Ryan Gay can’t hide his enthusiasm for the Portland Country Club.

“It’s my favorite course in Maine to play,” Gay, a Pittston native, said. “I’ve always been a fan of the older courses.”

Gay may love the Falmouth course even more on Thursday afternoon, if he plays well enough to defend the Maine Amateur championship he won at Kebo Valley in Bar Harbor last year. Gay, who also won the Maine Am in 2008, is trying to become the first golfer to win the tournament back-to-back years since Ricky Jones did it in 2003 and 2004.

There are 132 players in the three-day, 54-hole tournament, which begins on Tuesday. After two days, the field will be cut to the top 40 and ties. Gay, who was runner up in the 2009 Maine Am, is one of five past champions in the field, which includes Jones and Augusta’s Mark Plummer, who has a record 13 Maine Am wins, one of those coming at the Portland Country Club in 1982.

The Portland Country Club last hosted the Maine Am in 2006, with Shawn Warren earning the win.

Gay, 20, recently completed his second year at the University of New Mexico, and in June won his second straight Paul Bunyan Amateur Tournament.

“I’m playing really well,” Gay said. “I’ve just been practicing a lot lately.”

Although he’s playing in his fifth Maine Am, Madison’s Seth Sweet, 16, is still one of the youngest players in the field. Sweet played with Gay and Jason Gall in the final group last year before finishing tied for fourth place.

“I feel very well about this week,” Sweet said. “I’m putting really well, and if I can do that this week, I’ll be fine.”

At 6,440 yards, the par 70 course is slightly longer than Kebo Valley (6,131 yards) was last year.

“It’s not very long. The greens are very well bunkered, and there’s some treacherous slopes to them,” Gay said.

“It’s very well-maintained,” Sweet said.

Waterville’s Chris Hamel finished sixth last year, and will tee off at 7:10 a.m. on Tuesday. Gay will join Jones and Joe Walp in the first group, starting the tournament at 7. Plummer will tee off at 7:30, while Sweet goes at 10:40 a.m.

“I always like playing early,” Gay said. “The greens are in good shape and there’s nobody ahead of you.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

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