Leavitt wins NH Golf Association State Amateur
Joe Leavitt putts as his father, and caddie, Bob Leavitt tends the flag during the New Hampshire State Gold Association Amateur Championship finals on Saturday afternoon in Goffstown. (Bruce Preston / Union Leader)
GOFFSTOWN - Joe Leavitt of Atkinson brimmed with confidence entering the 111th edition of the New Hampshire Golf Association State Amateur Championship at Stonebridge Country Club last week.
That'll happen to a golfer when he wins a few tournaments and then crushes a course record with a 60 - and flirts with a 59 - on the eve of a premier event.
Leavitt, 20, did all of the above and then backed up his early summer results - and his confidence - with an impressive run to his second State Am title in three years, closing the championship out with a 6 and 4 win over a game Damon Salo of New Ipswich on Saturday afternoon.
Leavitt, who will be a junior on the University of Rhode Island golf team in the fall, won in similar fashion to his 2012 triumph over D.J. Lantz.
"It feels good to win twice," Leavitt said afterwards on the deck at Stonebridge. "One was nice. I'm already looking forward to next year."
No golfer has won consecutive State Ams since Bob Mielcarz won the seventh and eighth of his nine championships in 1995 and 1996.
In fact, Leavitt became the first golfer in a dozen years to win a second title. Since Peter Harrity won the 2002 championship, 11 straight golfers had been first-time winners. Leavitt lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Mike Martel last year.
Salo, 21, was happy with the way he played all week and in the final, but ran into a buzzsaw in Leavitt.
The tone was set early.
On the opening par 5 hole of the championship match - scheduled for 36 holes - Salo put his third shot close enough for a tap-in birdie.
All Leavitt did was roll in his 35-foot putt to win the hole with an eagle.
Salo birdied hole No. 2. And so did Leavitt.
"I was 2-under for two holes and I was one down," Salo said. "I was like, 'All right, just keep going, keep plugging.' I kept plugging and he kept making birdies."
Leavitt shot 30 through the first nine holes. Just like he did against Lantz two years ago.
"I came out ready to go," Leavitt said. "I love the environment. I love the crowd. My putter got hot today. That was the key."
Leavitt was 3-up through the first nine holes and doubled the lead to six holes through the end of the first round and a break for lunch.
Leavitt and Salo - who are longtime friends - grabbed lunch together.
Down 6 holes, Salo, a senior and captain on the team at Johnson & Wales in Miami, had some work to do.
Salo had a great chance to get a hole back on No. 4 in the afternoon, when Leavitt went over the par 3 green. Leavitt had a bogey, but Salo bogeyed as well.
Things were looking good for Salo on No. 6, another par 3, as well.
Leavitt was behind the green in a rough spot with no angle at the pin.
"One in 5,000 golfers gets par here," said Gregg Burke, Leavitt's coach at URI as he watched his golfer's predicament.
Leavitt punched the ball along a ridge. Then he chipped it into the hole from about 20 feet.
"I meant one in 5,000 regular golfers," Burke said in an amendment.
"Probably that was the biggest one momentum-wise," Leavitt said.
His lead stayed at 6 for a couple more holes, but then Salo got a couple of holes back when he made birdie putts on No. 8 and No. 10.
"That shows the kind of player Damon is," Leavitt said. "He doesn't back down. He's a warrior out there."
They halved No. 11 and then Leavitt drained a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 12 to get the lead back to 5 with six holes to play.
Each had a par on the par 3 13th hole.
Salo went out of bounds right on No. 14, a par 5, and had to play a provisional from a tough lie. Leavitt played down the middle and when he stuck his third shot several feet from the pin, Salo took his cap off, walked over to him and conceded the hole and the match.
Leavitt had backed up the confidence.
That came on Sunday night at Atkinson Resort & Country Club, Leavitt's home course, and he left an eight-foot putt for a 59 an inch short on the 18th hole.
Thing is, Burke was sure Leavitt's 76 in the first round of the State Am on Monday prepared him better than the 60.
"A 60 is the worst thing anybody can do in preparation," Burke said.
"Anything after that is a letdown."
The 76 on the other hand ... "I was texting with one of our other players and said that's the best thing in the world," Burke sad. "Now he's a caged animal."
Hungry to turn around the 76, Leavitt rolled through the tournament.He will try to defend his title next year when the State Am returns to the Mount Washington Course at the Omni Mount Washington Resort for the first time since 1962.
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