OAKLAND – Bags, balls and clubs weren’t all that weighed golfers down Tuesday.
Many golfers beginning the 88th Maine Amateur Golf Championship did so with heavy hearts.
Last year, during a first day deemed by many to be turn-back-the-clock day, the trio of Mark Plummer, Ron Brown Jr. and Jim Veno teed off together.
For six hours and through two rain delays, the trio wandered the course at Portland Country Club of Falmouth.
They cheered each other on.
They talked golf.
And all three of them ended up either tied for the lead or just one shot back through 18 holes.
“It was the first time the three of them had all played together,” said Nancy Storey-DeFrancesco, the executive director of the Maine State Golf Association. “They had a blast. The reason we paired them all together was because they were all former champions. They were the only former champions in the field that weren’t in one of the first two groups. He was so glad to have that opportunity.”
This year, though, Veno is noticeably absent.
He died of a heart attack in late February at the age of 64.
“He was one of the biggest names in the history of Maine golf, and he’ll be missed,” Plummer said.
That coming from another one of the biggest names in Maine golf.
In his prime, Veno was the best golfer in the state, at any level. In 1962, Veno captured the schoolboy title, the junior title, the Maine Amateur title, and the professional Maine Open title.
“There aren’t a lot of people who are in this tournament this year who are old enough to remember when he was 17-, 18-, 19-years old,” Brown said. “He could flat out play. People have asked me in the past, who was the best player to come out of the State of Maine, and hands down, he was. Mark Plummer will tell you the same thing, Ray Lebel will tell you the same thing. Anyone who can go around Portland Country Club and beat Ray Lebel 10-and-8, that’s just incredible.”
Last year, he showed that there was a little bit more left in the tank, 44 years later.
“I’d never played with Jimmy before, and I was kind of sad that I didn’t get to know him more,” Plummer said. “He was really starting to enjoy his golf again. We had a great time for two days, and he played terrific. He could have easily been three or four shots better in both rounds.”
“It was very relaxing, everybody had a great time and we all played well,” Brown said. “Everybody fed off of each other.”
This year, Plummer paired up with Eric Higgins and Gary Manoogian. Brown went off the first tee alongside Michael Nowack and Ross McGee.
Veno, no doubt, watched from above, and flashed his irresistible smile each time Brown or Plummer had to flip a wedge from the rough and scramble to make par.
“Jimmy’s life wasn’t always easy, and he made some choices that, in hindsight, he probably wouldn’t have made,” Storey-DeFrancesco said. “But he was at peace with himself in his last couple of years. You could really see it in his face. He made everyone around him happy.”