Maine Match Play Championship: Tough draws at Martindale this week

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AUBURN — Brian Bilodeau wasn’t even sure he was going to play in this week’s Match Play Championship tournament at Martindale.

He has played golf sparingly this summer and made only a few appearances in such tourneys as the Maine Amateur and the Maine Open. He didn’t think he’d even qualify for this weeks Maine State Golf Association event.

“I actually haven’t played much golf at all this year, and I wasn’t even planning on playing it,” Bilodeau said. “I didn’t think I’d make the top 32 in the state. I haven’t played many events that you get the points for.”

Bilodeau got the call last week and was invited to play. Though he had already assumed he wouldn’t be playing, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up — especially since the tournament is on his home course.

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“That’s pretty much the only reason I agreed to it,” Bilodeau said. “That’s my home course. I’ve been there for six years. It’s a place I don’t have to go play a practice round and try to figure out the greens and the course because I already know it. That was a little bit of an advantage for me and kind of one reason I agreed to play.”

Then Bilodeau saw the brackets for Tuesday’s opening round. His opponent is Maine golf legend Mark Plummer. Bilodeau had assumed he might draw the bracket that would match him against top-seed John Hayes IV, the Maine Amateur champion. Instead, he tees off against Plummer at 8:20 a.m. In addition to Plummer’s 13 Maine Amateur titles, he also won a match play championship in 1983 and was once a member at Martindale.

“It won’t be anything new to him, but I don’t know of many courses in the state that might be new to him,”  Bilodeau said. “So my local course knowledge advantage is not as great as it might be with somebody else, but it will definitely be fun. It’s always fun playing with him. You’re going to have to beat somebody really good at one point if you want to move through the brackets. So it might as well be the first round.”

The MSGA’s Match Play Championship features 32 golfers that are paired off in a morning round Tuesday. The Round of 16 will be played in the afternoon. Then the quarterfinals follow Wednesday morning with a semifinals taking place that afternoon. The championship pairing tees of at 7 a.m. Thursday morning.

“I’m excited to do it again,” said Mike Doran, the Director of Tournament Administration and Player Development for the MSGA, who lost in the semifinals last year. “The tournament is getting more and more popular every year. It’s 32 of the top players in the state. So there’s no really easy draw that you can get any more. Anyone who is asked to play usually does. It’s a long week. You get to play a lot of matches – 36 holes the first two days, if you keep going. It’s well worth it if you can keep playing in it.”

There’s a handful of golfers that have participated in the last five tournaments, since the match play was restarted in 2010. Doran, Ricky Jones, Joe Alvarez, Scott Sirois and Matt Greenleaf will be teeing off in their six match play tourney. It will be the fourth for Bilodeau and Plummer, both of which are 4-4 overall in the tourney.

“There’s a small group of us that have played in all five,” Doran said. “We look forward to it every year. You never know what can happen. You can sign up and play 12 holes and you can end up playing 90 holes over the course of the week. It’s a real crap shoot and that’s the fun of match play.”

The field is chosen from the top 16 finishers at the Maine Amateur Championship. Then the final 16 are selected from the points leaders from MSGA events. The tournament has become so popular that most golfers accept the invitation.

“This year is a very strong field,” said MSGA Executive Director Nancy DeFrancesco. “It’s one of our strongest fields. Virtually, everybody that was asked wanted to play. Only about three people said they couldn’t play in it.”

There had been a match play tournament back in the 1980’s, but it lasted just four years. Plummer won the final tourney in 1983. The Maine Amateur had tried to utilize a match play format at one time but switched back to stroke play. The current Match Play Championship began in 2010 and has done well the last five years, with five different winners – Joe Alvarez, Ryan Gay, Johnny Hayes IV, Matt Greenleaf and Ricky Jones.

“It’s a great tournament,” DeFrancesco said. “Joe Alvarez came up with the idea. It satisfies the need for both the people that like to play match play and people that like to play stroke play. I like having the idea of having both and not changing what the Maine Amateur is.”

For those that like the match play format, this is the best and only opportunity to play it against this level of competition in the state.

“The majority of our events are stroke play events,” Doran said. “So this is really the only chance most guys get to play match play outside of the club level.”

The format also changes the game for the golfers. Each hole doesn’t necessarily affect the end result like a bad hole might in stroke play. Golfers can focus on winning each hole and then start fresh on the next hole. It allows for a different approach.

“It’s a more situational type of style,” Doran said. “It’s a lot of fun. It favors some guys. Some guys it doesn’t, but it’s a good change for everybody.”

Bilodeau says it won’t change his game too much. He tends to use his driver off the tee and set himself up for a good try at a birdie. He played at Martindale Sunday and has a good sense of how the course is playing.

“There’s a lot of holes out there where you can just play it to 20 feet and see if you can make a putt,”  said Bilodeau, who finished tied for 21st in the Maine Amateur and was tied for 13th among amateurs in the Maine Open. “I’m just going to try to go after birdies. That’s what it’s going to take. I’m not going to sit back and wait for Mark to make mistakes because that’s not going to happen. So I have to go out and try to make birdies.”

Some golfers may try to be more aggressive because of the format. That can lead to some low scores, if players succeed. How one’s opponent is doing may also affect one’s strategy. There’s a variety of variables that may not be part of the equation in stroke play.

“It’s a crazy format,” Bilodeau said. “We’ve had some really good scores the last couple of years in this thing. Guys just go out and play like it’s a green light all the way.”

kmills@sunjournal.com

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