The 71st annual L.D. Pierce Invitational got going Thursday, with 96 teams battling to earn a coveted spot in the 16-team championship flight that starts on Friday at Rutland Country Club.
Two-time defending Pierce champions Drake Hull and Jared Nelson, of Rutland Country Club, proved they want a piece of the hardware for the third year in a row. Hull and Nelson put up a 6-under 64 on the par-70 course to lead the round.
Hull and Nelson both birdied on the front nine, shooting 2-under par to that point. They stepped up their game to finish the round, spurred on by three Nelson birdies to finish the round.
The family affair proved strong for John Esterbrook Jr. and John Esterbrook III, putting them at 4-under 66. Esterbrook Jr.’s three birdies on the front nine put the duo in business. Two more birdies from the elder Esterbrook helped seal a strong score. Esterbrook III had some critical pars on holes Esterbrook Jr. bogeyed to help the cause.
Gregg Spiro’s five-birdie day was a catalyst in Spiro and partner Kevin Thompson shooting 4-under.
Rutland Country Club’s Frankie Sanborn and St. Johnsbury’s Devin Knight had a strong qualifying round. The duo put up a 3-under score.
Sanborn and Knight both birdied holes on the front nine and headed into the second half of their round at 1-under. Knight’s two birdies on the back nine paced the pair. The final of those birdies came on the 18th hole.
The Country Club of Barre duo of Eric Lajeunesse and Bryson Richards were tied with Sanborn and Knight in the qualifying round.
Richards birdied twice on the front nine, while Lajeunesse birdied once. A bogey on the second hole was the lone blemish through those holes. A bogey from both guys on the par-5 13th hole hurt them, but they bounced back when Lajeunesse birdied the next hole.
Seven-time Pierce champions Jody Larson and Mike Dukette were one of three teams to shoot 2-under for the day. Larson’s three-birdie back nine was the catalyst to a strong showing Thursday. A few late bogeys mixed in hurt the duo, but it was more than enough to secure a spot in the championship flight.
Neshobe Golf Club’s Walker Allen and Freeman Allen and 2019 quarterfinalists Jared Barber and Jeffrey Houle also shot 2-under.
Rutland Country Club’s Garren Poirier and his partner Evan Russell were solid throughout the qualifying round. Russell birdied a pair of holes on the front nine and Poirier did the same on the back half. A few late bogeys kept the duo from being near the top of the leaderboard at 1-under.
Poirier’s partner from last year’s Pierce, Bryan Smith, teamed with clubmate Mark Hungerford. They shot 1-under. RCC’s Max Major and teammate Mike Morin were also at 1-under.
Brian Hill and Dale Patterson shot 1-under. Hill had three birdies, including two to start the back nine. The teams of Michael Morgan and Jack Morgan and Joel Hartwell and Harrison Hartwell also were 1-under.
Matt Wilkinson and Taylor Bellemare rounded out the 1-under finishers.
The championship flight cut-off came into play at even-par 70. The teams at even par included: Travis Luck and Brian Casey; Vic Shappy and Tim McAuliffe; Corey Taylor and Daniel Cole; Samuel Major and Cody Booska; William Gage and Justin Norris all set on the even-par line.
Booska and Samuel Major pulled out the win in a playoff to lock up the 16th and final championship flight spot.
Match play flights start Friday at Rutland Country Club.
Championship flight matchups are as follows:
No. 1 Hull/Nelson vs No. 16 Major/Booska, 10:20 a.m.
No. 8 Allen/Allen vs No. 9 Hartwell/Hartwell, 10:30 a.m.
No. 4 Sanborn/Knight vs No. 13 Poirier/Russell, 10:40 a.m.
No. 5 Lajeunesse/Richards vs No. 12 Wilkinson/Bellemare, 10:50 a.m.
No. 2 Thompson/Spiro vs No. 15. Major/Morin, 11 a.m.
No. 7 Houle/Barber vs No. 10 Morgan/Morgan, 11:10 a.m.
No. 3 Esterbrook Jr./Esterbrook III vs No. 14. Hill/Patterson, 11:20 a.m.
No. 6 Larson/Dukette vs No. 11 Smith/Hungerford, 11:30 a.m.