AUBURN – A fair-weather wind whipped across Fox Ridge Golf Course on Monday afternoon, the native fescue dancing side-to-side in the breeze. On the course, a handful of professional golfers and three times as many amateurs drove, chipped, putted – and putted some more – in the Charlie’s Maine Open Pro-Am.

“If you can stay around even, you’re going to be darn good,” said former Martindale and Turner Highlands pro Ron Bibeau, who now plies his trade at Riverside Municipal Golf Course in Portland. “That’s a tribute to the golf course and to the super and all of the conditions. The fairways are hard and fast, the greens are hard and fast, the rough is up two inches. There’s a premium on hitting the fairways.”

If Monday’s scores are any indication, and if the weather holds true to current forecasts, playing three rounds of golf in even par won’t just keep a golfer in contention, but might even win the tournament.

“If the winds come up, like they tend to do, the scores aren’t going to be very low,” said Fox Ridge pro Bob Darling Jr. “Under par on a day like today (was) a really, really good score.”

In fact, it was a pair of amateurs – albeit a pair of top amateurs and past Maine Open champions – who posted the two lowest scores Monday. Shawn Warren, the 2004 champion and recently crowned Maine Amateur champion, fired a 3-under-par 69, while 1962 and 1965 champion Jim Veno shot a 2-under 70.

“This is the kid to watch,” said Bibeau, who played with Warren in the pro-am. “This kid’s good.”

Warren had to be Monday, and will have to be all week, if he hopes to win another major title this summer.

“The golf course has changed,” Darling said. “When the greens get this hard and now you’re into that long rough, the ball’s going to bounce all over the place. It was a tough track today.”

Darling should know. He has been at Fox Ridge long enough to understand the course’s nuances. That doesn’t mean, however, he’s a shoo-in to even contend.

“This is what I was waiting for,” said Darling. “(Course superintendent) Eddie (Michaud) wanted to get the course hard and fast, and I think that’s what’s going to happen.”

Darling isn’t the only Maine pro with a chance this week. Jerry DiPhilippo of Portland Country Club in Falmouth, Sam Marzenell of Cape Arundell, Bibeau and even John Hickson of Litchfield are all potential contenders.

“I feel a lot more confident after playing at the State of Maine,” said Marzenell, a former MSGA intern who finished fourth at the State of Maine Championship at Sugarloaf recently. “I’m no Bob Darling or John Hickson, but I can certainly, if I play well, make a good check or have a good finish in this event.”

Another familiar face making a return engagement this year is former Maine Amateur champion Sean Gorgone, who captured four amateur titles in five years between 1987 and 1991.

“This is almost annual for me now,” said Gorgone, who now lives and works in Florida. “I come up here to support the Maine Open, the people around here and to see my family.”

While many players relaxed in the clubhouse following the pro-am, the Fox Ridge grounds crew again deployed a full complement of tractors, carts and mowers to manicure the course one more time before today’s first round.

“The greens are firm, they’re fast and they’re undulating,” said former Sugarloaf pro Mike Baker. “It’s going to be hard to get it close to the hole to begin with

“The rough is going to be very penal,” Marzenell said. “Some of those holes, if you don’t hit your shot in the fairway, you’re going to have a tough time getting your second shot to carry. It’s going to be a good test.”

Darling tees off in the first group as the host professional at 7 a.m., along with the most recent champion in the field, Warren, and Rich Parker of Lebanon, N.H.

Other tee-times of note today include Hickson and 13-time amateur champion Mark Plummer at 7:10 a.m., Nick Glicos of Spring Meadow, Bibeau and Cash Wiseman at 7:20 a.m., Veno, Toby Spector and Rob Corcoran at 9:10 a.m. and Gorgone at 9:30 a.m. The final tee time is 1 p.m.

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