July 11, 2013

Steve Solloway: Maine Amateur the tournament of neighbors

MANCHESTER - Seth Sweet noticed strangers looking at him last summer. They seemed to know him. He didn't have a clue who they were.

One approached him. "He asked if I was the kid who just won the Maine Amateur," said Sweet, who has since turned 18 and looks every bit his age. "I didn't know if he was a golf fan or not."

The lesson was learned.

The Maine Amateur isn't simply three days of golf held every July. It's one of Maine's signature summer events. People pay attention to who leads after the first and second rounds, and who wins.

Because the guy holding the championship trophy might very well be your neighbor.

Mark Plummer has won this tournament 13 times. His name recognition is so overwhelming, his face could be on the state dollar bill if there was one.

Plummer, who is 63, and Sweet walked off the 18th hole together after Wednesday's soggy second round at the Augusta Country Club. They were a snapshot of the 94 years this tournament has been played: the aging lion and the cub.

"You can feel the tradition," said Sweet, who first played this tournament when he was 12 and really was the kid from Madison, the small river town near Skowhegan.

Is the Maine Amateur the most important tournament on his golf schedule? Absolutely.

"I'm playing with the best amateurs in the state. I'm playing with men who are good enough to be pros."

He's playing with men who are his fraternity brothers. Sweet won the championship last July. It doesn't matter that his one win is far fewer than Plummer's 13.

He's playing with men from all walks of life who share his passion for golf, maybe sport's most frustrating game.

Any course has a way of humbling everyone. Ask Alfie Michaud, the former University of Maine hockey goalie who was in the net in Anaheim, Calif., in 1999, when the Black Bears won their second national championship.

He lives in the small town of Vienna, west of Augusta, with his wife, Addie, a sixth-generation native of the town and their three children. In another three weeks the family leaves for Europe. Michaud will start his sixth season with an Elite Division team in Denmark's pro league, his latest stop.

"I've made saves in front of 20,000 people and it's not the same as when you're lining up a 40-foot putt and no one is watching, said Michaud, grinning. Somehow the pressure seemed greater Wednesday. He blew up on the back nine and finished 11 over par for a second-round score of 81 and 160 for the tournament. He missed the cut.

"When I'm on the ice, I stay in the present. On the course today you get looking at your scorecard and counting how many strokes you need to make up and you can't do that. Eleven over is not what I had in mind."

He has tried to qualify for the Maine Amateur seven times. He made it four years ago and this year. He didn't qualify in five other years.

Yet he knows Ricky Jones, the tournament leader, and Plummer and Sweet and Ryan Gay, the recent St. John's University graduate who will turn pro the day after the Maine Amateur ends.

"I play this because I'm a competitive person," said Michaud. "I'm in a learning process. I've got a long way to go. Do I understand the tradition and the history of the Maine Amateur? Sure I do. I love it."

(Continued on page 2)

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