ROCKLAND — With Staci Creech playing golf somewhere in Colorado these days, the Maine Women’s Amateur golf tournament has a different, more hopeful, feel this year.

Creech won the past three titles but moved out of state when her husband, Karlton, the former University of Maine athletic director, took a position in May at the University of Denver.

It has left a championship hole that a young generation of Maine golfers is hurrying to fill.

Four of the five best scores in Monday’s first of three rounds at Rockland Golf Club were turned in by teenagers, with 18-year-old Bailey Plourde and 17-year-old Jordan Laplume sharing the lead at 3-over 76.

And maybe that’s not so surprising. Plourde, of Newcastle, and Laplume, of Old Orchard Beach, finished second and third to Creech last year.

“I wanted to see her come back to try to get another chance,” said Plourde. “Even without Staci, there’s definitely competition out here. And these juniors behind me, you never know. All of us can shoot a good round.”

But Creech’s absence has opened things up for everyone.

“Staci is an amazing player,” said Rachel Smith, a 17-year-old from North Yarmouth who shot a 13-over 86. “We’re sad to see her go, but it definitely opens the door for a lot of us younger folks … It’s pretty cool how two juniors have taken (the lead).”

Laplume, who will attend Merrimack College on a golf scholarship, had a chance to lead after the first round but bogeyed the 18th hole after her tee shot went into the sand bunker on the left. Plourde, who will be a sophomore at Centre College in Kentucky, struggled on the front nine but settled down on the back with three birdies.

They both finished three strokes ahead of Carrie Langevin of Winthrop after the first round.

Langevin, 52, was surprised at her round but hopes for more like it.

“I actually didn’t have any expectations,” she said. “I never play in this tournament thinking I have a chance at winning. It’s more to push myself and put myself out there, to play the best golf I can personally play.”

One stroke behind Langevin, at 7-over 80, were 18-year-old Elizabeth Lacognata of Scarborough and 13-year-old Ruby Haylock of Hartford.

The young golfers have impressed. Lori Frost, a former Maine Women’s Am champion who will be inducted into the Maine Golf Hall of Fame in September, raved about them.

“I see all kinds of potential and excitement for Maine women’s golf,” said the 59-year-old Frost, who played with Laplume and Smith, and shot a 12-over 85. “I see a great future for those ladies. They have composure and sportsmanship, and beautiful golf swings.”

Former champ Kristin Kannegieser, one of the three golfers to shoot an 8-over 81, said Creech’s absence helps younger golfers.

“I think it opens it up for them, don’t you?” she said. “I really do. (Creech) was that constant competitor, just always down the middle, down the green, make the putt … I think it’s the younger girls’ time and I think it’s wonderful.”

The younger golfers try not to think like that. Laplume said Creech’s absence has raised hopes – “I feel I have a chance,” she said – but that she needs to continue to concentrate on what she’s doing. “I’ve got to focus on my game,” she said.

Nearly every golfer said the front nine played tougher than the back on Monday and the greens were trickier than they looked. Lacognata, in particular, wasn’t pleased with her putting. After finishing, she went directly to the practice putting green.

“I do that so that the next day I can feel more confident and have a better mindset,” said Lacognata, who will play at Rollins College of Florida in the fall. “I got it figured out.”

Langevin said she had actually expected the scores to be lower. “I don’t feel it’s a super difficult course,” she said.

But it required adjustments. For example, after bogeying three of the first six holes, Plourde stepped to the side before the eighth hole and took several practice swings. She then birdied the eighth and finished strong.

“I knew what was wrong, my tempo was off,” she said. “I wasn’t getting my hips through … It got better.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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