ENFIELD — Nothing comes easily in golf, especially when it comes to closing out a victory.
Ryan Kohler didn’t need to be told that, but he got an on-course, pressure-cooker reminder Thursday during the third and final round of the 37th NH Mid-Amateur Championship at Montcalm Golf Course in Enfield.
The 37-year-old Chesterfield resident began Thursday with a five-shot lead over his nearest challenger, Jim Cilley, a three-time winner already this season on the NH Golf Association’s summer circuit.
But with three holes left, his lead was down to one in what was, essentially, a two-horse race when the final-day bell sounded.
But Kohler, the one-time Keene State baseball standout turned elite NH amateur golfer, called on his tournament experience in these situations to survive the challenge and defend his title.
Kohler becomes the sixth player to go back-to-back in this prestigious stroke-play event. The last to do it was James Pleat, in 2017-18. Pleat since went back-to-back in the State-Am, winning in 2020 and again this year.
Thursday’s victory is also the third overall for Kohler in this event, his first triumph coming in 2015 at Stonebridge CC in Goffstown.
Harvin Groft of the Oaks Golf Links had the day’s best round, a 5-under 67, to leap into solo third place. He was the only other player to finish under par, at minus 1.
Groft, who lives in Berwick, Maine, competed recently in the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Sankaty Head Golf Club on the edge of Nantucket Island, where he earned the No. 3 seed for match play with a 36-hole qualifying score of 7-under 133.
Kohler and Cilley were the class of the field this week, however, with Kohler making 12 birdies and an eagle and Cilley making birdie on 14 of his 54 holes played. Together they fashioned four of the nine under-par rounds over the three days.
Kohler, who calls Hooper Golf Course in Walpole his home course, shot 68, 68, 74 to finish 6-under; Cilley shot 72, 69, 71 to finish at 4-under.
Making consecutive birdies on the 11th and 12th holes, Cilley, who captured the Mid-Am in 2008, went to 3-under for the day Wednesday. Coupled with Kohler’s third bogey of the day, at 14, the once-comfortable Kohler lead was erased but for one shot.
Both players made bogey 5s at the par four 16th hole, then matched pars at 17, a 200-plus yard par three.
At the finishing 18th, a 403-yard par four and the No. 8 handicap hole at Montcalm, Kohler made his 34th par of the championship, and his biggest, while Cilley made bogey.
More than 100 players began the event, which included a cut after the second round to the low 27 players.
The only other area players to make the cut were Gabe Roy, out of Bretwood, who had bookend 75s around an 85 Wednesday to finish 18th at 16-over par. Shattuck member Cameron Salo played well, shooting 73, 74 and 71 to finish in a tie for fifth with Pleat, at 2-over par. Salo’s solid final round featured three birdies.