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Growing Up a Hazard to Golf: Real World Claims Talent From NHGA

Newport Golf Club's Michael Killam, right, looks over the line of a putt during his quarterfinal New Hampshire Amateur golf match with Derryfield's Matthew Paradis on Friday. Killam isn't sure when he'll be able to compete in the state championship again — he's joining the working world soon.
Valley News — Greg Fennell

Newport Golf Club's Michael Killam, right, looks over the line of a putt during his quarterfinal New Hampshire Amateur golf match with Derryfield's Matthew Paradis on Friday. Killam isn't sure when he'll be able to compete in the state championship again — he's joining the working world soon. Valley News — Greg Fennell

Goffstown, n.h. — Michael Killam didn’t see the question coming. When he comprehended it, he needed a few moments to gain his composure.

The blessing of the New Hampshire Golf Association’s state championship format — a weeklong grind that reflects how the USGA runs the United States Amateur — is also its curse. Every year’s field is split down the middle between young guys still in high school or college who are off for the summer and older gents who, either through finances or responsibilities, can afford to take a week off to play golf.

For the former set, moments like Friday arrive. Killam, who grew up in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas, has come to New Hampshire every summer “for as long as I can remember” with his family to live on Lake Sunapee. The summers have included regular NHGA competition such as last week, when the 22-year-old reached the New Hampshire Amateur quarterfinals for the first time.

That trip ended in a 6-and-5 loss to one of those other young guns, 18-year-old recent Manchester Central graduate Matthew Paradis. Now that he’s finished at Louisiana’s McNeese State University and facing life in the world of work and marriage, Killam can’t be sure when he’ll be back for an NHGA tournament.

That knowledge left him close to tears on Friday.

“This has been life,” Killam said as a trio of family members — including his younger golf-playing brother, Matthew — observed. “We’ve always played in the junior events, in the Stroke Play the last few years, played in this event. I’ve always grown up up here, playing golf. When I think of golf, I think of New Hampshire more than I think of Texas anyway, or Louisiana or Missouri, where I played my first year of college (at Maryville University).

“I have way more fond memories up here with golf than I do of any other place. This is home, for golf, for me. It’s kind of funny — I’m not upset about anything, I’m not sad. I’m just excited for the future.”

Because of a coaching change and an internship, Killam didn’t have a senior season on the McNeese men’s golf team to use as preparation for the N.H. Amateur. Working as a caddie, Killam found himself frequently offering golf tips to players. He listened to his own advice when he needed to get ready for the NHGA season.

Beyond the course, however, Killam’s future awaits. Having earned a marketing degree at McNeese in May, Killam is eager to start his first job in medical sales, employment that will require a move to Oklahoma City. He and his fiancée, Cara White, will be getting married in the next year as well.

“My fiancée is going to be missing me a lot, because I’ll be in Oklahoma City and she’ll be at home (in Texas) until we get married,” Killam said. “We’ll see each other as much as possible, but she’ll kick my butt if I don’t get down there and spend a couple of weeks with her.”

Nick MacDonald faced a similar realization three years ago after making the N.H. Amateur championship match for the second straight summer.

A year out of the University of Hartford, the former Lebanon High School golfer needed to get a job and, in doing so, knew he’d eventually lack the freedom to commit to the Amateur’s full-week schedule. Last week’s quarterfinal run was his first trip back to the state am since his 2011 finals defeat.

“Golf didn’t change a whole lot; I just couldn’t play in as many tournaments,” MacDonald said. (He’s getting married next month to former LHS classmate Margaret Flanagan.) “A lot of the tournaments are during the week. When you’re working, you can’t play in those. But I’m still out there on the weekends and practicing when I can in the evenings.”

Killam’s future could match the present for MacDonald, who used a week of vacation time from his job with a Canaan financial management firm to play in last week’s championship at Stonebridge Country Club.

“It’s year by year,” MacDonald noted. “We’ll see, depending on what my work schedule looks like, if everything falls. I’d like to play every year, but who knows?”

That’s the world the NHGA’s young guys almost always have to face. Championships staged in the middle of the week are OK for the kids and the veterans. The ones in between inevitably have to move on.

“It’s a hard thing to think that I may not be up here all summer anymore,” Killam admitted, “because I’ve got an actual job.”

New England Amateur This Week: Grantham’s Evan Russell successfully defended his Vermont Amateur championship two weeks ago in Burlington. He’ll try to do the same thing with his New England Amateur crown starting today at Winchester (Mass.) Country Club.

Russell, who represented Eastman Golf Links last year at Killington’s Green Mountain National Golf Course, will be playing for the Country Club of Vermont (Waterbury Center) this time around. He’ll be part of a strong threesome for the tournament’s first two rounds: Atkinson’s Joe Leavitt, winner of the N.H. Am last week, along with Massachusetts competitor Jack Whelan, a one-time member of the Loyola (Md.) men’s golf program.

Matt Killam and his father, Scott, will represent Newport Golf Course at Winchester. Matt Killam’s group for today and Wednesday will include former Hanover High golfer Nate Choukas, who’s playing out of Hanover Country Club for the New England Am.

The stroke-play tournament will be contested over 72 holes. The top 60 scores and ties after Wednesday play a 36-hole final day on Thursday.

NHWGA Scholarship Winners: The New Hampshire Women’s Golf Association has handed out 12 scholarships for the coming school year, two to recipients from the area.

Grantham’s Elizabeth Morris and Caroline Jankowski, of Elkins, N.H., were recently announced as scholarship recipients by the NHWGA, which is doling out $15,000 to help the dozen pay for college expenses. Additionally, the association handed its Jean E. Lyons Memorial Scholarship to former Prospect Mountain High golfer Indiana Jones. The award recipient must be a New Hampshire resident who plays the sport, has good academic marks and volunteers in her community.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.