MANCHESTER — Garren Poirier and Bryan Smith are pals but toss friendship out the window when the calendar flips to the Vermont Mid-Amateur. They are two of the top amateur golfers in the state and love going head to head in match play, even if the ledger is tilted toward Rutland Country Club’s Poirier.
Poirier-Smith is the Mid-Am’s version of Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed. The hits just keep on coming.
“I would very much like a rematch,” said Champlain’s Smith, 0-4 against Poirier in this tournament, which begins Thursday at Manchester Country Club.
“I’ve made it to the finals the last four years and only won once and that was against Eric Lajeunesse and he beat Garren in the semis.”
Smith is 0-3 against Poirier in the finals, including last year’s 19-hole finale at Sugarbush.
“I’ve had good matches with him,” said Smith, the 2017 champion. “Last year I was in control most of the day and lost control coming down the stretch, which was a bit deflating.”
“Obviously we’re real good buddies and it’s part of being golfers in a small state,” said Poirier, who will be seeking his fifth title. “It’s just one of those things where we happen to come to blows more often than not. We’ve had some tight, tight matches. We know each other’s game very well.”
The field of 57 will vie for 32 match play spots in Thursday’s qualifying round, with double rounds of match play set for Friday and Saturday and the finale on Sunday morning. The Vermont Golf Association-run tournament is for players aged 25 or older.
The field also includes 2016 champion Lajeunesse and other former champions in Frankie Sanborn (Rutland), Bill Hadden (Ekwanok) and Stephen Waite (Rutland).
Poirier, Smith and the Country Club of Barre’s Lajeunesse have been this tournament’s most consistent players the last five years but no one will be looking too deep into the brackets for potential rematches and rivalry renewals.
“The pool isn’t that big,” said Poirier. “The cream rises to the top but it’s one of those things where a few guys will sneak in there.
“It’s a good field this year. It’s nice to see Bill Hadden because even though Billy’s 50 (actually 61) he’s still got the game. I think in match play it’s one of those things where anybody can come out on top. That’s the way it works.”
Burlington veteran Chip Ward is in the field and longtime MCC member Jason Balch will be playing the course he mastered when his Burr and Burton Bulldogs were perennial high school state contenders and Balch their biggest mover and shaker. Robert Savard, who played in the inaugural Mid-Am in 1989 at Crown Point and now lives in Florida, has joined the field.
On the other end of the spectrum is first-timer Jake Eaton, Proctor High School athletic director and boys basketball coach.
Eaton, who plays out of Rutland and Proctor-Pittsford, played the course for the first time Tuesday and shot 78. That’s plenty good enough to earn a top-32 spot.
“I just want to play for the competition and the fun. I’d love to qualify and see what happens,” he said.
There could be some very interesting matches with Manchester as the setting. The front nine is more wide-open with plenty of birdie potential but after the 10th hole, fairways tighten up and hazards and length really come into play.
Holes 13-16 could make or break any match. No. 13 is a par-5 that could be a breeze after a well-placed tee shot, or a nightmare with its tilting fairway and two ponds. Nos. 14 and 15 are lengthy par-4s and 16 a long par-3 over a well-bunkered green.
Smith loves match play and the format is also nicely suited to Smith this year because he has played less competitive golf than usual. He didn’t compete in the Vermont Amateur, which he won in 2016, or the New Englands, which was held at Quechee.
“It’s OK,” said Smith of the shape of his game. “It’s probably as sharp as it’s going to get. ... For me, if you’re a little off your game you throw a (bad) hole out the door and then come back.”
Which is how Smith could perceive his Mid-Am rivalry with Poirier: throw out the old and keep an eye peeled for another opportunity.
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