BY PAUL KENYON
Journal Sports Writer
BARRINGTON, R.I. (July 14, 2006) -- It took Brad Valois 28 holes to get the upper hand on David Marino yesterday. Once he did, Valois never gave up control.
The much-heralded Toll Gate graduate, who plays out of Valley, used his tenacity as well as his considerable talent to edge Marino, 2 and 1, in the title match of the 101st R.I. Golf Association Amateur Championship at Rhode Island Country Club.
Seven times Marino took the lead in the scheduled 36-hole title match. Every time Valois battled back to pull even.
After Valois finally took his first lead of the day on the 28th, he played smartly, in addition to playing well.
"I knew it was was going to come down to the back nine today," said Valois, who knows Marino well. The two are good friends. They have played together many times.
"The whole point of a 36-hole match is to pace yourself," Valois said.
Both players paced themselves well. In the morning 18, they combined for 10 birdies (five apiece) as Marino shot 68, and Valois 69. Marino was 1 up at the lunch break.
"I thought I had the upper hand at that point, but obviously he found something," Marino said. "He started hitting fairways and greens and making a few birdies. He's a great player. You can't take anything for granted."
Marino took a 2-up lead when Valois bogeyed the first hole in the afternoon, his second bogey of the day on that hole and the second time he was 2 down.
The 19-year-old Valois, who is coming off an outstanding freshman season for Johnson & Wales-Miami (he was the third-ranked freshman in college golf), did not panic. The three-time RIGA junior champion, who plays left-handed but putts right-handed, used back-to-back birdies on the fourth and fifth (22nd and 23rd) to pull even.
For the seventh and final time, Marino regained the lead with a par on the 25th. The pivotal turn came on the 27th and 28th holes. Marino drove in the trees on the 27th and made bogey and took three from the fringe on the 28th and bogeyed again. Valois had pars on each to take his first lead.
Once he had the advantage, Valois played steady golf, running off six pars and a birdie.
"He played conservative. He was hitting the middle of the greens and two putting," Marino said. With the lead, Valois knew the pressure was on his opponent, who plays out of Kirkbrae and recently finished his sophomore year at the University of Mississippi.
Valois went 2 up when he drained an eight-foot downhill putt for birdie on the 30th hole, the 15th and last birdie of the match. Marino had several chances for birdies, but could not cash in.
"Usually, I'm the one hitting it close and missing everything," Valois said. "It's nice to see somthing like this (his opponent missing birdie chances) happen."
Marino had reason to be proud of what he accomplished.
"I played solid. I'm happy with my play," he said. "I just didn't make the putts when I needed to. This is probably some of the best golf I've ever played. I made no double bogeys through the entire match play, which is huge for me . . . I just played really consistent golf."
Valois won three tournaments for Johnson & Wales this year and coach Dave Adamonis, who was at RICC yesterday to watch his player win the Amateur. This one is special, Valois said.
"It's a different feeling because it's a local tournament. It involves my peers, people I know, people I grew up playing with," he said. "It's a lot different than playing in a college tournament. In a college tournament, you just go out and play four rounds and the lowest score wins. Out here, it's more meaningful, more people know about it."
The fact that he has been identified as a potential star, and that he was able to win the state's biggest event, is icing on the cake.
"I can't really describe it right now. It hasn't really set in yet, but it's definitely a big stepping stone, something I've wanted to accomplish for a while."
He said he has never felt any pressure to live up to the high expectations placed on him.
"If you think about it that way, usually things aren't going to work out for you," he said. "You've got to take it out there and say, 'If I play well today, I have a chance to win regardless of what people say. . . . If you play well, you don't have to worry about anything."
He shouldn't have anything to worry about now. He is the state champion.
For complete match tree results, click on the tournament link above.