OAKLAND – Two years ago, Joe Baker had a rough year on the golf course.
He didn’t play much, and missed qualifying for the Maine Amateur by one stroke.
Last year, Baker re-emerged. He was in a seven-way tie for the lead after Round 1, and finished in a tie for 15th.
“It was great to get back,” Baker said. “It felt good.”
The top-20 finish allowed Baker an exemption into this year’s tournament, a chance he did not squander, though because of job demands, Baker couldn’t find much time to spend on golf.
“I’ve only played five times in the last month,” Baker said. “I’ve been working. I’m excited. I hit the ball decent,” he said.
Instead of using that as a crutch, Baker found himself in the third-to-last grouping in Thursday’s final round. He started the day in a tie for seventh. Even after a final round 74, Baker improved on last year’s result with a ninth-place finish.
I’m a lumberjack
Toby Spector was making a charge on the back nine. By the 17th hole, he was just two shots back of the leader and eventual winner Eric Higgins. The 17th hole is a dogleg right, relatively short for a golfer with his power, and Spector tried to cut the corner with his drive.
He might have made it, too, if not for the giant white pine standing in the ball’s flight path.
The ball clipped a branch midway up the tree. The branch fluttered to the ground, and Spector’s ball ricocheted – luckily – into the fairway.
Undaunted, Spector nearly drained a birdie putt.
Ricky Jones, the reigning Maine Open champion and a perennial contender at the Maine Amateur, didn’t have his best round of his life Thursday by any stretch – he shot 73.
But he was still having fun.
Coming up the 17th hole, his friend Jeff Wass, started following him. Jones spotted Wass, who earlier picked up and did not finish his third round, and smiled.
“You come to watch the Star Wars?” Jones said with a laugh. He then gestured quickly with both hands, simulating gunfire.
“I’ve been hitting the thing in all directions,” Jones continued. “I must have hit every tree until now.”