Michael Kartrude was on cloud nine Saturday afternoon.
Two months earlier, he had married his fiancée, Ashley. Now, he had won his first career state open title, coming out on top in the 86th N.H. Open Championship at Bretwood Golf Course.
“It feels unbelievable. It feels great, like beyond great,” Kartrude said. “Biggest win I’ve ever had.”
The seventh-year pro finished with a three-day score of 10-under 206, putting him in a three-way tie for the top spot with Jared Mactas and Paul Pastore.
Kartrude secured the victory on the first playoff hole, one-putting for a birdie on the 18th.
It could be said his victory was sealed with the drive, as he hit a good shot while the other two placed theirs in bad spots, but Kartrude wasn’t going to get ahead of himself. The theme for his entire day was not getting ahead of himself.
The West Palm Beach, Fla., native entered the championship’s final day as part of a four-way tie for fourth place at 6-under 138, along with Mactas, Blake Morris and Matt Hutchins.
He finished the front nine at 2-under 35, his best front score of the tourney, but opened the back nine with a bogey on 10. After a birdie on 13 and a bogey on 14, he finished in stride, with three straight birdies on Nos. 16 through 18.
He finished with the same score he had on Thursday at Bretwood, but was more pleased with his performance as he fought against the elements.
While this was the one day when players didn’t encounter dark skies and pouring rain during some stretch of their play (a few drops did fall around 2 p.m., but not nearly enough to make an impact), the wind was stronger than it had been the entire tournament.
Of the 46 players who qualified for the final day, 23 carded scores over par. Of that same group, only 22 had shot a round over par over the other two days.
“The 68 today might be the same score, but it was way better, just because of how hard the course played with the wind today,” Kartrude said. “The other day, it didn’t play as tough. I thought I left a few out there, but today, I think myself and everybody else had to really grind and play really well to get anywhere near the lead today.”
Kartrude was the first of the top trio to finish, so he was left waiting to learn his fate. After Mactas also shot a 4-under 68 — a three-stroke improvement from his Thursday performance — he knew his best-case scenario would be a playoff.
Once Pastore — who entered the final day as the tourney leader at 8-under 134 after shooting 6-under 66 Friday at Keene Country Club — parred the 18th to finish at 2-under 70, it was settled.
“I was trying not to get ahead of myself and think, ‘oh, I won,’ when I didn’t,” Kartrude said of waiting for the others. “I was trying to keep myself [thinking], ‘there’s gonna be a playoff, there’s gonna be a playoff, there’s gonna be a playoff,’ and there was, and I was ready for it when it happened.”
The trio returned to the 18th, and Kartrude went first at the par-4 hole. He hit a clean drive that landed 10 to 15 yards from the green.
Pastore’s drive didn’t carry as much, and although his ball landed on the fairway, he was still over 50 yards away from the green.
Mactas drove his shot far to the left, the ball nearly hitting some spectators watching outside the clubhouse. It might have bounced into the bushes in front of the clubhouse, had it not bounced off a parked golf cart.
Kartrude kept his smooth round going, chipping his way onto the green and within five yards of the hole. Victory was his for the taking, but the other two weren’t going to simply let him have it.
Pastore hit his next shot onto the far edge of the green, and Mactas hit a long chip that just got him on. Both hit long first putts that put them in good position to make par.
“It could’ve easily gone to a second playoff hole. I had a couple, three feet for par there,” Mactas said. “If it goes to another playoff hole, who knows what would’ve happened.”
It was still Kartrude’s title to lose, but his short birdie putt wasn’t exactly a gimme.
“It was a left-to-righter, about a cup out,” Kartrude said. “I read the putt, and when I was reading it, I told myself, ‘This is what you’ve practiced for, this is what you’ve worked hard at, just believe in yourself and you’ll win.’ ”
Kartrude drained it and pumped his fist in victory before walking off the course to hug his wife.
Kartrude received a $10,000 prize for winning the championship. Mactas and Pastore each got $3,500 for their runner-up finishes.
“Obviously, I would’ve loved to win, but Michael made birdie on the last hole, and he’s a great guy, just got married and that $10,000 I think will do wonders for them,” said Mactas, a second-year pro who met Kartrude last year while competing on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada.
This was Mactas’ first N.H. Open, a tournament he didn’t even know he could compete in until late last year. After spending the week in Keene, he came away with a positive impression.
“It’s a good tournament. I’d definitely come back,” Mactas said. “It was run pretty smoothly. I can’t say enough about the help, all the people that work for the N.H. Golf Association are great.”
Bob Kearney — a native of Houston who summers in Monadnock Region and plays out of The Shattuck Golf Club in Jaffrey — won the N.H. Open low amateur title, carding a three-day total of 7-over 223 to finish 45th overall. Kearney was one of just two amateurs to make the cut on the final day of the tourney. The other was Jake Hollander, a Peterborough native who also plays out of Shattuck. He finished at 12-over 228 to come in 46th overall. … Sam Grindle tallied the final day’s best score at 5-under 67, vaulting himself from a tie for 18th into a tie for fourth with Jay Card at 8-under 208. They each received a prize of $1,750. Brandon Lacasse and C.J. Swift, who tied for sixth at 7-under 209, brought in the last four-figure purse of the tourney at $1,125 each.