SACO – Seventeen-year-old Ryan Gay of Pittston plays golf with 13-time Maine Amateur Golf Championship winner Mark Plummer of Manchester about a dozen times a year.
In addition to the usual banter, Plummer said they talk about more specific golf subjects.
“We talk about game management,” said Plummer.
In front of a crowd that eventually included former President George Bush, Gay put those lessons to work Thursday at Biddeford-Saco Country Club and roared to a two-stroke victory over his fellow Augusta Country Club member in the 89th Maine Amateur.
“I didn’t even know he [Bush] was there until my mother told me on 18,” said Gay. “I was just so focused on what I was doing.”
What Gay did was post a 3-under-par 68 Thursday for a three-day total of 5-under-par 208, while Plummer shot a 72 for 210.
Second-round leader Ricky Jones of Thomaston struggled to a 76 and finished third at even-par 213. Tyler MacPhie of Kennebunk carded a 69, the only other under-par round of the day, for 214 and fourth place. Joe Alvarez of Hampden came in fifth, shooting a 75 for 217.
Gay started the day three shots behind Jones, a two-time Maine Amateur winner, and two behind Plummer, but he had his plan and stuck to it.
“I just knew what I needed to do,” said Gay.
His idea was to give himself a chance to make birdies but not play so aggressively that he shot himself out of the tournament.
“On just about every hole, I had 9-iron or wedge in my hand, and when you have wedge in your hand, you expect to make birdies,” said Gay.
He parred the first two holes, including a big save from a bunker on No. 2, then birdied four in a row.
They were his only birdies until his final one on 16, but they were enough to give him the lead, and he shut the door on Plummer and Jones after that.
“On 12, I realized I had a good lead [and started playing safer],” said Gay, who led both Plummer and Jones by three shots after that.
With many of the pins tucked behind bunkers or water hazards, playing safe forced Plummer and Jones to bring trouble into play in order to take a run at him.
“I wanted to keep a little pressure on him,” said Plummer, “but I don’t think he was too worried after 11.”
Gay still didn’t think he had it won yet.
“With Mark and Ricky, they could’ve birdied the last six holes,” said Gay. “I said, ‘They have to come get me.”‘
They weren’t able to.
“I was just watching the fireworks, not taking part,” said Jones with a smile.
Plummer birdied 15 and 17 but bogeyed 13 and 16. After Jones bogeyed 12, he followed with bogeys on 13, 15 and 16.
“The front is where you get birdies, and they did,” said Jones. “The back is where you want the lead.”
Plummer was impressed with Gay’s play.
“He did a great job out there today,” said Plummer, who played in the final group with Gay and Jones.
Gay’s only hiccup came on the last hole when, with a four-stroke lead, he pumped his approach shot over the green, took two chips to get back on, then two-putted for double-bogey 6.
And still won by two.
“I hate to finish like that, but I don’t feel like I hit a bad shot,” said Gay. “It’s the Amateur, it’s a tough course, and when you make a mistake, that’s what happens.”
“It’s too bad he finished like that,” said Plummer. “But in a few years, nobody’ll remember he did that, just that he won.
“I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Gay knows he is stepping up from the junior tournaments he has been concentrating on the last few years.
“It’s not junior golf anymore,” he said. “I’m happy I got it done.”