Things change when you’re a champion.

People look at you a bit differently. Your name joins those before you on a pedestal of sorts, and the height of expectations set upon you shatters the ceiling.

If defending Maine Amateur champion Ryan Gay has his way, things won’t change a bit.

“You have to keep your same mental focus,” the 18-year-old Gardiner Area High School graduate said. “You have to go into the tournament with the same mindset as before, you have to go into it like you plan on winning it.”

Things are different for Gay, though. His name is now etched into Maine State Golf Association history books alongside good friend and 13-time champion Mark Plummer, with names such as Dick Diversi, Ralph Noel and Sean Gorgone, all multiple winners.

“I always kind of looked at it as a tournament I wanted to win, right from the start,” Gay said. “The names, the people who have won this tournament, it’s a pretty good list of golfers, some of the best. It’s cool to be on that list now.”

At least one former champion — the former champion — believes Gay is already the man to beat as the tournament unfolds at Martindale Country Club in Auburn this week.

“I’d have to think Ryan’s the favorite again,” Plummer said. “The course suits his game well.”

Martindale is the site of one of Gay’s most impressive memories, even though he admits he “barely remembers it.”

Five years ago, at 13, Gay fired a 67 during a junior event at Martindale. He wasn’t going to sneak up on anyone anymore.

“It seems like so long ago,” Gay said. “I feel like the strongest part of my game is my iron play and my wedge play, and that’s what you need to have there. The course is an old-style course. It’s not all that long, but it matters a lot where you place the ball on the greens, and you have to stay below the hole all the time.”

Of course, practicing has been a bit of an issue this season, for Gay and for the rest of the state’s golfers.

“I think we’re all in the same boat,” Gay said, “but playing a lot in the events we’ve had, playing in the rain actually makes you a better golfer, I think, and if anything, I’m used to playing in it, just in case it doesn’t rain again during the tournament. Just having a positive attitude when playing in the rain puts you in front of half the field.”

This fall, Gay will begin his freshman year at the University of New Mexico, playing for a traditionally strong Lobos’ golf team. Assuming he plays all four of his seasons at New Mexico, that will give him at least four more summers’ worth of Maine Amateur eligibility. With one win under his belt, Gay is hoping for a few more before he has to make a decision on his golfing future.

“Everybody seems to turn pro now,” Gay said. “For some people, it’s the right decision, for others it isn’t. It’s a tough world to do it in right now, and for whatever reason, people just don’t like to stay an amateur.”

For now, though, Gay’s focus is on the task at hand.

“When you win one, you don’t want to let another one go,” Gay said. “It’s a cool feeling going in, knowing you’ve done it, but you have to be able to do it again, and that can be tougher.”

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