Paradis finishes second in State Am

Monitor staff
Sunday, July 17, 2016

When Chris Houston went 5-up on his home course after the first 16 holes of Saturday’s 36-hole final, Matt Paradis admitted, “I was kind of getting a little scared. I was a little down on myself.”

It looked like Houston might run away with the 113th New Hampshire State Amateur Golf Championship, which would have delighted most of the crowd following the pair around Laconia Country Club. But Paradis, a 20-year-old who plays out of Concord Country Club, won the 18th hole and carried that momentum into the second half of the day, cutting into Houston’s lead early in the second 18 and finding himself within one stroke after 30 holes.

Just when it looked like Houston was about to collapse, though, the 2012 Gilford High graduate came through with some of his best golf. He won the 31st hole (the 13th hole on the course) with a birdie thanks to the shot of the day, and then birdied the next two holes for a 4-and-3 win and the State Am crown.

“My friends and I used to play up here every day and talk about, ‘Can’t wait ‘til the State Am is here,’ ” said Houston, who played three years of college golf at Penn State and will use his final year of eligibility at the University of Rhode Island next year. “We used to come out here and pretend like it was a big tournament every day, so I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time.”

It seemed like Houston would make that dream come true with relative ease during Saturday’s early holes. He was finding ways out of trouble and rolling in putts to take a 3-up lead after six holes. Paradis, on the other hand, was struggling to find the range with his putter.

“Just got off to a rough start and didn’t have my best today, and Chris putted absolute lights out on me,” said Paradis, who plays at Southern New Hampshire University. “And I missed a few 5- and 10-footers which was really, I think, the main difference in the match … I was’t really comfortable all day.”

That discomfort only grew when Houston pushed his lead to 5-up with a par on the par-3 16th hole. But Paradis won the 18th hole with a par to cut the lead to 4-up before the pair took a short break in the clubhouse.

“I won 18 and he was 4-up and I still felt the same as I felt on the first 18, but I came out for the next 18 with a whole fresh mindset – try to play like I played the past couple days and shoot a couple under,” Paradis said. “And as soon as I got back to three down after 20 holes … I felt like the momentum was in my hands.”

Houston felt the same way.

“He won 18 and we took a break and momentum switched a little bit,” Houston said. “He won a bunch of holes, so it was tough, and I had to stay mentally in it.”

But that was a struggle for Houston. He made bogeys on the 23rd and 24th holes of the day, and Paradis took advantage with pars to cut the lead to just 1-up. Paradis gave two back with bogeys on the 25th and 28th holes, the lead went back to 3-up and it looked like Houston would pull away, but once again Paradis took advantage of some openings to fight back.

Houston hit trees with his second shots on both the 29th and 30th holes and Paradis seized the opportunity, winning both holes and getting back to within one of Houston.

“I made a couple nervous swings there,” Houston said.

Like he had with his two previous tee shots, Houston once again pushed his drive right on the 31st hole, but this time his second shot didn’t let him down. He scorched a hybrid from the rough on the par-5 13th hole, a shot that drew hollers from the crowd and swung things Houston’s way. Paradis was near the green, but his chip shot went long and Houston won the hole with a birdie that would spell the beginning of the end.

“I stole the momentum back there,” Houston said, “that was the turning point.”

He carried that momentum to the next tee on the par-3 14th hole and hit it to within five feet of the cup for an eventual birdie and a 3-up lead. It was a significant edge, but Paradis still believed.

“I felt like I was right in it all the way up until, even the 15th hole, which would be the 32nd hole, I felt like I was right there and could win the next two or three,” Paradis said. “But he rolled in that good 10-footer on 15 to win it.”

That putt came after a nice shot out of a bunker from Houston, but Paradis still had a 5-foot putt to halve the hole and keep himself alive. But the putt wouldn’t drop, which was the story of the day for Paradis.

“He put the pressure on me, but I thought I was going to make it,” Paradis said of his final putt. “They just weren’t falling today.”