OAKLAND — As he walked up the 18th fairway at Waterville Country Club shortly before noon Monday, Erik McClure shared his greatest fear of the day.

“I woke up this morning and said, ‘I hope I don’t come in last,'” McClure, 44, of Carrabassett Valley, said.

Have you ever come in last place in a golf tournament though, Erik?

“Well, no,” McClure said. “But it’s bound to happen.”

McClure didn’t finish last, his +14 84 was far from the worst score posted in Monday’s final Maine Amateur Championship qualifier. Eighty players played Waterville Country Club on Monday, trying to earn one of the 23 spots up for grabs in the Maine Amateur Championship at Belgrade Lakes Golf Club on July 10-12.

The entry fee to play one of the three Maine Am qualifiers (the first two were previously held at Biddeford-Saco Country Club and Poland Springs Golf Club) is $55. Players earning a spot in the Maine Am field must pay an additional $85 entry fee. That’s still cheaper than a round at Belgrade Lakes. According to the course’s web page, a round at Belgrade Lakes in July costs $145 —$175 if you want a cart.

Last year, Golf Digest ranked Belgrade Lakes the top golf course in Maine. Since being named one of Golf Digest’s top five new golf courses in the country in 1999, the course has routinely appeared on a number of best course lists. Make the Maine Am field, and you’re guaranteed two days playing Belgrade Lakes, three if you make the cut for the final day. Each player who made the cut in last year’s Maine Am is except from qualifying for one of the 132 spots in the tournament. Twenty-three players qualified last week at Poland Spring. Thirty-one golfers qualified for the Maine Am on June 14 at Biddeford-Saco.

“I’ve played pretty well the past couple of weeks. The end of last year I played pretty well, and the beginning of this year it was one of my goals, to try and get in so I could go play Belgrade for three days. It’s sort of worth the price of admission,” Brown Martin, 31, said. On Monday, Martin played in a group with McClure and Newport’s Carter Pearl, 19.

Martin, Pearl, and McClure were the fifth group on the course Monday morning. Players battled cooler than average temperatures and occasional rain showers, and that helped keep scores high. Jon Hardy of Samoset Resort had the day’s best score, +2. At +10, Pearl was one stroke off the cut. Martin shot a +15 85.

“Other than a couple bad holes, I did pretty well. It wasn’t too antsy or pressurey or anything like that,” said Martin, who was trying to qualify for the Maine Am for the first time.

A 2017 Maine Central Institute graduate, Pearl played the 2014 Maine Am at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth when he was 15.

“I was the youngest player in the field that year, and that was a pretty good honor to have. I’d like to be able to play in it again this year, but I didn’t have my best stuff today,” Pearl said. “It’s a good opportunity to play a beautiful golf course in the state of Maine, Belgrade. That’s really all I was looking at, a chance to play down there.”

While he will not be playing the Maine Am, Pearl sank one of the most impressive shots of the day, a 40-foot downhill put on hole 12 to salvage a bogey. Any momentum Pearl gained from the shot was lost off the tee on the par 3, 221-yard 13th hole, when he found the bunker to the left of the green. Pearl’s shot from the sand went over the green and into the woods, and he took a double bogey on the hole.

“I was just trying to salvage the best possible score that I could. It was a grind to get it in, and I was thankful when it hit the bottom of the cup,” Pearl said of his putt on 12. “It was a struggle. We ground it out as best we could.”

As McClure and Martin sat at the bar after their round, the question was asked, is there more pressure in a qualifying tournament such as this than the actual tournament? When you’re locked into the field, do you tend to play looser?

“Any time it’s tournament golf, and you have to use all the rules of play, I think it’s a pressure cooker. I think a lot of guys consider that anytime it’s like that,” McClure said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s at your club or in a state tournament. When it’s real, it’s real.”

Added Martin: “I’m not one to get too upset on a golf course to begin with. I might have my moments where I let the frustration out, but for the most pert, especially playing with someone like Erik, who’s pretty laid back, it’s easy. Cater was pretty relaxed, too.”

McClure said this was his second time trying to qualify for the Maine Am. Like Martin and Pearl, it was the pull of a few rounds at Belgrade Lakes that led McClure to Monday’s qualifier. If McClure felt pressure, he internalized it. His tee shot on 18 found a sand trap to the right of the fairway. As he finished the follow through of his shot out of the sand, McClure stared at the trap that sits to the left front of the Waterville’s 18th green.

“Get in that other one,” McClure said, presumably to his ball in flight.

The shot landed short of the trap and short of the green. A few strokes later, McClure bogeyed the hole to finish the round. As he walked the fairway to take his third shot, McClure smiled.

“It’s a great game,” he said. “So many of us aren’t meant to play it.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @tLazarczykMTM

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