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Allen Lessels' NH Golf: Leavitt seeks repeat

July 06. 2013 1:12AM
Joe Leavitt from Atkinson is shown during the 2010 NHGA Junior Championship tournament held at Campbell's Scottish Highlands golf course in Salem. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Joe Leavitt will try to do something no State Amateur golf winner in going on two decades has managed to accomplish: Repeat as champion.

Leavitt, 19, plays out of Atkinson Country Club and last year knocked off D.J. Lantz to win his first title at Concord Country Club.

"It was probably the best victory I've ever had," Leavitt said. "I went into the tournament thinking I was one of the favorites and played well all week. I learned a lot about myself and was performing under pressure. I hit a lot of shots I needed to hit. I was definitely playing my best golf. That was a good week."

He's hoping to have another this time around in the 110th State Am that opens on Monday at the Golf Club of New England in Stratham.

The field of 144 will compete in 18-hole rounds of medal play on Monday and Tuesday to determine the 64 golfers who will advance to match play beginning on Wednesday. The 36-hole championship match is set for Saturday.

It's a demanding format that has played a major role in making sure that no golfer has successfully defended his title since Bob Mielcarz, who holds the state record for titles with nine, went back-to-back in 1995 and 1996.

"The quirkiness of match play makes it difficult to repeat," Mielcarz said. "It's just very difficult to win match after match after match. If our tournament was 72 holes of medal play, it maybe would be a little more predictable as far as results. It certainly isn't predictable."

"You've always got to stay away from a guy having his career round in one of your six matches and you almost always have to sneak by one round when you're having a less than ideal round," he said.

Mielcarz won three straight State Ams in 1977, 1978 and 1979, the most consecutive wins since Tom Leonard won six championships in a row from 1947-52. Leonard won eight total.

Leavitt and the rest of the field will not have to contend with Mielcarz this year.

He figured last year was a perfect opportunity to bow out of the tournament when it was at his home course, Concord Country Club.

"I'll be 64 in August and just thought after 38 uninterrupted years it was time," Mielcarz said.

He went out in style, earning medalist honors and advancing to the Round of 16 where he finally fell on a seventh playoff hole.

There are plenty of contenders remaining who will be looking to keep Leavitt from doubling up.

A couple of them - Damon Salo of the Shattuck Golf Club in Jaffrey and Chris Houston of Laconia Country Club - are in his threesome, which tees off on the first hole at 12:35 on Monday.

Houston played as a freshman at Penn State this year and Salo at Johnson & Wales in Miami as a sophomore.

They are among the young players who will try to take advantage of the lengthy Golf Club of New England layout.Nick Fairweather and Connor Greenleaf, both out of Windham Country Club, and Jake Nutter and Ryan Tombs, out of Manchester Country Club, are among several others in that category.

Leavitt is transferring from Florida Southern University to the University of Rhode Island and will be Fairweather's roommate and teammate there.

Mielcarz said he told Dover's Brett Wilson that he was picking him as his tournament favorite.

Wilson, 39, won the recent Seacoast Amateur and plays out of the Golf Club of New England.

"I think the home course knowledge thing will be big and he wouldn't be a bad pick," said John Jelley, tournament director for the New Hampshire Golf Association.

There are four former champions in the field besides Leavitt, two of whom have won multiple titles, and all have been able to grind out winning weeks.

Three former champions are playing in the same group and tee off No. 10 at 7:40 a.m. on Monday. Jim Cilley of Canterbury Woods (2010), Craig Steckowych of Portsmouth Country Club (1990 and 1998) and Dan Arvanitis of Derryfield Country Club in Manchester (2001) are in that threesome.Phil Pleat (1981, 1985 and 1997) is competing along with his son, James, who graduated from Dartmouth College this spring.James McKee out of Windham Country Club hopes to do some damage, too.

He qualified for match play and lost in the first round last year.

He's all of 14 years old this year and looking to go further.

Leavitt plans to be ready for all comers.

He hurt his back a few weeks ago, but has come back from that well.

"I've been hitting the ball well, but I haven't been making putts," he said.

Now, if he I can get that putter going.

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Matt Schmidt plans to be on hand for the last three days of the State Am in Stratham.

The New Hampshire Golf Association last week announced that Schmidt has been hired as the organization's new executive director.

A graduate of Notre Dame University, Schmidt comes to New Hampshire after serving as tournament director of the Indiana Golf Office, a group that includes the Indiana Golf Association and Indiana Section of the PGA.

Schmidt officially begins his NHGA duties on Sept. 9.

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The Symetra Tour, which bills itself as "The Road to the LPGA," is in Albany this week and then heads to Beaver Meadow in Concord for the 10th Northeast Delta Dental International from July 19-21.

There, 144 players will compete for a purse of $150,000 with $15,000 going to the winner.Jenny Gleason beat Esther Choe with a tap-in birdie on the first playoff hole in last year's tournament. Both Gleason and Choe finished in the top ten in the Symetra standings last year to earn LPGA cards for this year.; on Twitter @allenlessels

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