By Dalton Balthaser
Andrew O’Leary is playing in his first Rhode Island Golf Association Amateur Championship.
The way he has played thus far, it wouldn’t seem that way.
O’Leary cruised to stroke play medalist honors and a berth in the Round of 16 as a result of smooth ball striking and pure putting at a slippery Shelter Harbor Golf Club Wednesday.
His rounds of 67 and 69 were the only consecutive under-par rounds in the stroke play portion of the 114th RIGA Amateur.
“Being medalist was my goal coming into the event,” said O’Leary, 19, of Norfolk, Mass. “There’s something about being the No. 1 seed that feels good. I didn’t have a number in mind that would get it done but I wanted to be the top seed.”
He defeated the No. 32 seed Bruce Heterick, of Metacomet Golf Club, in the Round of 32, 4&3. Heterick got the last spot in the match play bracket after claiming one of the two spots in a 6-for-2 playoff.
O’Leary played his final round of the 36-hole stroke play qualifier on Wednesday. Heavy rains and lightning caused play to be stopped at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. Tuesday’s afternoon wave that included O’Leary, didn’t hit a shot.
O’Leary qualified for Shelter Harbor at Fenner Hill Golf Club on June where he carded a course record 7-under-par 65. His game has been true to form since then.
In last year’s Amateur at Ledgemont Country Club, fellow Notre Dame teammate Davis Chatfield shot 11-under-par to claim medalist honors. But Chatfield didn’t make it out of the Round of 32. He lost to No. 32 seed Claudio Soukamneuth, 1-up.
“I was thinking a lot today about what happened to Davis last year,” said O’Leary, of Pawtucket Country Club. “If you are the top seed, you can feel at times like your first match will be easy. I think you have to focus on the match in front of you because if you don’t upsets can happen. Anything can happen in match play.”
Shelter Harbor is a bomber’s paradise. Its wide fairways allow the longest of hitters to give it the full treatment off the tee with little risk.
“The wide fairways help me out a lot,” said O’Leary. “I drive it pretty straight. I haven’t missed many fairways thus far. Because the course is playing shorter than I am used to, I have a lot of short irons in my hands and I can shoot aggressively into the greens.”
O’Leary made 12 birdies in the stroke play qualifier and added another five against Heterick. Each one of those birdie putts made was inside of 10 feet. A true testament to his ball striking. Shelter Harbor’s greens demand precision and O’Leary didn’t disappoint.
O’Leary and his dad Brian both qualified for match play in the same event for the first time. After concluding his match, the younger O’Leary immediately went to watch his dad play in his Round of 32 match against Wanumetonomy Golf & Country Club’s Seamus Fennelly.
Brian lost, 3&1, but that doesn’t mean the youngest O’Leary is ready to pack it in.
“If I keep playing like I have, I believe I can get deep into this tournament,” said O’Leary. “I want to get a lot of rest, keep my mind calm and not too stressed. It’s match play so you can be down and still come back to win. My mentality needs to be there all week. Your mind is something you can always control.”
-67-year-old Jon Fasick, of New England Country Club, qualified for match play. He lost to Wanumetonomy's William Hall, 4&3, in the Round of 32. Fasick won the Senior Division of the Burke Memorial (Gross) at Pawtucket and Shelter Harbor in May.
-Wannamoisett Country Club’s Bobby Leopold is the only past champion remaining (2009, 2014). Four-time champion Brad Valois (2006-07, 2011, 2013), of Valley Country Club, lost 4&3 to Wannamoisett’s Jeff Giguere in the Round of 32.