FOXBOROUGH -- It was one part Houdini and one part Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Engaged in a three-way playoff for the Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship, Andy Mai knew it was no time to hesitate. He pulled a trick out his bag in the form of a majestic hook.
The second playoff hole was staged on Foxborough Country Club’s dogleg 429-yard, par 4 16th hole. After Mai’s tee shot veered left into a wooded area, he felt he had no choice but to be aggressive.
“It was a little bit of a gamble, but it was a sudden-death playoff,” said the 17-year-old reigning Junior Connecticut PGA Champion on Thursday. “Just having a chance to win the tournament, I thought, ‘I’m going for it.’ There was no reason not to.”
And so Mai went for broke. Even though he’d tried a similar shot and failed in the first round, Mai expertly executed a hook iron shot that not even he was sure that he would make. The ball landed a couple of feet short of the pin. He tapped in the ensuing putt and became champion.
“I had the same shot in the first round, but it didn’t go that well,” Mai said humbly. “That time, I just hit the trees and thought not to do that again. It just worked out the second time.”
Mai entered into the playoff with Dan Slavin (BB&N) and Jack Whelan (Pingree) after firing a 1-under par 71 for the third round.
Slavin — who was coming off an impressive showing at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship — set the pace for the field early on, highlighted by a 4-under par 68 in the first round. He held a five-stroke advantage at the turn in the third round, but wasn’t able to close.
Whelan seized the opportunity to climb atop the leaderboard with the low score of the day at 3-under par 69.
“It was a good day overall,” he said. “I’ll take a 69. I can’t be too mad that I lost in a playoff either because I put myself in that position.”
Whelan more than put himself in position to steal the title on the second playoff hole. The Topsfield, Mass. native drilled his tee shot to the middle of the fairway, but when his second shot dropped near the edge of the green, Whelan was forced with the prospect of sinking a putt from 20-plus feet to push the playoff to a third hole. When it didn’t fall, the title was Mai’s to take.
“When Andy pulled that 50-yard hook shot out of nowhere I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ What am I going to do now?” Whelan quipped. “I hit the shot I wanted to hit. I wanted to have an uphill putt because didn’t want the same putt I’d had earlier in the day on that hole.”
In fact, Whelan’s solid tee shot was the motivating factor for Mai’s brash move.
“When I saw he did that, I knew I had to step it up a little bit,” Mai said. “I hit it well, but then I looked up and saw I hooked it. I thought maybe I’d get a little bit lucky, I guess I did.”
Mai hopes his good fortune and sound play will carry over to his next event, the Junior PGA Championship, which begins Monday at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“It’s a 12-hour car ride, so it’ll be pretty fun.”
After a beat, he added, “I’ll probably sleep the whole time.”
NOTES: Home course favorite, 14-year-old John Beadle of Foxborough Country Club captured the Pre-Junior Championship. The incoming freshman at Noble and Greenough went 2-under on the back nine to push him into the lead … Although he’s some years away from the high school ranks, watch out for Steven Dilisio. The 12-year-old Swampscott native won his second straight Boys Division Title. He has a chance for a three-peat next year and would join New Bedford’s Peter Uihlein, now starring at Oklahoma State and top-ranked amateur, as the only players to do so in state history.