The names that stand out among entries for this year’s Maine Amateur Championship are the two who won’t be there.
When the 88th Annual event tees off Tuesday at the Waterville Country Club. Last year’s champion Shawn Warren and runner-up Jesse Speirs are not entered this year.
“I guess that opens the door for a lot of people,” said Gary Manoogian, who finished in a three-way tie for second last year at the Portland Country Club. “I’m sure it gives some people a better feeling about winning it. Sometimes it’s a two-horse race and a three-horse race. Now it looks like there’s a bunch in there now. It’s pretty wide open.”
Warren, who topped the field with a 209 last year, turned pro and made his debut last month in the Greater Portland Open. Speirs, who tied Manoogian and Toby Spector at 215 last year, is playing at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship this week in Wheaton, Ill. Both were among the main threats in the Amateur in recent years.
“Maybe it makes it easier,” said Ricky Jones of Rockland.
Jones is a two-time Maine Amateur champion, winning in 2003 and 2004. He’s just coming off a victory in the Paul Bunyan Open last month and also won the Maine Open last year.
Other former champions include 13-time winner Mark Plummer, two-time champ Ron Brown and Eric Crouse, who won in 1998 and returns after playing pro for several years. Add in last year’s contenders like Spector and Manoogian, and there’s a number of potential favorites.
“It’s Waterville Country Club,” said Spector, who was a member at one time and played home golf matches there in high school. “It’s short, and everyone knows it in the state. It’s going to come down to putting. It will let a lot of people into it.”
This is the ninth time Waterville has hosted the championship, the last time in 1993. The first two rounds Tuesday and Wednesday feature 54 holes of stroke play. The field of 126 will be trimmed to 40 players and ties for Thursday’s final round.
“It’s a central location,” said Spector. “So everyone has played it more than once. It’s short, so you don’t need a driver. You don’t need to push it. It’s all putting. So everyone thinks they have a chance. It’s going to be a tough tournament.”
Manoogian played the course last week and said that keeping the ball in play will be a factor, but ultimately, the putting game will be crucial.
“You’ve got to hit the fairways because they’re letting the rough grow pretty good out there,” said Manoogian, who has been battling a sore back this year. “Obviously the key is going to be hitting the fairways and the greens, but I think it’s going to boil down to a putting contest. The only course defense is the greens and the pin placements, and I think it’s a matter of whoever putts well because a lot of people are going to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens because it’s not that long.”
Spector has been trying to pace himself, having played for Skidmore College since February. He’s been working on his putting in preparation for Tuesday.
Manoogian says his back is starting to feel the best it has all summer, but he says he still doesn’t know what to expect until he gets on the course.
“I’m hoping I can go out there and swing without pain,” Manoogian said.
Jones hasn’t played as often as usual, but has been tinkering with his game since winning the Bunyon.
“It kind of gave me some stuff to work on,” said Jones. “It’s hard to practice and not play in a tournament situation. It’s a little different playing in a tournament situation than it is playing regular.”