125 Years of Golf in America: New Hampshire October 16, 2019

The USGA was founded on Dec. 22, 1894. With the 125th anniversary coming at the end of 2019, every week throughout the year we're highlighting how all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, make the game we all love a great one in the United States. 

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New Hampshire's Phil and James Pleat Got to U.S. Amateur in 2012

By David Shefter, USGA

Philip (left) and James Pleat are one of five father-son tandems to compete in the same U.S. Amateur. (USGA/John Mummert)

Phil Pleat, who has won 20 state championships and was recently named to the New Hampshire Golf Hall of Fame, and his son, James, are one of five father-son tandems to compete in the same U.S. Amateur Championship. The Pleats also competed in the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, and James played in the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur. The following story was written in 2012, when the Pleats competed at Cherry Hills Country Club and has been updated where possible.

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – There’s a bit of irony that Philip Pleat is back at Cherry Hills Country Club this week with his son, James.

Twenty-two years ago, Pleat qualified for his first U.S. Amateur Championship, which was conducted at Cherry Hills. But that doesn’t tell the entire story.

Pleat’s wife, Lisa, was expecting to give birth to the couple’s second child within a few weeks, and was advised by her doctor not to travel. Philip traveled to Colorado on his own, and after two stroke-play rounds, he returned to Nashua, N.H., where a week later, James Pleat was born.

James would grow to love golf as much as his dad, and in 2012, the two became just the fourth father/son duo to compete in the same U.S. Amateur. What’s better, they did it at Cherry Hills, where Philip, the 2011 USGA Senior Amateur runner-up, made his Amateur debut in 1990.

Philip was exempt into the field based on his Senior Amateur performance in 2011, while James, a senior at Dartmouth College, qualified for the second consecutive year. In 2011 at Erin Hills/Blue Mound Country Club, with his father as his caddie, James missed the match-play cut by one stroke with rounds of 70-73.

 “This is the highlight of my golf career,” said Philip, at 56 the oldest competitor in the 312-player field.

A few weeks earlier, James had his previous best moment in the game when he caddied for his father at the 2012 U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf & C.C., north of Detroit. He walked among some of the game’s greatest players; his father played a practice round with two-time Masters champion and 2010 U.S. Senior Open champion Bernhard Langer.

And when James shot a 5-over 145 to garner one of the three available qualifying spots at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., he created an even better golf experience: playing in the same USGA championship as his father.

“I just really wanted to come back,” said James of the U.S. Amateur. “It’s a fun tournament. It’s the best really for amateur golf. I was unfortunate making a couple of bogeys coming in during my second round [last year]. I learned that I can make match play. I wasn’t really sure if I could when I first got there.”

The two Pleats have played hundreds of rounds together, mainly at Nashua Country Club, where they often sneak out to play a few holes in the summer. They have also competed against each other in numerous New Hampshire state events, where Philip is a three-time state amateur champion, an eight-time Mid-Amateur champion and a six-time Senior winner. James captured the 2017 and 2018 state Mid-Amateurs, as well as the 2006 state Junior title and is a past New Hampshire high school champion.

Ever since he started hitting balls with a plastic club at age 5, James has wanted to be like his father and grandfather, Thomas Leonard Jr., an eight-time New Hampshire Amateur champion who played in the U.S. Amateur. Another uncle won the New Hampshire State Seniors several years ago.

Father/Son Duos To Play In Same U.S. Amateur
FATHER/SON TANDEM YEAR
Dick and Dixie Chapman 1958
Paul and Brett Quigley 1988
Michael and David Derminio 2001
Philip and James Pleat 2012
Mike and Nathan McCoy 2019

James slowly developed his game under his father’s tutelage and eventually beat him for the first time when he was 14.

“I think back to how he’s grown [as a player] and how much farther he hit it every year,” said Philip, who has competed in 20 USGA championships, including six U.S. Amateurs. “Then finally he was hitting it by me. I was happy because that’s the way it is supposed to happen.”

Philip Pleat got his start in the game as a caddie at Portland Country Club in Falmouth, Maine. He also caddied at the Maine Open, which through the years attracted professionals such as 1970 U.S. Amateur champion Lanny Wadkins and Jim Dent. Pleat often carried for former University of Houston All-American John Mills.

Pleat grew up playing Riverside Golf Course, a municipal layout in Portland, where Mike “Fluff” Cowan served as the assistant superintendent. Philip learned a lot playing in the evenings with Cowan, who has gone on to notoriety as the caddie for Peter Jacobson, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. Philip would go on to play at the University of New Hampshire.

In 1978, Philip qualified for his first USGA championship, making it to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur Public Links, which was played at Bangor (Maine) Municipal Golf Course. He would qualify for several U.S. Amateurs and U.S. Mid-Amateurs while raising two children – his daughter, Jennie, played high school golf and was a Division III basketball player at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. Pleat’s greatest USGA success would come in 2011, when he reached the final of the USGA Senior Amateur at Kinloch G.C. in suburban Richmond, Va., losing, 1 down, to Louis Lee.

He was the second New Hampshire golfer to lose a USGA final in 2011, joining U.S. Junior runner-up Chelso Barrett, of Keene, who lost to now three-time USGA champion and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth.

Knowing that he had earned exemptions into several USGA championships for 2012 with his 2011 Senior Am runner-up finish, Philip wasn’t sure if he wanted to compete against the young talent at the Amateur. His last U.S. Amateur appearance had been 15 years earlier at Cog Hill in Lemont, Ill., and he had never qualified for match play in his five Amateurs.

Something told him to enter the championship. After all, it was being held at Cherry Hills, where he had played his first Amateur. All that history was too good to pass up. And when Philip caddied for James at his qualifier, his decision more than paid off.

What could be better than spending a few days at the U.S. Amateur with your son also in the field?

Balancing work and golf while raising two children, it has been a challenge for Philip to stay competitive, but he credits wife Lisa for her understanding and support.

James, an economics major at Dartmouth, hopes this won’t be the last time he and his father tee it up together in a USGA championship. (The two qualified for the 3 rd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club.) At the moment, he doesn’t have plans to play the game professionally. Ideally, he would like to stay in New England and remain competitive in amateur golf.

James would love to emulate what his father has achieved.

“It’s a game for a lifetime,” said Philip. “It’s special.”

Added James: “I would love to be able to play … in this tournament as many times as I can.”

Perhaps someday James can carry his father’s legacy and play in a future USGA championship with his own son.

It would be fitting if it came at Cherry Hills.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.