LAKE FOREST, Ill. – At first glance, it was just a battle between a pair of left-handers. They just happen to be friends and two of the best amateur golfers in Rhode Island.
Seasoned veteran Charlie Blanchard, 47, of North Providence, drew a match against the mid-amateur rookie, 25-year-old Brad Valois of Warwick, in the Round of 32 at the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Conway Farms Golf Club. And what a battle it turned out to be – until the 18th green, the largest lead either player held Tuesday morning was 1 up.
When Blanchard got up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 18th, he notched a 2-up victory over Valois and advanced to the afternoon’s Round of 16.
“There wasn’t much talk between us out there, no bantering back and forth,” said Blanchard, a four-time Rhode Island Golf Association Player of the Year. “We were pretty much all business and wrapped up in our game and the match.”
Added Valois, a three-time Rhode Island Amateur champion, “We were in our own zones out there. Besides, there weren’t too many opportunities to talk since we were in different parts of the golf course most of the time.”
Blanchard won the first hole before Valois took Nos. 2 and 3 to go 1 up. Blanchard took the fifth hole, but a birdie at No. 6 put Valois back on top. Again, Blanchard squared things with a par at No. 8 and then made birdie at the ninth for a 1-up edge.
“The first nine holes were like a pillow fight,” said Valois, seeded No. 1 in match play after winning the 36-hole stroke-play qualifying medal. “Neither of us did very much, especially when the wind kicked up. Both of us hit it well the last few holes, but Charlie did it a little better.”
Valois won the 14th with a par to make it all square. Then Blanchard ran in a 30-footer from just off the green for birdie at No. 15, which Valois said “pretty much sealed the deal.”
Both made par at Nos. 16 and 17. At the closing hole, Blanchard’s second shot went just over the green and into the rough, from where he faced a lightning-fast, downhill 40-foot chip. Valois’ second shot found the green but landed some 35 feet right and above the hole.
Blanchard, who on the previous hole made an up-and-down par out of the tall fescue grass with a chip to within inches, did it again, chipping this time to 3 feet. Valois’ eagle putt came up 6 feet short, and when he missed the putt, he conceded Blanchard’s birdie.
“It was a great match, back and forth all the way,” Blanchard said. “I knew from the start it was going to be a grind. Brad is a great player and has played well all year.”
Then with a smile, Blanchard said, “Well I finally beat him. I can’t beat him in Rhode Island, but can out of the state.”
Twice Valois defeated Blanchard in the Rhode Island Amateur, including a 5-and-3 drubbing in the 2007 championship match.
Still, the two will remain close friends. In fact, after Tuesday’s match, they sat and had lunch together.
Next week, they will be teammates and roommates in representing the Ocean State at the USGA State Team Championship at Galloway (N.J.) National Golf Club.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Blanchard said. “It’s going to be great to have (Valois) as a teammate next week along with Bobby (Leopold, who advanced to the Round of 16 at this year’s U.S. Amateur). I think we might have a pretty good chance.”
• • •
In other second round matches:
• Three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith (2003, ‘09 and ‘10) of Pittsburgh turned back Jeff Murphy of Pleasant Hill, Calif., 5 and 4, to continue his quest toward a record-setting fourth title.
Murphy was 1 up after five holes, but Smith won Nos. 6, 7 and 9 with pars to go 2 up. He then won Nos. 11 and 12 with pars and closed things out with a birdie at No. 14.
“It was a wind tunnel out there, really brutal at times,” said Smith, a two-time U.S. Walker Cup team member. “It was pretty crazy. But I hit some solid shots and put myself in position. And today, par was a great score.
“I need to keep playing well and just try to keep it going forward,” he said.
• In his Sweet 16 afternoon match, Smith faces a very familiar face in Sean Knapp of Oakmont, Pa. They are a couple of the state’s longtime leading amateurs.
Knapp went down to the wire in the morning before notching a 1-up victory over Sammy Schmitz of Farmington, Minn.
Knapp was 2 up after 12 holes, but Schmitz bounced back and won No. 13 with a par and 14 with a bogey to return to all square. Knapp followed with a birdie at 15 to go 1 up, and the two halved the final three holes.
• Two-time U.S. Mid-Am winner Tim Jackson (1994 and 2001) of Germantown, Tenn., had to go 19 holes as he outlasted John McClure of Los Angeles.
McClure was 3 up after seven holes, but the 53-year-old Jackson clawed back and won Nos. 8 and 9 and then squared the match with a birdie at the 15th.
McClure went back on top with a par at 16, only to have Jackson win the 17th with a par. Both made par at 18, before Jackson ended things with a par on the 19th (No. 1).
• The third former champion in the match-play field, Kevin Marsh of Henderson, Nev., was eliminated, 3 and 2, by Michael Muehr of Potomac Falls, Md.
Marsh was 1 up after five holes, but Muehr quickly put things out of reach when he won Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 to go 3 up.
• No. 2 seed Todd White of Spartanburg, S.C., continued his roll as he stormed past Mason Casper of Springville, Utah, 4 and 3.
White, a 6-and-5 winner in his first match the day before, jumped out to a 3-up lead after the first three holes. Casper, the grandson of two-time U.S. Open champion Billy Casper, cut the margin by one with a par at No. 13. White quickly closed things out by winning 14 with a birdie and 15 with a par.
• In the most lopsided second-round match, Garrett Rank of Canada rolled past Scott Harvey of Greensboro, N.C., 8 and 6.
Rank won the first four holes and then won Nos. 6 and 7 to go 6 up. Harvey won his only hole at the ninth, but Rank finished things off by winning 10 with a birdie, 11 with par and 12 with birdie.
It was the fourth-largest margin of victory over 18 holes in the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
• • •
ROUND OF 32
Charlie Blanchard def. Brad Valois, 2 up
Dennis Bull def. Trevor Sauntry, 3 and 1
Tim Jackson def. John McClure, 19 holes
John Patterson def. Ryan Patrick, 5 and 4
Corby Segal def. Walter Todd, 1 up
Uly Grisette def. Todd Burgan, 5 and 4
Nathan Smith def. Jeff Murphy, 5 and 4
Sean Knapp def. Sammy Schmitz, 1 up
Todd White def. Mason Casper, 4 and 3
Kevin Wassmer def. Richard Berkmeyer, 1 up
Casey Boyns def. Brian Tennyson, 20 holes
Michael Muehr def. Kevin Marsh, 3 and 2
Matthew Mattare def. Joseph Benedetti, 1 up
Stephen Cox def. Joe April, 3 and 2
Garrett Rank def. Scott Harvey, 8 and 6
Matt Cohn def. Nathan Colson, 3 and 1