Pleat Defends New England Senior Title in a Comeback
Phil Pleat overcame discomfort to defend his title at Wethersfield Country Club
Phil Pleat overcame discomfort to defend his title at Wethersfield Country Club

WETHERSFIELD, CT (September 13, 2017) – Consistency and perseverance is what led to the first New England Senior Amateur Championship title for Phil Pleat (Nashua CC – NH) one year ago.

A similar game plan and perfect execution this week led to the same result and a second straight New England Senior Amateur Championship title for Pleat, who finished with a two-round score of 2-under par 140 at Wethersfield Country Club.

After starting the final round one shot back of the leader, Pleat finished three strokes ahead of second-place finishers Joe Walker (Dennis Pines GC – MA) and Mike Blair (Bretwood GC – NH).

“It’s a great tournament and there are so many good players in the field,” said Pleat, who was awarded the Andrew C. Bailey Championship trophy as a result of his victory. “I was fortunate to win the first time, and then to win back to back is just great. It’s nice to do that before I get too old.”

As a result of his come-from-behind victory on Wednesday in Wethersfield, Pleat becomes only the second competitor in event history to capture consecutive New England Senior Amateur Championship titles. The only other individual to match such a feat was Dave Szewczul (2010-11).

“I didn’t think about it coming in, but then when I was in the last group I thought that it would be great,” said Pleat. “I was calm all day and just tried to go about my business. At my age you just accept more bad shots, and I accept whatever happens will happen. It’s not the end of the world, so this is very special.”

On this day, Pleat overcame a bogey on the first hole of the day to slowly move his way into the top spot. Walker, the day-one leader, carded bogey on the third hole which moved Pleat within one shot.

“I had a battle with Joe and Mike on the front nine,” said Pleat. “I made some three putts but hit a lot of good irons.”

Pleat’s rise to the top began on the 390-yard, par 4 4th hole where he made his first birdie of the day. He made bogey on his next hole, but then hit his approach on the 560-yard, par 5 6th hole to two feet and made a 10 footer on the 342-yard, par 4 8th hole.

“I just tried to hang in,” said Pleat. “I was fortunate to come out ahead and minimize some mistakes. I hit some good irons which kept me in there because I didn’t drive it particularly well.”

Pleat made the turn at 1-under par and then used a stretch of five holes to extend his lead and create a cushion that he would need as the day wore on.

The key run began when Pleat made a 20-foot birdie putt on the 410-yard, par 4 11th hole and then sent his approach on the very next hole to four inches. Two pars later he had built a three-shot lead with four holes left.

Bogies made on the 15th, 17th and 18th holes would have tested any champion’s nerves but Pleat calmly made a 30-foot birdie putt on the 540-yard, par 5 16th hole to stave off his competition and set the stage for another victory.

“I three putted 17 and hit a bad tee shot on 18 and made bogey,” said Pleat, who has won 19 New Hampshire Golf Association titles over the course of his career. “I had a three shot lead, and it worked out in the end. I was tired at the end and in some pain from my back issues, but that is senior golf. I am ecstatic.”

Despite being one of the most prolific golfers in New Hampshire history, today’s victory was made even sweeter because of Pleat’s recent struggles with spinal stenosis and other back ailments which cause pain and numbness that runs down his back and into his legs.

“You can’t make the swings you want to, but that is life and that is golf,” said Pleat. “That is what happens when you get old. I am very lucky to have a supportive wife Lisa who has let me chase my dream for 35 years. My kids are so supportive as well which is a big part of this.”

SUPER SENIOR DIVISION HIGHLIGHTS He entered the final day in contention for the overall title, but when the final putt was made Jim Ruschioni (Wachusett CC – MA) was just fine with the super senior amateur division title.

“Instead of playing against just Massachusetts guys which we have a ton of here, you get to play against the other six states,” said Ruschioni about the depth of field at New England Golf Association events. “It makes the competition deeper. You don’t know the guys from the other states, and they have some great players come out to play. To win the super senior title is very gratifying, and I am very proud of it.”

Ruschioni, who turns 70 later this year, soared into the overall top 10 on Tuesday evening following a round-one score of 1-over par 72. At that time, he held a two-stroke lead over super senior amateur rookie Jon Fasick (New England CC – MA) and was just three shots back of the overall leader.

“I didn’t have any expectations about taking the whole title not with all of the 55ers in there,” said Ruschioni. “To shoot 72 and be in the hunt was gratifying.”

On the second day, Ruschioni wasn’t able to match his day-one score but his final round of 4-over par 75 – which featured two birdies – was more than enough to stave off a late charge by George Pirie (Valley CC – RI). Ruschioni finished at 5-over par 147, while Pirie was two back at 7-over par 149.

“I struggled with my swing all day long,” said Ruschioni. “I had no energy and no strength. I only made four birdies for the two days, but I didn’t make any double bogies which was key.”

This latest victory marks a continuation of great play by the 13-time Massachusetts Golf Association Champion. Last week he finished second to Dave Houghton (Captains GC – MA) at the 2017 Massachusetts Super Senior Amateur Championship and – just weeks earlier – became the oldest club champion in Wachusett Country Club history.

He finished off that two-day club event by posting a score of 70 and then shot his age – 69 – during the final round of the Massachusetts Super Senior Amateur Championship.

“I have shot my age about 10 times now,” said Ruschioni. “I did it seven times this year and three times last year.”

Ruschioni is quick to credit his son for a recent putting change. This past summer, Ruschioni switched to a modified claw grip and the results have been evident to all who have played alongside him.

“I have actually shot more under-par rounds this year than probably the last 10 years,” said Ruschioni. “My son has been after me about the modified claw grip for a few years and that has really been the difference in scoring. I was being stubborn and wanted to stay conventional.”

Ruschioni now stands as the only competitor in history to capture a New England Amateur Championship title (he did that in 1987) and a New England Senior Amateur Championship divisional title. Mark Plummer is the only competitor to have won both overall titles.

“I have not played in a lot of competitions this year,” said Ruschioni. “I have played in a lot of one-day tournaments here and there, but I had some expectations when I went to Wyantenuck because I had been playing well and I was hoping to play well here in the super senior. I had confidence and it paid off.”

View results for New England Senior Amateur
ABOUT THE New England Senior Amateur

Entries are open to amateur golfers who will have reached their 55th birthday, hold membership in a club belonging to one of the six New England State Golf Associations and have an up-to-date USGA/GHIN Handicap Index not exceeding 9.9.

36 holes, stroke play. No cut will be made. Players 65 years of age or older will be elligible for the Super Senior Division. Both the Overall and Super Senior Divisions will compete from the same tee/yardage. Pre-qualifying required for non-exempt players.

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