The Northeast Amateur, played for the 51st time last week, is one of the most important elite amateur tournaments of the summer season. But despite its prominence, it has always found a way to accommodate skilled regional players without diminishing the quality of the field. One of those players, Charlie Blanchard, made his 14th appearance this year. Blanchard, 46, has played in every Northeast Amateur since 1998.
Interestingly, golf may be Blanchard’s third-best sport.
Blanchard played some golf as a kid, but his primary sports were soccer, hockey and lacrosse. He went to Ohio Wesleyan University and became a two-sport standout, playing soccer and lacrosse. Blanchard was a two-time All-Ohio and All-NCAA soccer player, and he was also a two-time USILA First Team All-American in lacrosse. After graduation, he played professional lacrosse, from 1990-1997.
He began to get the golf bug in 1987 while still in school. He played during the summer and in his spare time while serving as an assistant soccer and lacrosse coach after graduation. He got better and better, playing mostly in local and regional events.
After a stint in the family business, Blanchard’s competitive juices brought him back to sport. His lacrosse coach at Ohio Wesleyan had since moved on to Bryant College in Rhode Island and recruited Blanchard to join him as his assistant. Five years later, Blanchard was offered the men’s golf coach position. He became just the second coach in program history after Archie Boulet retired in 2011 after a 47-year career.
Blanchard is arguably the most decorated player to prowl the links of Rhode Island. He has won seven Rhode Island Mid-Amateur Championships and four Rhode Island Stroke Play Championships. He has won the John P. Burke Memorial Championship five times and he has been named state Player of the Year six times. The outgoing left-hander had a year to end all years in 2002, when he won the state amateur on the way to capturing all five major Rhode Island tournaments in a single season.
Blanchard’s résumé is incomplete. He’d still like to add the Northeast title, although it gets harder each year despite being a member at Wannamoisett and a nine-time club champion. He’s a year older each time the event tees off but the college competitors remain the same age. He struggled this year, missing the cut at 13-over par, but don’t look for him to give up this goal anytime soon.
Unlike last year, when soggy condition plagued much of New England, the weather leading into this year’s tournament was much drier, leading to firm and fast conditions at Wannamoisett … and the scores reflected as much. Whereas Peter Uihlein won in 2011 while setting a tournament record 15-under-par 261, Justin Shin and Jordan Russell finished atop this year’s leaderboard at 7-under par.
“This year the golf course was in the best condition in many years,” said tournament chairman Denny Glass.
The first three rounds were played in extreme heat, with the thermometer nearing the 100-degree mark. As Friday’s third round concluded, storms came through and moved the heat out. Saturday’s final round was played in perfect, windless conditions.
The highest ranked amateur in the field was No. 11 Justin Thomas. The Alabama sophomore learned after the first round that he had won another college player of the year award. Given the Nicklaus Award earlier this month, Thomas was selected as the 2012 Haskins Award winner following a vote of Division I golfers, coaches and golf media. He is the first Crimson Tide golfer to win the award, which honors the late Fred Haskins, the long-time professional at the Country Club of Columbus in Georgia. With it comes an exemption into this year’s PGA Tour Greenbrier Classic. A second-round 77 took Thomas out of the tournament, but he rallied with 65-67 on the weekend to finish T12 at even-par 276.
The Northeast Amateur is delightfully old school. The players play in twosomes, and slacks are mandatory. USGA rules officials are on hand, and all contestants take caddies with bibs bearing the player’s names on the back. It has been played annually for 51 years on what is perhaps America’s best par-69 golf course, a 6,732 yard Donald Ross-design with challenging greens.
The members embrace the event, housing players, providing transportation, and otherwise congregating around the first tee for all four days. And the list of past champions is as good as it gets. Amateur greats like Vinny Giles, Bob Lewis Jr., and Jay Sigel won here, as did future PGA Tour stars like Ben Crenshaw, John Cook and Luke Donald.
The 54-hole cut, instituted for the first time last year, came at 7-over par, with 53 players advancing. It was a good week for the mid-amateur crowd, as five survived the 54-hole cut and played in the final round. Veteran Northeast competitor Tim Jackson, making his 18th appearance at age 53, canned a bomb on the final hole to take the Joe Sprague award for low mid-amateur. Jackson finished T5 after shooting 2-under-par 274. He clipped 1990 champion Todd White by a shot. Also making the cut were Nathan Smith, John Engler, and New England stalwart Frank Vana.