CRANSTON – On the 71st hole of the 29th RIGA Stroke Play Championship, soon-to-be-47-year old Charlie Blanchard and 19-year old Jamison Randall were tied for the lead.
And with one swing from Blanchard and one from Randall, a changing of the guard took place.
Trying to avoid a playoff, Blanchard sailed a 9-iron over the green from 150 yards out while Randall identified a flyer lie in the rough, hit his approach on the green and when Blanchard couldn’t get up and down, two-putted for a one-stroke win, avenging his loss to Blanchard in the State Amateur last month.
“I had other reasons besides that for wanting to win and you always want to win every tournament,” said Randall, who shot a 5-under 211 and became the youngest champion in the history of the tournament. “… I’m still having fun playing golf even if I don’t look like it.”
“It kind of jumped off the fairway on me. I don’t know if the wind caught it too,” said Blanchard of his final approach shot. “I was trying to make three there because the playoff was on 10. I figured my best opportunity was on 18 to win it.”
The tournament also signified the start of the new era in Rhode Island amateur golf. Of the top 10 finishers, seven were 30-years old or younger and while players like Blanchard, Coventry’s Jamie Lukowicz (38-years old, finished third at 214) and George Donnell (61, tied for seventh at 218) of Wakefield cracked the top 10 and elder statesmen like Darren Corrente and Paul Quigley were competitive, it appears the time is now for the new generation of golfers.
“We all want each other to play well and light up the leaderboard,” said 20-year old Jared Adams, who plays for the University of Rhode Island, after finishing tied for fifth at 217. “It’s good to have those guys playing good and being up there.”
“There’s a bunch of guys my age I know well from these tournaments and we’re playing better and better,” said East Greenwich’s John McCarthy, who plays for Skidmore College and tied for fifth this week. “It’s a new generation coming in.”
“I haven’t really played enough RIGA events to notice a chance,” Randall said, “but it feels like all the guys I used to play with when I was a junior golfer are coming up and I’m still competitive with them.”
“A lot of these kids can really play,” Blanchard said. “They’re at the age, 17-21, 22, where there’s a lot of really good players.”
Former URI golfer Brad Valois (25-years old) finished fourth at 216; 21-year old Matt Creamer, who plays for Manhattan College, tied Donnell for seventh; 30-year old Ryan Pelletier and 21-year old Owen Lynch tied for ninth at 221.
Outside the top 10, many more up-and-comers made noise, including URI golfers Jeff Ray and Seamus Fennelly as well as Loyola University’s Brendan Lemp, Notre Dame’s Eddie Hjerpe and Saint Anselm’s Tyler Fay.
And instead of being new names, they’re become familiar faces to those who formerly dominated the RIGA events.
“After the Amateur with Charlie [Blanchard] and everyone, meeting some great people like Brad Valois, I’m starting to get in with those guys and getting to know them,” said Fennelly, who finished tied for 11th at 223. “It’s nice to be recognized as one of the better players.”
Randall may be the cream of the crop as he proved this week.
He opened played Wednesday with a 3-under 69 and after Blanchard took a lead midway through the second 18, came back with three birdies in a row.
Tied going into 15, Blanchard blinked, hitting a shot over a bunker that led to a double bogey.
While he came back with a birdie on 16 and tied for the lead again after Randall made a bogey on 17, the slip up on 15 was still a shock.
“That’s the first bad mistake I’ve seen him make,” Randall said. “He’s not that kind of a player and it’s unfortunate, but that’s the way golf is.”
The youngsters won’t be able to compete in the next big amateur tournament, the Mid-Amateur, because you must be 25-years old to compete, which is good news for the older players because in a couple years, the faces that were in the top 10 this week may become familiar faces for the next decade.
“You still have guys like Charlie and Brad Valois and Bobby [Leopold],” Adams said. “Those three are always in the top five in everything. Jamison is a great player and there are a lot of good college and high school players coming up, so it’s good to say.”