BY PAUL KENYON
Journal Sports Writer
LINCOLN, RI (July 16, 2005) -- What had been an orderly and predictable centennial celebration by the Rhode Island Golf Association turned wild and crazy yesterday.
After three days in which form was very much followed, Tom McCormick and Billy Auger flipped the 100th Amateur on its ear as both staged a pair of outstanding victories at Kirkbrae.
McCormick, who feels as if he is playing with an angel on his shoulder -- his father, Mike, one of the state's best players died in April -- not only continued an improbable run, he built on it. He shocked two of the state's very best, George Pirie and Charlie Blanchard, to earn a berth in today's 36-hole title match.
McCormick, who just six days ago came out of nowhere to win the state Public Links Championship at Triggs, his home course, first upset Pirie, the defending and three-time champion, 2-up, in a morning quarterfinal. As if that was not enough, in the afternoon he rallied from 2-down with three to play. He won each of the last three holes and ousted 2002 champ and three-time player-of-the-year Charlie Blanchard, 1-up, in one semifinal.
The 2003 URI grad -- he was a hockey player, not a golfer at URI -- had never before won a match in the Amateur. In one memorable day, he beat two players who have won six Player of the Year awards between them.
"I don't even know what to say right now. I'm as shocked as you guys are," McCormick said after rolling in a clutch, 4-foot par-saving putt on the 18th green that gave him the decision over Blanchard. "The Publinx gave me confidence that I can play with these guys. I've never had that before. Charlie Blanchard and Doc Pirie? I used to think I can't play with those guys. They're unbelievable players."
Yesterday, he not only played with them, he beat them. Both of them.
While McCormick has come out of nowhere, Auger is less of a surprise. The 29-year-old from Crestwood has been among the state's premier players for several years. He is a former Stroke Play champion and was the RIGA player of the year two years ago. However, he had never made it out of the quarterfinals in the Amateur.
It is the way he earned his berth in the title match that made his work so surprising. Auger had one of the most dominating days any player has had in years, first winning seven holes in a row on the way to 5-and-4 triumph over three-time Junior champion Brad Valois in the morning. That turned out to be merely a warm up.
Auger then won six of the first seven and never looked back as he routed John Drohen, the medalist and dominant player in the tournament all week, 7 and 6, in the semis.
"I had a heck of a day," said Auger. "It was one of those days when I got all the breaks."
In what is a rarity in the small circle that is Rhode Island golf, the finalists have never played together before.
"We just know each other from saying 'Hi' to each other," Auger said.
If they want to, they could exchange can-you-top-this stories about how they got to the final. McCormick makes no bones about how he has even surprised himself. He was a top player at Pilgrim, but focused on hockey in college.
"I didn't play much while I was in college. I was working out during the summer, lifting weights," he said. He moved to Florida after graduating in 2003, but returned home after six months when his father was diagnosed with cancer.
"Last year, I played one tournament, the Burke (the season-opener)," McCormick said. "My head just wasn't in it. My father was sick. I just said, 'I'm not doing it.' "
His father, one of the most popular and highly respected players in the state, died in April.
"This year, I feel like I've got somebody to play for," McCormick said. "I decided to play a full schedule and see what happens." On Sunday, he spoke about how he felt his father's presence as he won the Public Links. Yesterday, strange things happened again. Against Pirie, he thought he had driven out of bounds on the final hole, but the ball stayed in by inches. But it was in the deep rough, in a little hole.
"I hit probably the best 7-iron of my life," he said. The shot went over a tree, hooked and ended up on the green. He parred and won the hole and the match.
Against Blanchard, he fell 2-down with three to play when he lost 15. On 16, Blanchard mysteriously pull-hooked his tee shot, hitting a tree less than 100 yards off the tee.
"I had the wrong club. I knew it was too much club. I tried to ease it and I pulled it," Blanchard said. McCormick won that hole, and the next two, as well, with pars as Blanchard did what he almost never does -- bogey three in a row. This was from the same player who had begun the match with birdies on each of the first three holes. McCormick, though, birdied two of those holes himself and hung in, then pulled out another upset.
"This has been the weirdest couple of days. I haven't been nervous at all. It's like I don't even know where I am," he said. "It's a weird feeling."
Auger had a weird feeling, not because he won but because he advanced so easily.
In the quarterfinals, Valois birdied the first two holes and won each. But Auger birdied the third and never caught fire.
"It was a combination of things," Auger said. "When he made par, I made birdie. When he made bogey, I made par." Auger won seven in a row and swept to victory.
That brought on Drohen, the medalist. Drohen was 4-under in beating Dave Marino, 4 and 3, in the morning.
"I played great. I never hit a bad shot," he said. Through 90 holes on the week, he was 7-under.
In the semis, Auger won 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, three with birdies.
"I got out of my game plan," said Drohen, who played with his left foot heavily taped because of blister problems. "I'd love to blame it on something, but I just played bad."
"I've never seen him play like that," Auger said.
Auger, meanwhile, was precise throughout and finished in style, hitting a new rescue club from 220 yards to within 20 feet on the par-5 12th and draining the putt for eagle and the victory.
John Drohen, Alpine, def. Dave Marino, Kirkbrae, 4 and 3; Billy Auger, Crestwood, def. Brad Valois, Valley, 5 and 4; Charlie Blanchard, Wannamoisett, def. Jim Colucci, Wannamoisett, 3 and 2; Tom McCormick, Triggs, def. George Pirie, Valley, 2 up.
Auger def. Drohen, 7 and 6; McCormick def. Blanchard, 1 up.
Auger vs. McCormick, first 18, 7:30 a.m., second 18, 12:30 p.m.