By Phil Stacey Sports editor
The Salem News
---- — With limited experience playing at Kernwood Country Club in Salem, Athan Goulos took one mindset into yesterday’s Northeastern Conference Open.
”If you can’t figure out how to putt on those greens,” he said, “you’re done.”
Once he calmly hit his first putt of the day, however, the 18-year-old Peabody High senior knew he’d be OK.
Goulos was more than OK. His nine-over par 79 won the NEC Open, one shot ahead of Danvers’ Dan McKenna and two better than Marblehead’s Pitch Riley.
”I felt good coming out of the gates,” said Goulos, a captain for the Tanners. “I made a good percentage of my putts outside of three feet, and the ball was rolling well for me and staying on line.
”Once I hit that first putt, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, it’s going to be a good day.’”
In addition to his putting, Goulos struck the ball cleanly and played his irons very well. “It was a good round, much better than I expected at that course,” he said.
Starting his day on Kernwood’s par-4, 389-yard third hole, Goulos hit a 3-iron into the woods, had to chip out onto the other side of the fairway and settled for bogey. But he rebounded nicely on the par-3 147-yard fourth hole, dropping his tee shot to within 10-15 feet and making the uphill birdie putt.
”That birdie right there gave me the leeway that if I made an error, I wouldn’t put any extra pressure on myself,” said Goulos.
He finished the day with three birdies on the first, fourth and ninth holes.
A 4-handicap who calls Ferncroft Country Club home, Goulos kept an eye on Salem’s Tim Richmond — who had beaten him twice in match play this season — but otherwise didn’t know where he stood on the leaderboard. When all the shots were counted up at the end of the day, he was pleasantly surprised to see his name on top.
”I knew I was on the bubble and it’d be close; hearing my name called as the winner was a huge feeling of relief,” he said.
Goulos and his Peabody High teammates will play in the Division 1 North qualifier at Bradford in Haverhill Monday. “That course is more about target golf and placement shots. It’s going to be a great test,” he said.
McKenna, a 17-year-old senior captain at Danvers, got off to an auspicious start yesterday. Beginning on the par-3 17th hole (121 yards), he put his tee shot on the green but three-putted for bogey. “I wasn’t used to the greens yet,” he said.
The next hole wasn’t any better; he finished with a triple bogey 7. But McKenna caught fire from there, playing 1-under golf over the next seven holes to play himself into championship contention.
”It was an up and down day for me, but I had a great experience,” said McKenna, who had birdies on the sixth and 13th holes. “It was tough out there; those greens were absolute lightning, the fastest I’ve ever played on. But the course was in great shape, and I had a great time.
”Playing with the guys who finished third (Marblehead’s Riley) and fourth (Sam Shorr of Beverly) place guys was terrific, too. We were encouraging each other the whole way.”
Beverly’s Shorr and Curtis Quinn of Gloucester tied for fourth place at 82. Nolan Franey of Peabody took eighth place (85) along with Salem’s Richmond and Connor Green of Marblehead.
At the Cape Ann League Open at Far Corner in West Boxford, the home team took top honors as Masconomet prevailed.
Seniors Charlie May and Zack Staub combined to shoot 68 for the Chieftains. The league used a new format this fall, with each team sending two players to yesterday’s championship, and Staub excelled by hitting an 80-foot putt on the fifth hole and also draining a 25-footer.
May was named Cape Ann League Player of the Year. In addition, the Chieftains had three All-League selections in May, Staub and George May.