th hole.
For Brown, it boiled down to rolling over momentum from his stroke play rounds the two days prior that netted him the No. 1 seed.
“I had a lot of confidence going in and just kind of knew things would be good if I played the way I had been,” Brown said. “It was just about hitting a lot of greens and making a lot of pars. I ended up starting off with a ton of pars and a birdie, and then it just went on from there.”
A sizable lead from the get-go was not the only thing working to Brown’s advantage. Despite his lack of experience at Portsmouth CC, Brown said the course’s layout plays right to his liking.
“It’s not too long and I hit the ball pretty far,” Brown said. “I pulled my driver and wasn’t really hitting it great, but my irons and wedges have really been on the past couple days. With that, I knew as long as I had a shot at the green (off the drive) that I would be able to stick it close.”
Brown added that his game tends to peak when he hits the week of the State Am. He found himself on a roll early in last year’s tournament before falling in the quarterfinals to Gillis.
As for Gillis’ first match, there wasn’t a whole lot for last year’s semifinalist to be excited about besides surviving and advancing. Gillis said the same confidence that sparked a 6-under 66 in Tuesday’s stroke play was nowhere to be found from the onset of Wednesday’s match.
“(Phil) is a great match play player. He can get up and down a lot with a good short game,” Gillis said. “It can drive you a little crazy if you aren’t making birdies and I definitely beat myself up out there.”
Neither Gillis nor Smith broke free in the match as they each held 1-up leads, including Gillis’ one-hole edge he lost on the 18th hole by way of an errant shot out of the rough. That sent the match back to hole No. 1, where Gillis laid his tee shot in the same spot he had the first three times he played the hole this week.
“I knew the number coming out of there,” Gillis said of his approach on No. 1. “It was downwind, so I knew I had to carry the front bunker and it would release. I carried it a little further than I would’ve liked, but it was good enough for an easy two-putt.”
Gillis and Brown will try to make it through two rounds of matches that will be played both Thursday and Friday. In the round of 32 Thursday morning, Brown squares off with Mike Flynn and Gillis tangles with Ryan Kohler.
The upset of the day on Wednesday came from the youngest player left in the field. Breakfast Hill CC of Greenland’s Brian Adams, 14, paid no mind to his No. 56 ranking as he toppled Kevin Strong in 20 holes.
Adams ended things by paring the 20th hole while Strong finished with a double-bogey.
“It was just a battle of consistency,” Adams said. “We had to make birdies instead of pars. The playoff ended on a mistake. We could’ve kept going on forever otherwise.”
It was Adams’ first match play win in his first State Am appearance. This time last year he was finishing runner-up at the NHGA Junior Championship.
“I wasn’t expecting to get past stroke play,” Adams said. “It’s an honor to even be in the round of 32 because I never thought I would get this far with all these great golfers from different parts of the state around me.”
Adams won the first four holes of the day before Strong chipped away and evened things after 16 holes. Despite the roller coaster, Adams said the win gives him a jolt of confidence as he gears up to play No. 41 Matt Gover, of Atkinson CC, who had an upset of his own over No. 24 Harvin Groft in 21 holes, which proved to be the day’s longest match.
One of the more interesting middle-seed matches of the day was between Concord CC’s Will McLaughlin and Derryfield CC of Manchester’s Matt Burroughs. No. 21 McLaughlin bested No. 44 Burroughs 1-up on the 18th hole following a solid up-and-down from the sloped rough off the left side of the green.
“It was the only shot I had,” McLaughin said. “There was nowhere to land it. If I had hit the green low then it would’ve run 20 feet by with how firm the greens are. I said, ‘Screw it.’ Just had to get it high and make sure it gets there. Ended up as good as it could be and rolled a putt that barely made it.”
Burroughs had a 1-up lead for one hole midway through the match, but otherwise the match remained even. McLaughlin and Burroughs expected the even play because they’ve been playing partners once a week for the last five years, making Wednesday’s match that much more interesting.
“We’re on a five-year run of tying matches, so we were joking all day about this thing going to extras,” said McLaughlin, who went to Trinity High in Manchester with Burroughs. The pair also matched up with one another the last time the State Am was at Portsmouth CC in 2003. “Last year we played an entire summer series and were just two or three shots apart after playing once a week.
“Not the draw I wanted to get in the first round. I don’t think anybody wanted to win, but we didn’t want to lose. It was a weird feeling.”
McLaughlin added that beating a good friend will easily be the toughest match he’ll play this week due to the emotions. All his attention now goes to Thursday’s match against No. 53 Sam Natti, of Maplewood GC, who upset No. 12 Taylor Simpson on the 18th hole.