GREENLAND — “Hot start” was the operative phrase for John DeVito’s run through this year’s N.H. Amateur championship at Portsmouth Country Club.
He posted the lowest score of the first qualifying round Monday, a 2-under par 70, then methodically ran past his opponents in match play, with four of his first five matches ending before the 18th hole.
In Saturday’s final round, DeVito put an exclamation mark on his grand week, winning four of the first five holes en route to a 7-and-6 win over Peterborough native Jake Hollander. The Nashua native, playing out of Passaconaway Country Club in Litchfield, claimed his first State-Am title, after competing in the event for 10 years and never making it past the quarterfinals.
“Starting out in State-Ams, I was maybe winning one match. There was maybe a four- or five-year drought where I just got bounced right after I made the cut,” DeVito said. “This is obviously the furthest that I’ve made it, so yeah, it feels great.”
Hollander, representing the Shattuck Golf Club in Jaffrey, had a chance to become just the fourth golfer from the Monadnock Region to win this championship, but he stilled basked in his accomplishment. In his last two campaigns in the tourney, the ConVal Regional High School alum and University of Redlands (Calif.) rising senior didn’t make it out of the Round of 32.
“It’s been a great week,” Hollander said. “Obviously, you want to win every tournament you play in, but sometimes that’s not how it works out.
“John’s a great player; he played good today, kept me honest out there. The start I got off to wasn’t ideal, but being able to hang in there at least for most of the round, a good 25 competitive holes or so, was solid, and I’ll take positives away from that.”
DeVito began the day with a strong recovery to put the match on his terms.
After missing the green on his approach on the first hole, he sank a 10-foot putt to win the hole and go 1-up. He followed with another 10-footer on the second hole to square the hole and stay ahead.
“Even at the beginning of the match, when it’s early, and you’re not thinking about the 36th hole at that point, it was still pretty huge to make those early and not go down,” DeVito said.
He followed with three straight pars to go 4-up as Hollander struggled early with a 4-over-through-five-holes start.
“Sometimes your start’s not the way you want,” Hollander said. “Early morning, whatever, long week of golf, sometimes you just can’t get it right in the first few holes. I just made a few too many mistakes mentally; couldn’t recover from those easily.”
Hollander settled in and played even with DeVito through the rest of the opening 18, with both players winning three holes. But another bad start plagued Hollander on his second run through the course.
After missing a potential birdie putt on their 19th hole that could’ve trimmed the deficit, Hollander bogeyed each of the next two holes — bothered by shots that flew wide off the fairway — and DeVito went 6-up.
Hollander took advantage of a bad drive by DeVito to win the 22nd hole, and the score stayed at DeVito 5-up through the next six holes — with both players missing potential winning putts on different holes.
“These were some tough pins today, definitely ones we haven’t really seen all week,” Hollander said. “Just tough to read these greens, get the speed right, with the rain [Friday] night.”
But clutch putting was been another big theme of DeVito’s run, and on the match’s 27th hole, he finally broke the tie streak with a birdie putt to return to 6-up. Hollander three-putted for bogey on the next hole, and DeVito made par to seal the win.
“There were lots of putts that were just going by, edging the hole, not dropping for me,” DeVito said. “I missed a short one on nine, and then 10 as well, but then 11 … it looked like a pretty straight putt, so I just dialed it in. The way I was rolling this week, one of those had to go.”
While he hasn’t won any titles, Hollander has turned in an impressive year in 2019 thus far, with a hefty collection of accolades.
He was named an NCAA Division III PING Honorable Mention All-American, as well as earning All-West Region and First Team All-SCIAC (Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) honors after helping Redlands to a third-place finish at the SCIAC Championships and their first NCAA Championship berth since 2015.
In June’s N.H. Open at Bretwood Golf Course and the Keene Country Club, he was one of just two amateur golfers to qualify for the final day of play. He finished as the amateur runner-up — behind fellow Shattuck member Bob Kearney — and placed 46th overall.
Hollander rode a string of close victories to his runner-up finish — four of his five matches went to the 18th hole, and his first-round win over former champion Daniel Arvanitis of Derryfield Country Club went 20 holes.
“I know I can contend out here now,” Hollander said. “It proves to me that what I’m working on is validating, and I’m going in the right direction. It’s all about working at it, getting better and just doing what I can do.”