GORHAM — Tommy Stirling of Gorham is a national champion. Not too many Mainers have been able to say that.

Earlier this month, Stirling, 19, a sophomore at Southern Maine Community College, won the United States Collegiate Athletic Association national golf championship, held at Penn State University’s Blue Course in State College, Pa.

Stirling shot rounds of 72-68-140 to win by four shots and best a large field.

A good golfer at Gorham High who never distinquished himself at Class A state schoolboy championship, Stirling has turned his game around through hard work.

“In the last couple of years, I played a 100 rounds a season,” said Stirling.

“And when I wasn’t playing, I would hit hundreds of practice balls.”

The extra play and practice has enabled Stirling to refine his swing.

“Tommy has tightened up his swing a lot,” said Rick Altham, the head golf pro at Gorham Country Club, Stirling’s home course.

Of slight build at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, Stirling can still hit long drives.

“I averaged between 270 and 285 yards on my drives at the nationals,” said Stirling.

Altham became Stirling’s golf coach at Gorham his senior year, and the two have worked extensively over the past couple of seasons.

“Tommy continues to improve,” said Altham.

“His scores have gotten lower. He’s worked hard on his short game. I’m not surprised he won the national title.”

This summer, Stirling won his second straight Gorham CC championship.

He beat Mike Arsenault, the 2010 Class A schoolboy champion, who attends Methodist College in North Carolina. Altham said Stirling had flown under the radar prior to this fall golf season.

He said Stirling played well during the regular season in high school matches, but struggled at the state meet.

In the last two seasons, Stirling gained a lot of confidence.

During summers, Stirling helps Altham with the Gorham CC junior program.

“Tommy is a fine young man and a great role model for younger golfers,” said Altham.

Stirling entered the national championship as the second ranked golfer in the USCAA. During the season, he was the medalist in two tournaments and won the Yankee Small College Conference title.

“During the practice round (at the nationals,) Stirling said, “we could play only 13 holes because the pace of play was so slow. I felt like I was hitting it real good.”

He was. He made seven birdies in his first round, but he also gave them back with bogeys.

“It seemed like everytime I made a bogey, I would come back with a birdie,” he said. “In one stretch, I went birdie, double bogey, birdie, birdie, bogey. I was never more than one over for the round.”

After the round, he spent 3 1/2 hours chipping and putting.

The second day, he made six birdies. He hit 14 out of 18 greens. He took 27 putts in the first round and 30 in the second.

“The golf course was in immaculate condition,” he said. “The greens were lightning.”

The course measured 6,632 yards.

Stirling earned All-American honors, as did freshman teammate Alex McFarlane of Cape Elizabeth. McFarlane tied for fifth with rounds of 79-71.

A sports management major, Stirling is thinking about transferring to a Division II scholarship program for next season

“I would like to see how my game compares at that level,” he said.

“He’ll get some offers,” said Altham.

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: TomChardPPH