Phil Pleat, who grew up in Portland  and learned to play golf at Riverside Municipal, made a splash on the national scene last year when he advanced to the final of match play in the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship.    

Pleat, 56, lost 1 up but called his week of sterling play “something I’ll never forget.” Now Pleat, who lives in Nashua, N.H., is preparing for the U.S. Senior Open in a week and a half. Pleat earned a spot in the tournament by being a finalist in the Senior Amateur. That also gets him into this year’s U.S. Amateur along with bringing a three-year exemption to the Senior Amateur.

Pleat, a vice president/financial adviser for Merrill Lynch, will play in three national championships this season.

The U.S. Senior Open is July 12-15 at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich. The U.S. Amateur is at Cherry Hills CC in Denver on Aug. 13-19, and the Senior Amateur is at Mountain Ridge CC in Caldwell, N.J., on Sept. 29-Oct. 4.

Pleat plans to leave next Sunday for the Senior Open.

“I tried to qualify once for the Senior Open,” said Pleat.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m going to go out and take in the whole atmosphere. I’ll try not to be a spectator and go play my game. It will be a great experience,” he said.

Because of work and family responsibilities. Pleat said he hasn’t played in a tournament this summer.

Through the years, Pleat said he has learned how to “practice smarter.”

That’s enabled his game to remain at a high level. He’s played in his share of tournaments (he has won a record 14 New Hampshire state titles, including three state amateurs), but when his golf is curtailed, like it has been this summer, Pleat makes the best of his practice time.

Of playing in the U.S. Amateur, he said: “I know there’s a lot of young kids in the tournament but it might be my last time playing in it.” This will be Pleat’s fifth U.S. Amateur and second at Cherry Hills.

One of those “young kids” may be his son, James, who will try to qualify for the tournament. James, 21, played in last year’s U.S. Amateur. He plays on the Dartmouth College golf team where he will be a senior in the fall.

The younger Pleat will play in the New England Amateur at Falmouth CC on July 17-19. His dad plans to caddie for him at least one round.

Last year at the Senior Amateur, Pleat said: “My goal was to get into match play.”

“In the 36-hole qualifying tournament, I shot 144 and was seeded eighth for match play,” he said. “I felt I had nothing to lose. I got better every day.”

Pleat knocked off defending champion Paul Simson 2 up in the quarterfinals. In his semifinal match,

Pleat made seven birdies and his opponent made six birdies with Pleat winning, 1 up. Pleat said he didn’t play all that great in the final against Louis Lee of Heber Springs, Ark., but the match went to the 18th hole with Pleat falling, 1up.

It all started at Riverside. Pleat was born in Manchester, N.H., but moved to Portland at age 5. He started hanging around Riverside at around 11 and learned the game watching the swings of John Mills Jr., Ron Brown Jr., Alan Bouchard and Bruce Carter. He also played a little golf with a Riverside assistant named Mike Cowan, who is better known these days as “Fluff,” the caddie for Jim Furyk and the former caddie for Tiger Woods.

“I used to love watching all those guys,” said Pleat.

“I started caddying at Portland Country Club. I caddied for Dr. (Ray) Lebel. That’s how you learned the game back then – watching others play, caddying and maybe reading some golf instructional books. Then you went out and played a few holes with your friends.”

Pleat played baseball growing up but quit before his senior year at Deering to focus on golf. Back then, golf was a spring sport in high school. Pleat played golf for the University of New Hampshire. By then he was a pretty accomplished player who has only gotten better.

TEE TO GREEN: There are still openings for the 13th annual Maine chapter of the National Football Foundation golf tournament July 9 at Belgrade Lakes GC. For more information, contact Howie Vandersea at 729-4210 or [email protected]

Sugarloaf Golf Club in Carrabassett Valley recently broke ground for a $1.7 million irrigation system, which will replace the original system installed 27 years ago when the course opened. With installation at a pace of one hole a week, the project is not expected to significantly impact play at the course.

Former Maine Junior champion Paul Banks of Gorham, who has been a PGA professional for two decades plus, owns Copper Hill Golf Club, a nine-hole course in East Granby, Conn. The course was recently awarded the Walter Lowell Public Golf Course Distinguished Service Award by the Connecticut PGA Section.

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

Twitter: TomChardPPH