FALMOUTH — With an inch of rain the night before the start of the 95th Maine Amateur Golf Championship, The Woodlands was a softer golf course.

Softer often means easier in golf palance, but not in this case. With little roll on tee shots, the course played all of its 6,748-yard set up for the tournament.

Some of the young guys in the tournament handled the length, and did the requisite other things to shoot good scores. The older guys not so much.

The youth movement, which has been apparent in this tournament over the last few years with Ricky Jones’ win last year the exception, made a strong move in the opening round with Drew Powell, 16, of Bangor and Joe Walp, 20, of Portland shooting a pair of 2-under par 70s Tuesday to take the opening-round lead.

The 131-player field will tee it up for the second round Wednesday with the low 40 scores and ties advancing to Thursday’s final round. The 36-hole cut will likely be higher than usual, perhaps as high as 159, 160 or 161. The golf course was the winner Tuesday, but that was the consenus going in.

Seth Sweet, 18, won the tournament in 2012 at Sunday River. Ryan Gay, now a pro, won in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Jesse Speirs won in 2009. Speirs is also a pro. Could another 20-something or younger take it this year?

The Woodlands is a championship course in the truest sense, having hosted Hogan and Nike Tour (now Web.Com) events in its formative years and every of the top tournaments on the New England PGA Chapter circuit since.

Matt Greenleaf of Portland had the early lead at 71 before the two youngsters wrested it from him. Greenleaf, 32, has been knocking on the door of this tournament in recent years. He finished fourth at Kebo Valley in 2010 for his best finish and had a top seven at Sunday River GC in 2012.

“The course played long,” said Eric Crouse of South Portland, the 1998 winner, who opened with a 75.

Last week, the course was fast and firm which the Maine State Golf Association hoped it would stay for the tournament, but since Friday, 5 inches have descended on the course.

“It works both ways,” said Crouse of the differing conditions.

“When it’s fast and firm, your tee shots run out, but they could run through the fairway into trouble. When the fairways are moist, your tee shots hit and stop which gives you longer shots into the greens. The greens held today, but run out when they’re firm,” he said.

Walp, a junior at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., used a hot putter to register six birdies. He said his missed shots weren’t all that bad.

“My bad shots were still in play. I made a ton of putts. The course was a little wet, but the greens were perfect,” he said.

With added moisture, the greens were receptive to shots, said many of the players.

Walp would have had the outright lead if not for a bogey on the par 4, 408-yard 18th.

“I had 115-yards in and I blew my shot over the green,” said Walp, who played at Deering High.

Walp’s shot ended up in the bunker to the right of the green. His third shot ended up 20-feet from the cup and he two-putted for the bogey.

Powell, a junior to be at Bangor High, was paired with Tommy Stirling, last year’s runnerup, and Joe Alvarez, who has been one of the state’s top players over the past 10 years, wasn’t fazed at bit, or so it seemed, playing in such august company.

“I just stayed patient,” said Powell.

“I hit fairways and greens. I made a 45-footer for birdie on the fourth hole and that obviously helped. All my other birdies were relatively short putts,” he said.

The par-4 fourth hole, which played at 430 yards, is one of the toughest holes on the course. It ranked as one of the toughest on the Hogan/Nike Tour when the tournament was played here. The second shot is to an uphill green with church pew bunkers in front. The green is slick.

Grouped at even par 72 are Andrew Slattery of West Minot, Keith Patterson of Saco and Joe Baker of Oxford. Jack Wyman of Falmouth is alone at 73 after some expert scrambling.

Six golfers are ats 2-over 74: Jason Gall of Cumberlan, Jordan Jones of Wiscasset, Greg Martin of Ellsworth, Sam Grindle of Deer Isle, Alvarez of North Berwick and Brian Angis of Saco.

Defending champion Ricky Jones of Thomaston bogeyed three of his last four holes to shoot a 75. Also shooting 75s were Crouse, Stirling of Gorham, Jeff Cole of York and Scott Weymouth of Scarborough.

Mark Plummer, the 13-time champion, withdrew from the tournament on Monday because of a family issue.

Tom Chard — 791-6419

[email protected]

Twitter: TomChardPPH


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