Conner Paine had it worked out. The rising senior at Erskine Academy was going to go into the summer, excel in big golf tournaments and continue his ascension toward, potentially, a collegiate career.

It didn’t pan out. Paine’s game went cold and the summer was a dud, but out of disappointment came a renewed perspective.

“I kind of realized ‘OK, this isn’t everything. I always have more chances ahead of me.’ So it took a lot of pressure off of me,” he said. “That was one of the biggest things for me, just being relaxed and enjoying my last golf season.”

And in his last season, Paine put together one of his finest. He led the Eagles back to the Class B tournament and was at his best in the biggest meets, shooting a 74 in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference qualifier tournament and then a 72 to finish second in the Class B individual tournament. For his performance, Paine is the Kennebec Journal Golfer of the Year.

“I wasn’t putting any pressure on myself, and I was really having fun,” Paine said. “I find myself being even more motivated to practice and go out and have fun with it.”

Paine’s consistency was outstanding. His worst 9-hole round during the season was a 40, his best was a 37, and he averaged a 38. In a season of transition for Erskine, Paine gave coach Mark Bailey an ace he could always count on.

“He can make a lot of good out of a bad spot,” Bailey said. “He’s been putting exceptionally well. I’ve seen him roll in several 30-footers in a round to save a par, because he put himself in a bad spot.”

Those sorts of saves were nowhere to be found during the summer. Paine struggled, with one of the low points being a missed cut by 25 strokes at the Maine Am in July.

“It got pretty bad. I don’t know what it was with my swing, but I just couldn’t hit the ball,” he said. “I was kind of devastated. … The last two years I put so much pressure on myself to play well because I wanted to play at the best of the best college I could.”

Looking for answers, Paine took time off from the game, and was ready to turn the page by the time the season started. He pushed for a team hiking trip to Acadia, and said that excursion further helped him drop the weight of his own expectations.

“We were all talking about where we were going to college and life, just deep stuff,” he said. “It made me really want to enjoy every last minute of the golf season, because it goes by so fast.”

Paine got better as the season progressed. In cold, dreary conditions at the KVAC qualifier at Natanis, he shook off rain and soggy terrain to shoot the best score in the field and help the Eagles punch their ticket to states.

“He’s so mentally strong,” Bailey said. “He just said ‘I’m not going to let the weather get in my way.’ ”

Paine said he wasn’t all that distressed to see raindrops and low temperatures.

“For me, I just like playing when it’s a little bit damp and it’s a little moist,” he said. “I don’t know why it is, I like it when it’s 50 and a little wet. For some reason, me and Justin (Browne, who shot 88), we just seem to play good when it’s like that.”

His brightest moment, however, came a week and a half later when he battled Austin Legge, one of the state’s best players, for the Class B title, giving the Cape Elizabeth standout everything he could handle before falling short by three strokes. Paine’s 72 was the third best score across all classes.

“He just went out and played unbelievable golf,” Bailey said. “Legge birdied three of his last four or something like that, right in front of Conner, and Conner didn’t fall apart. Conner knew ‘Hey, that’s not my game.’ He’s not one to make a lot of birdies, but he also doesn’t make a lot of bogeys.”

After a trying season, Paine was at peace for the biggest moment.

“For some reason, that day, I was just thinking about all I had been through,” he said. “I just wasn’t nervous, and I was just having fun doing something that I love to do.”

There might be more to come. Paine is considering medical school at the University of Central Florida, University of Tampa or Rollins College, and if he can, he wants to play.

This time, though, the pressure’s off, and it’s staying that way.

“I want to work hard to get better, because I know I can get better,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m OK if I don’t play on the PGA Tour.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.