By Dalton Balthaser
CRANSTON, R.I. – Three players shared the Round One lead of the 93rd New England Amateur Championship Monday at Alpine Country Club (par 72, 6,845 yards).
During the afternoon wave, play was suspended for heavy rain at 3:28 p.m. The delay was 57 minutes and play resumed at 4:25 p.m.
Ricky Stimets of Osterville, Mass., Joe Harney of Roslindale, Mass and Elias Kennon of Old Greenwich, Conn. jumped out in front with rounds of 5-under-par 67.
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Stimets finally reaped rewards on the putting green thanks to a putter change. He made the Round of 16 in the Massachusetts Amateur last week at Concord Country Club.
“The first thing I did after I got eliminated at the Massachusetts Amateur was go to a local pro shop and buy a new mallet putter,” said Stimets, 31, who plays out of Worcester Country Club. “I’ve never putted with a mallet before in my life but figured it was time to do something different.”
He rolled in a 12-footer on No. 4 (par 5, 520 yards) to get to 2 under on his round. He made the turn in 3 under and then made eagle on No. 10 (par 5, 512 yards) with a chip-in.
No need for the putter there.
He added birdies on Nos. 12 (par 3, 185 yards) and 14 (par 4, 395 yards). He hit an 8-iron to three inches on No. 12 and a lob wedge from 95 yards to eight feet on No. 14.
A couple of bogeys coming in didn’t leave Stimets discouraged. He knows there’s a long way to go but in his first New England Amateur he is pleased with his start.
“It’s crucial to get off to a good start,” said Stimets. “The field is big and full of great players. Going low is important. There’s no room for error in a 54-hole event. You must be under par at the end of each round.”
Like Stimets, Harney found some success with the flatstick and is entering this year’s championship with some added confidence. He also made the Round of 16 in the Massachusetts Amateur last week.
“I was locked in on the greens today,” said Harney, 30. “I spent a lot of time watching Cameron Smith putt yesterday during the final round of The Open. His free-flowing stroke helped me find my rhythm on the greens.”
His T8 finish in last year’s championship at Great River Golf Club (Conn.) put it in perspective that he could compete.
“I faded on the last day in last year’s event and I find that happens to me a lot,” said Harney, who plays out of Charles River Country Club. “Not sure what it is. I finished strong today by birdieing the last.”
After bombing a drive, Harney pured a lob wedge from 99 yards to 12 feet and converted.
Not a bad round for someone who hadn’t seen the course before.
“I came in blind,” said Harney. “I couldn’t come here for a practice round. It ended up working out. Sometimes not knowing where you are going makes you play smarter and with more focus.”
Kennon finished runner-up in the Connecticut Junior Amateur last week and found something in his game.
“Early in the summer I was struggling with too many swing thoughts,” said Kennon, 17, of Old Greenwich, Conn. “I just needed to focus on one thought. That made a difference.”
The rain delay threw a wrench in the plans of each player in the afternoon wave. Players struggled to keep the momentum they built prior to the delay. But Kennon picked up where he left off.
Kennon started on the back nine and made the turn in 3 under. Then the delay came. But it didn’t bother him one bit.
“Coming out cold like that is tough,” said Kennon, who plays out of Golf Performance Center. “But I just wanted to keep the thoughts that I had on my front nine in my head. Once I made that birdie, I felt my swing come back to me.”
He came right back out and birdied his 11th hole of the day No. 2 (par 5, 520 yards). He striped a 3-iron from 250 yards to 25 feet for an easy two-putt birdie.
“You have to keep the ball in play here,” said Kennon. “I was able to make a good number of putts today. Doing those two things will help me play stress-free golf and contend this week.”