FALMOUTH – Given one look at the incredulous expression on Jim Veno’s face as he scanned the relatively empty scoreboard, someone might have assumed the fit, trim former Maine Amateur champion shot his age Tuesday.

Heck, he almost did.

Other players, caddies and curiosity seekers who simply wanted an excuse to come in from the rain at Portland Country Club looked at the growing list of names and numbers and offered the same reaction.

Jim Veno? Tied for the lead in the clubhouse with, among others, Shawn Warren, young enough to be Veno’s grandson and entering his senior year at Division I Marshall University in the fall?

Believe it.

“I should be getting strokes,” Veno said.

Golf is no respecter of birthdays. There aren’t many sports in the world where graybeards who receive senior citizen discounts with no questions asked are able to compete on a level playing field with kids who would be carded if they tried to buy a lottery ticket.

And not many golf tournaments bridge that generation gap more effectively than the Maine Amateur.

Veno is 63. Warren is 21, one year older than Joe Baker. Yet all three of them shot 71 on a damp, thunderous first day of the 54-hole tournament. That put them one stroke ahead of Veno’s playing partners and fellow members of the half century club, Ron Brown and Mark Plummer, with more than half the field dodging raindrops past the dinner hour and trying to beat the advancing darkness.

“There are a lot of good players out there,” Veno said. “They’re young. They’re strong.”

He was one of the whippersnappers himself, two-thirds of a lifetime ago. Veno was 17 when he captured the first of his two Maine Amateur titles at Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor in 1960.

Two years later, he won the title again. Then after failing to defend the crown in 1963, Veno decided to take a break from the game.

It lasted four decades.

“I stopped playing competitive golf,” Veno said. “I didn’t play much golf at all.”

Veno eventually picked up the clubs again and joined Biddeford-Saco Country Club.

He ended his lengthy hiatus from the Maine Amateur in 2004 when it came to nearby Sanford. Veno missed the cut in two forgettable rounds he deemed “a horror show.”

Two years of playing more regularly and working his way into better physical shape than most players in their 40s paid huge dividends Tuesday. Veno birdied the third, fourth and seventh holes on his way to a 1-under par 34 on the front side.

A pair of lengthy rain delays prevented the golden group of three former champions from getting into a rhythm after the turn.

“It was a pain in the ass,” the 13-time winner Plummer said bluntly. “But it was the same for everybody. It wasn’t the delays. It was that the fairways got so wet.”

Likewise, Veno denied that his bones and nerves were challenged by an eight-hour round any differently than Warren’s or Baker’s.

The second rain delay halted Veno at the 16th tee. When play resumed, he sandwiched bogeys at No. 16 and No. 18 around a birdie on the par-3 17th.

Although he’s from a different era than Veno, Baker followed a similar path to this year’s championship, rediscovering his game in a hurry. The former multi-sport star at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School missed the Maine Amateur last summer when he fell one stroke shy in a qualifying tournament. Now, he said, he’s playing more conservatively and reaping the benefits.

Just as he hopes to see himself sticking around until Thursday afternoon’s final round, Baker doesn’t see Veno as a one-day wonder, nor does he expect Plummer or Brown to fade.

“Everybody has a chance on this course. It’s not long,” Baker said. “If you hit it accurately, you don’t have to be a big hitter.”

Veno went 4-over on the three longest holes but felt that most of his misdeeds came with the short game, so he sees room for improvement.

“I’ll take 71 any day. I just made a couple of mistakes,” Veno said. “I have to play better.”

That’s a scary thought for the next generation.


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