Jamie Lukowicz shoots 65 to open Rhode Island Amateur
EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It took nearly 20 years for Jamie Lukowicz to win a major RIGA championship. Now that he has one in his pocket, he is playing like a champion almost every time he tees it up.

Lukowicz continued playing as well as anyone in the state on Monday when he blazed his way to a 5-under-par 65 at Metacomet, his home course, to take the first-day lead in the 110th RIGA Amateur. His score, according to those at Metacomet, equals the lowest ever posted by an amateur in tournament play.

The performance was not exactly a surprise since Lukowicz has been playing so well. The 41-year-old from West Warwick finally broke into the winner’s circle last fall when he captured the RIGA Mid-Amateur at Rhode Island Country Club. It has given him more confidence than ever. He began the year with a strong performance in the RIGA’s first major, the Burke Memorial.

"I should have won that one," he said of his second-place finish to Brendan Lemp, a tournament in which he was tied for the lead with three holes to go before settling for second.

Lukowicz has been a frequent contender and did win the state Public Links Championship several years ago. The long bomber has come close in numerous open field events. He challenged in the State Open four years ago at Kirkbrae, before a late chip-in by URI grad Mark Stevens beat him. He has been in the hunt in the Mid-Am before and three times combined with Rob Grossguth to finish second in the Four-Ball.

In the first of the two qualifying rounds in the Amateur he rolled in six birds against only one bogey. The bogey came on the par-4 11th, "the easiest hole on the course,’’ as he called it and dropped him to even on the day. He went on a blitz from there with birds on 12, 14, 16, 17 and 18. That is 5-under in the last seven and a 30 on the back side.

"It was a good day,’’ was his quick summary of his effort.

The work by Lukowicz was part of an entertaining day that showcased how golf truly is a game for all ages. The leaders included the two youngest and the oldest player in the field. Patrick Welch, age 15, had a 67 to tie for second. Davis Chatfield, 16, was in a tie for fifth with a 69. And Paul Quigley, 70, matched his age to tie for ninth.

Welch, the RIGA Junior Champion, is the youngest player in the field for the third straight year. He is one of 23 Metacomet members who are in the 122-player field. The Metacomet guys speak about how much fun they have competing against each other and driving each other to get better.

Even at age 15, Welch has fit into that group. He did not have a bogey on the way to his 67. He did his work with his dad, Marty, caddying for him.

Chatfield is in a similar position in that he plays at Wannamoisett, which not only is the most difficult course in the state but among the deepest in talent. The club has 15 players in this year’s Amateur. With his brother, Patrick, caddying for him, Chatfield overcame two double-bogeys with five birdies to record his 69.

Quigley simply keeps rolling along. The Hall of Famer matched his age for the fourth time in RIGA competition with two birds and two bogeys on the way to a 70. His day included a near hole-in-one on the 10th.

Red-hot Ryan Pelletier tied Welch for second with a 67 that included six birds. The sixth came on his last hole of the day, the par-5 ninth, where his eagle putt hit the hole, spun around and stayed out. Pelletier was playing as well as anyone in the field coming into the tournament, including qualifying for the U.S. Amateur just last week.

"The course is in amazing shape,’’ he said. "It’s tough but it’s fair. You have to be on the right side of the hole with these greens. They’re fast but if you’re below the hole you can make them.’’

While scores were good overall, several of the biggest names struggled. Defending champion Bobby Leopold went 4-over in his first five holes and had to fight back for a 73. Eight-time player-of-the-year Charlie Blanchard had a 75. And four-time champion Brad Valois was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day on the negative side, also with a 75.

Valois has to be considered one of the favorites, not only because he has own four times but because he is playing on his home course. The long-hitting regularly tears up the par 5s. Amazingly, he was 4-over on Metacomet ‘s two par-5s, with an eight on the second and a six on the ninth. Those two played as the two easiest holes on the course. Valois and Blanchard begin the second day in a tie for 47th.

The day marked the first time in RIGA history that players were allowed to use carts. Twenty-seven of the 122 players took advantage of the new rule and used carts.

The cut to the low 32 to begin match play will be made after Tuesday’s second round.

ABOUT THE Rhode Island Amateur

Rhode Island-sanctioned event running for over 100 years. 36-holes of stroke play qualifying to determine a match play bracket of 32 players.

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