Lake Forest, Ill. – Next week in southern New Jersey, Charlie Blanchard and Brad Valois will be rooming together at the USGA Men’s State Team Championship.
“At least we won’t be trying to beat each other up out there,” said Blanchard of the 54-hole competition at Galloway National Golf Club.
On Tuesday, the two Rhode Island stalwarts – and lefties – had the misfortune of drawing each other in the second round of the 32nd U.S. Mid-Amateur at Conway Farms.
With winds that gusted to 20 mph, it felt a little like being in the coastal R.I. towns of Newport or Narragansett.
Blanchard, 47, who had been 0-2 against the 25-year-old Valois, including a 5-and-3 loss in the 2007 Rhode Island Amateur final at Warwick Country Club, finally edged his Ocean State rival in a match-play event.
Sporting a 5-day-old beard, the grizzled veteran from North Providence rolled in a clutch 30-foot birdie from the fringe on the 15th hole and held on for a 2-up victory.
“I can’t beat him in Rhode Island, but I can beat him out of Rhode Island,” said Blanchard, who had never made it past the first round in any previous USGA championship. He advanced to face Dennis Bull, of Norwalk, Iowa, in the third round on Tuesday afternoon.
The two estimated that they have played more than 100 rounds together, mostly in stroke-play competitions. But there was little banter from the start, each preferring to focus on their own game.
Besides, Blanchard and Valois often were hitting tee shots on opposite sides of the course. At the par-3 sixth, Blanchard’s long-iron tee shot sailed left into a hazard. Valois’ birdie putt was conceded even after Blanchard found his ball. At the par-4 seventh, Valois drove his ball over the green, while Blanchard needed nearly four minutes to find his ball in thick rough. Incredibly, he halved the hole by making a downhill 6-footer for par after Valois failed to convert a 20-foot birdie try.
The only holed birdie on the first nine was a 15-footer by Blanchard at No. 9 that gave him a 1-up lead. This came after Valois needed three shots from the fringe at the par-5 eighth and lost the hole with a bogey-6.
“The first nine holes were like a pillow fight,” said Valois, a three-time Rhode Island Amateur champion. “You really couldn’t describe it any better. He must have been four or five over, as was I. It was kind of brutal.”
Valois, a match-play qualifier at last month’s U.S. Amateur, had entered the Mid-Amateur bracket as the stroke-play qualifying medalist after rounds of 73-68, the latter at Conway Farms on Sunday. But against Blanchard on Tuesday, the self-employed financial and benefits planner couldn’t get his putter going, failing to make a birdie the entire match outside of the concession at No. 6.
Valois won the par-5 14th with a two-putt par, but missed birdie chances at 15 and 16.
Blanchard, meanwhile, seized the momentum with his 30-footer from the fringe at 15.
At the 17th hole, it looked like Valois might square the match. Blanchard’s 3-iron tee shot into the wind on the 220-yard, par-3 found thick rough near the cart path. Blanchard was afforded a drop because of the concrete path, but he actually drew a worse lie when the ball nestled down into the high fescue. After strategizing the play for a few minutes, Blanchard executed a perfect shot, the ball stopping a foot from the flagstick. Valois also chipped it close, but needed to make a 3-footer to halve the hole.
“I made some phenomenal up and downs from places you could drop a bucket of balls and not get up and down,” said Blanchard. “I was fortunate to hit some great shots out of that thick fescue. Those kind of kill [your opponent], especially in match play.”
At the par-5 18th, Blanchard faced a difficult downhill 40-yard pitch for his third. He picked his target and again executed a perfect shot, stopping the ball 3 feet from the hole. Valois had a chance to make a long eagle putt, but came up 8 feet short, then missed his birdie try to conclude the match.
The win meant another day away from his golf team at Bryant University. Blanchard became the men’s head coach last year after spending the previous five years as the school’s assistant lacrosse coach.
“I hope I don’t see them until this weekend,” said Blanchard, knowing that by then he would have made Thursday’s 36-hole Mid-Amateur final.
Blanchard was a two-sport standout at Ohio Wesleyan in soccer and lacrosse, and following graduation, he played professional lacrosse for seven years with the Boston Blazers of Major Indoor Lacrosse. He’s still involved in coaching lacrosse on the youth level, but no longer plays the sport. Golf, after all, is much easier on his body.
“They have practice today,” said Blanchard of his golf team. “My senior captain is in charge out there. I gave him the reins and we’ll see what happens. I got a ton of texts from the guys. ‘Good luck. Play well. Keep it going.’ It’s nice to see that they’re interested in how I do.”
Next week, Blanchard will miss the two practice rounds for the Men’s State Team because Bryant is competing in the season-opening Adams Cup at Newport C.C. and Carnegie Abbey. He will drive down to Galloway Township, N.J., on Tuesday night and be ready for the start of the championship on Wednesday.
He will have to rely on Valois and Robert Leopold, the third Rhode Island team member and his volunteer assistant coach at Bryant, for notes on how to play the course.
“I told them to take good notes and just tell me where to hit it,” said Blanchard.
By then, Valois will have transitioned from foe to friend.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.