AUBURN – Bob Darling thought he had a 10-foot putt he could sink.

He sized it up, read the green and went after it – only to miss it badly on the 17th green at Fox Ridge Golf Club during Monday’s Pro-Am. Even to someone as familiar with the course as Darling, the Auburn site of the Charlie’s Maine Open revealed a little more of itself.

“There’s a back-right pin,” said Darling, the course pro at Fox Ridge. “Maybe I haven’t played that pin placement, but I had a little 10-footer that I thought was going to break a little left. I misread it by two feet. I said, ‘You’d think I would do that. I’ve played the golf course a few times.'”

Fox Ridge may offer more surprises this week when the 89th Maine Open tees off today. Last year, even par was good enough for Ricky Jones to become the fourth amateur to win the tournament, but that might not be the case this year.

“I never would have guessed even par,” said Darling. “I thought 4 or 5 under would win it, but I didn’t know the wind was going to blow 20 miles per hour every day. The way the course is now, and if we don’t have the wind, the guys have four or five rounds under their belts. I’m looking for 4- or 5-under par to win it.”

The three-day tournament not only features some of the best amateurs in the state, but also top pros from around New England. Former Maine Open winners Shawn Warren, David Cummings, Jones and Jerry Dephillipo are joined by New England tour threats like Todd Westfall, Bryan Omelia and Matt Donovan. There are local pros like Darling, John Hickson and Sean Barrett, as well as amateurs such as 13-time Maine Amateur winner Mark Plummer, Toby Spector and Ross McGee.

“I think right around 6- or 7-under par would be a good score,” said Plummer.

With last year’s blustery conditions, finding the fairways was a challenge, and the greens were much faster. The wind is expected to be tame, but the course should offer other challenges. Plummer said the greens were hard and challenging to read Monday and was glad he got in an extra day of practice.

“It gave me a little better feel for how the course is playing,” said Plummer, who last played at Fox Ridge in the spring. “I didn’t play well, but I’m glad I played. At least I got a feel for the place.”

Darling says the course added a few saving bunkers in various locations, and the rough may not be as lush as it was last year. He thinks golfers won’t be penalized as much for missing fairways as last year.

“It’s still going to be a penalty around the greens if you don’t hit the greens,” said Darling.

Cummings didn’t play in the Open last year, but heard about the wind conditions. Putting that out of his mind, he sees the course playing much softer.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the scores were a little lower,” said Cummings. “If I didn’t know anything about last year, I’d say 7- or 8-under par is what it’s going to take.”

Cummings recalls when he won the Open in 1994 that the field was full of touring pros migrating to New England to play. Last year, a scheduling conflict kept many away and limited the field to 112. This year, the New England Tour players could be factors.

“At the New England Open last year, the top 15 places out of 16 were from the New England Tour,” said Cummings. “Last year, (the Maine Open) was playing opposite them so you didn’t have much of a field.”

Golf still comes down to hitting greens and making putts. Accuracy is always the difference maker, and this could be a week that Fox Ridge gives golfers the opportunity to demonstrate those skills.

“You have to hit it in the right spots on the green,” said Cummings. “You’ve got to hit it near the hole. You’re going to have some long putts here. A 50-foot putt uphill is no problem, but a 50-foot putt downhill is going to be a problem. You’ve got to hit it into the right spots.”

Darling pushed for Fox Ridge to be a Maine Open site, and thinks this year could truly show what the course has to offer.

“The biggest thing will be patience,” said Darling. “Holes like No. 8, that’s 313 yards. A lot of guys can bomb it out there 300 yards. They’ll try to knock it on the green, but you can get into some ugly places down there. Not to be redundant, but if you hit a lot of fairways, you’re going to hit a lot of greens and you might make a lot of putts.”


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