YORK, Maine — It had been almost four years since Nick McLaughlin was in position to win a golf tournament, but he proved Sunday that he still knows how to close one out.
McLaughlin survived several pivotal moments on the back nine Sunday, including a pair of weather delays late in the final round, to capture the 39th annual Seacoast Amateur Golf Championship at The Ledges.
The Portsmouth Country Club member has played in three Seacoast Ams, winning the last two. In the other he lost to Brett Wilson in a playoff. McLaughlin claimed the 2014 Seacoast Am and then won five amateur events the following year before turning pro.
“It’s a learned skill,” McLaughlin said. “If you have a chance to close out the tournament, once you do that a couple times you kind of get a feel for it. It’s been a little while since I was there but since I’ve done it in the past it gave me the confidence to do it again.”
McLaughlin prevailed by three shots over clubmate Eric Evans and Rochester CC’s Kevin Strong, who tied for second. Ben Benson of The Ledges finished fourth. McLaughlin, who began the final round with a one-stroke lead over Joncas and two over Zach Aumand, shot a 1-over-par 73 for a three-day total of 221.
“Even when they got close I felt if I kept doing what I was doing, just hitting good shots, they weren’t going to get to where I was,” McLaughlin said.
Strong was 1-under Sunday while Evans — despite a triple and a double — and Benson shot even par. McLaughlin, Joncas and Aumand made up the final group. Aumand was 4-over after five holes Sunday and finished in a four-way tied for ninth.
“I was pretty frustrated from the start, but I held it together,” Evans said. “I fought back as hard as I could.”
McLaughlin led by three at the turn Sunday, but Joncas pulled within two with a birdie at No. 14. He could have gotten even closer but McLaughlin made a nice sand save for par from a plugged lie in a greenside bunker.
“It was kind of buried under the lip there,” McLaughlin said. “If it had been a good lie it’s probably one you think about making, instead it’s a little bit of a ‘hit and hope.’ I was fortunate to get it out. Since it was on the upslope I was able to stop it. It was still a tricky maybe 5- or 6-footer especially after he made his. That was a good one to get.”
The gap was still two strokes until Evans and Joncas both fell out of serious contention at No. 16. Evans double-bogeyed the hole when he shanked his second shot into the woods from a side-hill lie and Joncas had to settle for a quadruple after his blast from a greenside bunker following the first weather delay sailed into the hazard.
“I rushed it a little bit,” Joncas said. “I was in that bunker. It was wet and it hadn’t been raked, and I just hit it out and it went in the hazard.”
Joncas wound up tied for fifth — his highest finish ever in the Seacoast Am — with Breakfast Hill’s Griffin Chenard and Rochester CC’s Mike Mahan.
At one point Evans was seven back Sunday after a triple bogey at the first hole, but he battled his way back from the rough start to within two with three holes left until the disastrous 16th that followed a stretch of three birdies in four holes.
“I had a bad lie on 16,” Evans said. “I just happened to catch it on the wrong part of the club. Not the time to do it. "
Evans bounced back to birdie 18 and gave himself a chance. But McLaughlin birdied 17 and made par on 18 after his fourth shot backed up to within inches of the pin, and all he had left was a tap-in putt to seal the victory.
“He hits quality shots,” Joncas said. “Even if he hits a bad shot like he did on 18 he makes par. He’s got the ability to block out that shot and focus on the next shot.”