Ryan Gay busts out of a bunker during the 2013 Maine Amateur at Augusta Country Club in Manchester. Gay, a three-time winner of the Maine Am, will be competing in the event for the first time in eight years. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Neither defending champion Cole Anderson nor the state’s greatest champion, Mark Plummer, are playing in this week’s 102nd Maine Amateur Championship golf tournament.

But former pro Ryan Gay, who won three times in four years as a young hotshot, is making his return to the state’s premier amateur event, which tees off Tuesday at Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor for the first of three stroke-play rounds.

A Gardiner High grad, Gay won the Maine Am in 2008, 2010 (at Kebo Valley) and 2011, the last when he was 20 years old and playing college golf at the University of New Mexico. Now living in Portland and a member at Portland Country Club, Gay said he’s played infrequently this summer.

“This is really the first time I’ve entered a tournament where I have no expectations going in. I just haven’t played any golf this year,” said Gay, who is a +2 handicap. “It’s just nice to be up in Bar Harbor, do some hiking, make a vacation of the week. Is the game still in there somewhere? Yeah, probably. But I don’t think I have enough reps in to do much.”

Gay, John Hayes (2015), Andrew Slattery (2014) and three-time winner Ricky Jones (2003, 2004, 2013) are the only past champions in the 132-player field. Hayes finished second to Anderson in the 2020 Maine Amateur.

Caleb Manuel, 19, of Topsham, the 2020 Maine Junior champion, will join Hayes and 2020 MSGA Match Play champ Will Kannegeiser in the first threesome at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Manuel has established himself as one of the top players in Maine. He was an All-Big East pick and the conference’s freshman of the year this spring at the University of Connecticut. In late June he qualified for the Korn Ferry Tour event at Falmouth County Club, where he failed to make the cut.

Manuel has finished fifth, tied for fifth and fourth in the past three state amateurs. Is this year Manuel’s turn?

“People ask me that but I just know there are a lot of people who are capable of winning. You just have to hit the shots, make the putts, maybe get some lucky breaks,” Manuel said. “But yeah, that’s the goal.”

Gay last played in the Maine Am in 2013 when he finished fourth. After playing in college at New Mexico and St. John’s, Gay spent three years hustling around North America and Europe playing in state open tournaments and trying to qualify for tour events before ending his pro career in 2016. He regained his amateur status last summer and played in a handful of Maine State Golf Association events. Gay said his job as a manager of a sales force for a Boston-based software company is now his prime focus but he’s enjoyed his partial return to Maine’s amateur golf ranks.

“I don’t know if anyone knows who I am anymore but it’s good to see these guys. It’s been a long time,” Gay said.

Anderson, 20, of Camden, dominated the tournament the past two years, posting a wire-to-wire, eight-stroke win in 2019 at Portland Country club and a six-stroke win in 2020 at Biddeford-Saco Country Club when he set the Maine Amateur scoring record in relation to par with his three-day 10-under score.

Coming off a strong season at Florida State University, Anderson will instead play in the Southern Amateur in West Point, Mississippi. The Southern Amateur is considered among the top 10 amateur events in the world.

“There was a good part of me that wanted to go back and try to three-peat, but for what my goals are for the next few years … it just makes more sense for me (to play the Southern Amateur) from a standpoint of strength of field, world ranking, all that kind of stuff,” Anderson told the Kennebec Journal.

Anderson is currently 210th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, which are used to determine player eligibility at top amateur events.

Plummer is Maine’s most successful golfer, with 13 state amateur and six senior amateur titles among his lengthy accomplishments. The 68-year-old from Manchester finished second as recently as 2015 but his last win came in 2002 and he missed the cut in 2019 and 2020.

“I’m sitting it out this year. I like to sleep in my own bed,” said Plummer, noting the summertime commute to Bar Harbor was a deterrent.

Located on Mount Desert Island, Kebo Valley is the oldest golf club in Maine and eighth-oldest in the United States, having incorporated in 1888. This will be the eighth time the 6,131-yard, par-70 course has hosted the Maine Amateur.

“It’s more of a thinker’s course rather than a ‘bomb it down there’ course,” said Manuel. “I think I can do both pretty well.”

After Wednesday’s second round, the field will be cut to the low 40 scores plus ties for Thursday’s final round.

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