There was a lot of distance between Maine Women’s Amateur champion Staci Creech and her next closest competitor last year. There was also plenty of distance between the host course and her hometown.

With the Women’s Maine State Golf Association-sanctioned tournament much closer to Creech’s home this year, the defending champion is hoping for similar separation (seven strokes last year) in what she hopes is a second straight victory.

“I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve just been working hard on my game,” said the Veazie resident. “Hopefully I’ll play well. I usually have pretty high expectations of myself, so hopefully I can reach those expectations.”

Creech won the Women’s Amateur in her first try last year at Biddeford-Saco Country Club. In order to make it two-for-two, she will only have to drive a few miles to Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.

The wife of University of Maine Athetic Director Karlton Creech said she’s looking forward to sleeping in her own bed during the three-day tournament that starts Monday.

And while Penobscot Valley isn’t her home course (Bangor Municipal is), Creech does have experience playing there.

“Since we’ve been here I’ve played it quite a few times,” said Creech, who moved to Maine with her husband in 2014. “The greens are extremely challenging there. It’s definitely going to be somebody that’s chipping and putting (well). It’s going come down onto the greens. You have to hit your approach shots into the correct quadrant of the green, depending on where the flagsticks are.”

Putting, however, has not been the best part of Creech’s game lately, she said.

It was a strength last week for one of the players that Creech said to keep an eye out for — newly crowned Maine Junior Championship girls’ division winner Bailey Plourde of Newcastle.

“She’s really working hard and coming along,” Creech said of Plourde. “I hope to see her play well … and I think she will.”

Creech and Plourde traveled together to last year’s USGA Women’s State Team Championship outside of St. Louis, Mo., thanks to Creech’s Maine Women’s Amateur win and Plourde’s finish as the top junior player.

Plourde, who has played in three of the four tournaments since the WMSGA and SMWGA combined efforts to host the Maine Women’s Amateur, had her best finish of tied for third two years ago.

“I feel good about it,” Plourde said of her chances in this year’s tourney. “My game’s pretty strong. I just got to stay focused again.”

Creech and Plourde will play in the opening twosome Monday. Creech said she welcomes the challenge Plourde will bring.

“I think any time you play with somebody that’s good, I think that drives — well at least for me — the more competitive it is, the more I like it. I thrive on the competition,” Creech said. “I think that can be a good thing, too. If you’re playing with somebody that’s playing well, then sometimes you can feed off of each other.”

The defending champ will have her good-luck charm for the first round, with husband Karlton caddying. But he won’t be there for Wednesday’s final round, Creech said.

This year’s tournament will be without last year’s runner-up, Emily Bouchard. The two-time champ is currently out of the state for work.

Leslie Guenther of Hebron, the 2014 champ and 2012 runner-up, will be in the 64-player field. Guenther will play in a threesome with former Maine Junior champ Lauren Schonewolf and Saco’s Ruth Colucci.

“I have to say, I don’t think I’m going into this tournament with any expectation,” Guenther said. “I’m hoping that I will be peaking at just the right time, because I certainly haven’t peaked yet.”

Other local players in the field are: Gray’s Janelle Bryant, Hartford’s Heidi and Ruby Haylock, North Turner’s Prudence Hornberger, Minot’s Melissa Johnson and Kristin Kannegieser, Winthrop’s Carrie Langevin, Monmouth’s Deb Murphy, Lewiston’s Neila Nelke and Stephanie Rodrigue, and Rumford’s Marlene Viger.

“This seems to me to be one of the stronger fields that we’ve had in quite a while,” said Guenther, noting that 26 of the players have single-digit handicaps. “There are a lot of strong women golfers, and I suppose whoever it is who brings their A-game for these coming three days will emerge the victor.”

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