Ryan Gay receives a hug from Mark Plummer after Gay won the Maine Amateur championship on June 10, 2008 at Biddeford-Saco Country Club. Ricky Jones waits to offer his congratulations. Portland Press Herald file photo

Editor’s note: This is the 29th installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

This is how you know you’re in the zone, when you’re locked in on the golf course.

You’re being watched by a former president, and you have absolutely no idea.

On July 10, 2008, Pittston native Ryan Gay was so focused on his final round of the Maine Amateur Championship at Biddeford-Saco Country Club, he was oblivious to President George H.W. Bush in the gallery for the back nine. A former president and his contingent of Secret Service security can’t blend into a crowd no matter how hard they try, but Gay was oblivious to the hubbub until his mother pointed Bush out to Gay when his round was complete.

“To be honest with you, I had no idea George Bush was out there. There was so many people and I was so laser focused,” Gay said.

At the time, Gay was already one of the top junior players in Maine. In a few weeks, Gay would win his second straight junior state title, and he had already tied for the Class A individual title twice at the high school championships playing for Gardiner Area High School. On this day, Gay made his mark on the prestigious Maine Am to earn the first of his three tournament titles in four years.

“I was playing really good golf back then,” Gay said. “I had won a bunch of junior tournaments but I hadn’t done much at the Maine Am. Once you finally get it done, you have confidence you can get it done every time you go out.”

Gay made the cut in the 2006 and 2007 Maine Amateur tournaments, but finished 14 strokes off the lead in ’06 and 17 strokes off in ’07. At Biddeford-Saco in ’08, Gay shot 67 on the first day to take the lead. He stumbled a little on day two, shooting 73 to fall two strokes behind Mark Plummer and three behind Ricky Jones.

Ryan Gay pumps his fist after making a putt during the 2008 Maine Amateur championship at Biddeford-Saco Country Club. Portland Press Herald file photo

Plummer and Jones were Gay’s playing partners for the final round. Jones had recently won back-to-back Maine Am titles in 2003 and 2004. Plummer had won his record 13th Maine Am title in 2002. Gay wasn’t phased with the thought of playing with two of the best golfers in the state. Jones was a known opponent, and Plummer was a friend who often played casual rounds with Gay at the Augusta Country Club, where both were members.

“I’d played with Ricky a lot. He’s a good player. I knew I had to come out of the gates hot,” Gay said. “Playing with Mark was a comforting thing for me at that point.”

It didn’t take long for Gay to catch and pass both Plummer and Jones. Gay parred the first two holes, then went on a birdie binge. Gay’s birdies on holes 3, 4, 5, and 6 gave him control of the tournament. Then it was just a matter of maintaining it.

Gay said he considered him a player who could be aggressive, until he didn’t have t be. That time came on the back nine, where he played smarter, safer golf, daring Jones and Plummer to take chances to catch him. On holes where Gay had previously used his driver, he was now going with a 2-iron off the tee.

Gay’s only mistake came on 18. With a four-shot lead, his approach sailed the green, and Gay needed two chips to get on. He doubled bogeyed the hole, but still shot 68 for the round and still won the tournament by two strokes over Plummer.

That win at Biddeford-Saco began a run that saw Gay enter the Maine Am as the favorite over the next few years. He placed second, four strokes behind Jesse Spiers, at Martindale Country Club in 2009. In 2010 at Kebo Valley in Bar Harbor, Gay held off Jason Gall to win by a stroke. Gay repeated in 2011 at Portland Country Club, taking a one-stroke win over JJ Harris.

While Gay didn’t notice Bush, the President noticed him, sending Gay a Maine State Golf Association flag autographed by himself and Phil Mickelson, with a note of congratulations.

Ryan Gay watches a shot during the Maine Amateur championship on June 10, 2008 at Biddeford-Saco Country Club. Portland Press Herald file photo

That 2008 win holds a special place for Gay not just because it was his first Maine Am title, but because his grandfather, Dick Conant, was able to witness the victory. Conant died the following spring.

“My grandfather taught me to play golf. We played every day. He was the happiest person on earth that day, and he was able to be there for that,” Gay said.

Gay spent a few years playing professional golf, and now works in sales for a software company in Boston. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Gay left Boston and returned home to Pittston. He rejoined Augusta Country Club, and has been playing more golf. This week, he’ll take part in the Maine Event tournament at Augusta and Waterville country clubs.

“It will be my first competitive round in four years,” Gay said. “It will be fun to get out there.”

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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