MANCHESTER — Ricky Jones made few mistakes this week at the 94th Maine Amateur.
From opening day to final round, the Thomaston golfer played largely from fairways and greens. He made most of his putts, including a few he really needed.
“The last couple of times I’ve been out this year I’ve just said ‘I’m playing my own game and I don’t care what anyone else does. If they shoot a number to beat me then they deserve it.’ ”
No one did.
Jones, 41, fended off an early challenge from 20-year-old Tommy Stirling and overcame a 45-minute rain delay to win the Maine Amateur Championship on Thursday at the Augusta Country Club.
It’s the third Maine Am title for Jones and first since 2004. He finished 6-under 204 to beat Stirling by two shots. Jones finished 1-over 71 Thursday.
“It’s the biggest tournament in our state for us for the year,” he said. “Obviously, you get bragging rights for the year as the best amateur. When you are younger you want to get that first one. It’s the hardest getting that first one. Once you get the first one you’ve learned how to handle the stress and the pressure.”
JJ Harris finished third at 2-over 212. Three-time Maine Am Ryan Gay closed out his amateur career by finishing tied for fourth with Sam Grindle.
Gay, of Pittston, shot a 74 on Thursday and finished the tournament 3-over 213. He will turn pro today.
“I played poorly,” he said. “I shot myself out of the tournament early.”
Mark Plummer finished seventh (216) while defending champ Seth Sweet of Madison was tied for eighth (217). Sweet shot 1-over 71 for a second straight day after he opened the tournament Tuesday with a 75.
“It was cool to be the defending champ,” he said. “It’s sad to see it go away. I played myself out of the tournament on the first day, though.”
Jones came into the final round with a comfortable six-shot lead. His strategy, he said, was simple.
“Make pars,” he said. “I just thought if I keep my game, keep making pars it’d be hard for (Stirling). Being there for a first time is very hard.”
Jones made two bogeys Thursday and had just five in the 54-hole tournament.
But Stirling, 20, who made the cut at the Maine Amateur for the first time in four attempts, made an early run at Jones. The Gorham native birdied three of the first four holes to slice into the deficit.
“I knew I needed to make birdies,” he said. “I knew Ricky wasn’t going to fold. I had to make a run.”
Jones played the first five holes safe, leaving many approach shots short of the cup to set up makeable par opportunities.
Stirling, who will be a senior at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, made a great second shot from 75 yards out on par 4 No. 3, setting himself for a two-foot birdie putt. On the next hole, Stirling rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt from behind the cup to pull him within three shots of Jones.
Jones grabbed a hold of the tournament in the first two days by playing mostly mistake-free golf — his first bogey of the tournament came on the 11th hole in the second round.
But he ran into trouble on the par 3 7th, when his tee shot landed well below the green. He chipped up to about 15 feet of the cup, but then two-putted for bogey.
“I just kept thinking, ‘go and play your game,’ ” Jones said.
Stirling made par and closed within two shots before play was suspended with the leaders on the ninth hole.
When play resumed, Stirling bogeyed No. 9 and then trouble came at the par 4 10th. He hit his tee shot off a left-side pine tree and ended up with a double-bogey.
“That was tough,” he said.
Added Jones: “I’m not sure what he was thinking on 10 but those are the kind of struggles you go through being there for first time. … At that point I thought I was on cruise control again, but then he birdied 11.”
Stirling also birdied 15, 17 and 18, but it wasn’t enough.
“He seemed like he’d make a mistake and he’d throw another birdie to get right back into it again,” said Jones, who will compete in the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship in Lorton, Va., next week. “I just stuck to my game.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640