New London's Rob Henley in great position after his second round at State Am

·5 min read

Jul. 13—RYE — With the tournament's first two rounds nearly complete, no golfer was in better position to win the 119th New Hampshire Amateur Championship than Lake Sunapee Country Club's Rob Henley.

Henley was the strongest candidate to be the tournament's medalist — and top seed for match play competition — when the threat of bad weather at Abenaqui Country Club suspended play at 6:37 p.m. Tuesday with three groups on the course. Henley shot a 4-over-par 76 at Abenaqui on Tuesday, one day after setting the amateur course record by firing a 7-under-par 65 during Monday's opening round. His two-day total of 141 was two strokes better than his nearest competitor when the golfers were called off the course.

Henley, 34, grew up in Longmeadow, Mass., was captain of the golf team at Dartmouth and moved to New London last spring. This is the first time he's played in the New Hampshire Amateur.

"I played in the Mass. Am a couple years, but never made the cut," Henley said. "I just tried to put it in the fairway (Monday) and I made a bunch of putts. Today it was windier, and the putts didn't go in. I also had a weird lost ball on 14 where I hit it a little left and it caught the trees and we just never found it. So that cost me two strokes.

"I had a hot dog at the turn (Monday) and that was the game-changer for me. I shot 5-under after that. I had a hot dog (Tuesday), but it was before the round. That was the mistake."

Henley played in the U.S. Mid-Amateur last year at Sankaty Head Golf Club in Nantucket, Mass.

"Honestly, my goal was just to make match play here," Henley said. "I play golf once a week, so I'll take what I can get."

The field will be trimmed from 155 golfers to 64 after the second round is complete, which may not be until Wednesday morning. At that point the tournament format will shift to match play. There will be one round of match play Wednesday, two rounds Thursday and two more Friday. Saturday's championship match is scheduled for 36 holes.

"I like (match play) better than stroke play," Henley said. "Stroke play is more of a grind. Match play you get to start fresh every hole."

Nashua CC's James Pleat was among the notable golfers who qualified for match play. Pleat won this event in each of the past two years, and is attempting to become the first golfer to win the State Am in three consecutive years since Concord CC's Bob Mielcarz (1977-79). Mielcarz, a nine-time State Am champion, claimed one of his State Am titles in 1993, the last time the tournament was held at Abenaqui.

Mielcarz, 72, finished with a 79 in each round of stroke play and was waiting to see if he would be involved in a playoff when play was suspended Tuesday.

In addition to Pleat, Portsmouth CC's Craig Steckowych (72-71-143), Beaver Meadow CC's Mark Stevens (72-74-146), Nashua CC's Phil Pleat (72-75-147), Concord CC's Matt Burroughs (74-76-150) and Laconia CC's Jim Cilley (81-74-155) were the former State Am champions who completed their second round and advanced to match play.

Nashua CC's Bryce Zimmerman claimed the Ty Abate Award, which is given annually to the player who shoots the lowest score during stroke play among golfers who have yet to turn 20. Zimmerman, a 19-year-old Nashua resident, advanced to match play by shooting 71-72-143.

Zimmerman will be a sophomore on the University of Hartford golf team in the fall. He's a Nashua North graduate who won the NHIAA Division I individual championship during his sophomore (2018) and junior (2019) seasons.

"The greens here are not my strong suit," Zimmerman said. "I haven't played here enough to know where to hit it, where not to hit it. I know I had a good two-day score, but I still feel like my putting really lacked.

"I'm just going to stick to my game plan. I've hit six drivers in 36 holes. You really don't need to hit a lot of drivers here. I think that's the mistake a lot of players are making. I'm just keeping it in front of me and I think that's why I've played well so far this week."

Zimmerman will receive the Abate Award at the The Leaders annual banquet. Abate was a Union Leader sportswriter best known for his golf coverage.

Five golfers had shot under par Tuesday when play was halted: Sky Meadow's Brandon Gillis (70), Steckowych (71), Beaver Meadow's Gavin Richardson (71), The Golf Club of New England's Brett Wilson (71) and Pembroke Pines' Joseph Bowker (71).

Perhaps the most interesting moment during the tournament's second day came in the morning, when an announcement on the outdoor speakers at Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant asked for nearby Seabrook Beach to be evacuated. Shortly thereafter, a second announcement was made stating that the first announcement was made in error, and there was no need to evacuate.

"I was on 17 and all I heard was 'nuclear power plant,' so I was a little concerned, but I just had to stay in the moment," Zimmerman said. "Then I got the alert."

rbrown@unionleader.com