Veteran Mike Blair out of Bretwood played in his first N.H. Amateur in 1985, at Keene Country Club. Since then, he has let his clubs do the talking on the amateur circuit, his steady play over the years almost always good enough to earn him exemptions into the State-Am.
But Wednesday, back on the same Keene course where he began his State-Am career, he found himself in an unfamiliar spot: Needing to play his way into the field for next month’s 117th State-Am at Nashua Country Club.
Blair, now 65 and retired, but still with plenty of game, fashioned a four-birdie, 1-over par 73, to lead a field of 25 players in one of five N.H. Golf Association qualifiers that will help set the State-Am’s 156-player field.
Nine players advanced from Keene, including four other area players: Tim Yarosevich, who had the day’s third best round, 76; Nick Fenuccio of the host club and Jacob Miller of The Shattuck in Jaffrey, who each shot 77; and 14-year-old Mitchell Cormier of Hooper in Walpole, who shot 81.
Cormier, a Fall Mountain student athlete, got in by one shot over Eric Whitmore of Atkinson, who shot 82 despite making an 11 at the fourth hole. Nick Nadeau out of Bretwood was among a handful of area players who missed the cut; he was three shots off the cut line.
A player with area ties, Jeff Benson of Intervale in Manchester, finished a shot back of Blair, at 74. Benson is a Keene High graduate who starred for the Blackbird baseball team.
Benson, 51, wobbled a little on the way in, with a stretch of three bogeys starting at No. 14, but chipped in for birdie at the tough uphill par 3 17th to right his round.
The Bedford father of three, a 2 handicap, said he chose Keene to qualify because of his familiarity with the course.
“I hit it fairly close all day and the greens were nice,” he said, “good speed; you just had to get (your putt) on the right line. I think my game has really matured with respect to just having more fun. Adrenalin is a good thing in baseball, not so much in golf.”
Blair birdied three holes on the inward nine: 10, 15 and the short, downhill, par 4 18th. Blair reached the semifinals of the State-Am in 2004 at Laconia, losing to eventual champion Derek MacAllister.
Yarosevich, 44, a Bretwood club champion, had bookend birdies, at the opening and closing holes.
Fenuccio overcame a double-bogey at the long par 4 fourth hole with birdies on the ninth and 13th holes. The 27-year-old was playing on his home course, when he won a club title in 2018.
In Wednesday’s other qualifier, at North Conway CC, Rob Zimmerman of Nashua and Bob Dougherty of the host course shared medalist honors with even-par rounds of 71 and led the 14 players there who are now Nashua-bound.
Dougherty, just 15, had four birdies and an eagle, at the par 5 17th. His strong play comes two days after another teen, William Huang, 18, playing out of the Country Club of New Hampshire, shot a sizzling 63 (eight birdies, one eagle) in a qualifier at Rochester CC.
Also advancing the from Keene were Larry Holt of Sky Meadow in Nashua, with a 77; Bill Klinger of Derryfield in Manchester, 79; and Dillon Dossey, also of Derryfield, 80. Dossey, 27, advanced despite playing the par 5s at Keene in 5 over. Holt had just three pars on the front, but steadied himself with a one-birdie, one-bogey back nine.
The State-Am opens July 6 at Nashua. It will mark the 14th time the high-profile event will be held there.
John DeVito is the defending State-Am champion; the Passaconaway member won last year at Portsmouth, beating Shattuck member Jake Hollander in the finals. Jim Cilley won the last State-Am played at Nashua, in 2011.
Remaining qualifiers are at Beaver Meadow in Concord and Amherst CC, June 28 and 29, respectively.