MANCHESTER — Rutland Country Club’s Garren Poirier is in his prime and keeps piling on to an impressive resume.
He’s played in the U.S. Amateur, the USGA Mid-Amateur and Public Links. He’s won Rutland’s L.D. Pierce Invitational, has been a Vermont Amateur runner-up twice and finished third in the New England Amateur in July.
And he’s now the five-time winner of the Vermont Mid-Amateur.
… All since getting back into competitive golf in 2006.
“It feels awesome. As a kid I had a lot of mental blocks but you keep competing and competing and it helps you learn how to control yourself in those situations,” Poirier said Sunday after his 2 & 1 victory over the Country Club of Barre’s Eric Lajeunesse at Manchester Country Club. “In the past three or four years, I felt like I’ve made some good swings or putts to keep it alive.”
Poirier, 39, is the all-time leader in this event, started in Vermont by the Vermont Golf Association in 1989. Sunday’s victory was his fourth in five years.
“Five is amazing. Obviously the (Vermont) Am … I still feel like I have 10 years to win it. Drake (Hull, the three-time reigning champion from Rutland) has just been so solid the last few years,” Poirier said.
“Golf is one of those things where you have to push yourself a lot. I feel great about it.”
Making putts to keep his chances alive was precisely what Poirier did on the long, rolling back nine; neither he nor Lajeunesse bettered par on the back until Poirier closed out the match in style, dipping in a curling 30-footer for eagle on the 17th hole.
The match started fast, with Lajeunesse making birdie on the first two holes and Poirier making two in the first four. Poirier’s second birdie squared the match and his third, on the seventh hole, gave him a 1-up lead.
That’s just where the score stayed until 17 as the combatants traded near-misses and clutch par savers. Poirier finished the round at 3-under par while Lajeunesse played his sixth round in four days at even par.
“Usually it is more back and forth but we got stuck at 1 up and I forget what hole it was out there — I think it was 15 — and he said ‘Let’s make some birdies,’” Lajeunesse said. “We were saying it was a pillow fight out there. We were playing good golf but we weren’t making any birdies but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Lajeunesse scored from 6 and 5 for his early birdies and Poirier from 15, 5 and 3 feet.
But as the match moved along, neither hit it tight to the flag on Manchester’s big, beautiful greens; there were no birdie looks inside of 12 feet the rest of the way, even with Poirier and Lajeunesse finishing with 15 greens or aprons apiece in regulation.
“Once you get past 10, it’s harder to make birdies,” Poirier said of the tight back nine. “It was a great start for Eric but (after that) I think it was just ‘hang in there.’”
Not that the match was lacking drama.
Lajeunesse had an opportunity to square the match on the par-3 eighth, where he missed a short par-saver and the hole was halved with bogey.
“Eight is the one I’m going to think about because I left it (his first putt) in a good spot and he hit his first putt way by and I had 3 or 4 feet up the hill and just didn’t make a good putt. That was the only short putt I missed,” Lajeunesse said.
But on No. 9, Lajeunesse saved par and a halve from 8 feet and on the long, narrow 11th, Poirier saved par from 12 feet above the hole. He made another 12-footer on 13 for yet another halve.
“He made three or four putts on the back where I could have stole one to get back to even,” Lajeunesse said.
After seven consecutive halves, Poirier mashed his tee shot to the lower left fairway on par-5 17, a hole where a towering tree in the line of the fairway forces a left-or-right decision. Lajeunesse chose the right side but his tee ball found rough with trees in his path. He reached the green in three but Poirier rifled his uphill second shot to within 30 feet of the flag.
Lajeunesse never had a chance to hit his birdie putt as Poirier made a putt that swerved about 6 or 8 inches from right to left.
“It was about three balls out and I played it Drake’s way,” Poirier said if his clubmate and caddy. “He’s such a good reader of greens.”
“He played a great 17th hole and made an awesome putt,” said Lajeunesse, the 2014 champion. “I’m happy for him. I wish it had gone my way but maybe next time.”