Top Seed Goes Down in Round of 16 at RI Amateur
By Dalton Balthaser
LINCOLN – Eight years for some might not seem like a long time.
For McKinley Slade, eight years ago was in a whole other life.
In 2013, he reached the Quarterfinals of the 108th Rhode Island Amateur at Quidnessett Country Club as an 18-year-old on his way to Bryant University. He fell to Wannamoisett Country Club’s Bobby Leopold, 1-up.
“There’s not as much pressure,” said Slade. “When I was a kid, all I was doing was playing competitive golf. Since I took some time away from playing competitively, when I came back, golf didn’t seem like life or death. Now I have a job and other things in life to focus on. Golf is a hobby for me now, not the career it felt like while playing junior golf.”
Slade, aided by his length off the tee and clutch putting, secured his spot in the Quarterfinals of the 116th edition at Kirkbrae Country Club (par 72, 6,676 yards).
He took out No. 1 seed and Stroke-Play Medalist Kevin Silva, of Montaup Country Club, 2&1, Friday in the Round of 16.
“I just knew I had to play well to compete with Kevin,” said Slade, the No. 17 seed. “He doesn’t make any mistakes. I needed to make birdies to keep up. I am comfortable at Kirkbrae and there are birdies to be made out here. I wanted to give myself a lot of chances and try to keep myself in the match.”
Slade, of Point Judith Country Club, got off to an ideal start, 2-up through three holes. He rolled in a 15-footer on No. 2 (par 4, 420 yards) and two-putted from 35 feet on No. 3 (par 5, 514 yards) after reaching the green in two.
He added another birdie on No. 7 (par 4, 411 yards) after a crisp pitching wedge from 140 yards landed seven feet from the hole.
He made the turn in 3 under and 3-up. But once he reached No. 16 (par 4, 326 yards) he was clinging to a 1-up advantage.
Silva had just three-putted for bogey on the previous hole and Slade escaped with a halve. The match could have been tied. But instead, he was given a gift and took advantage.
After Silva missed his par attempt from five feet, Slade had two putts to win the hole. The only issue was that he was five feet above the hole. The 16th green slopes severely from back-to-front leaving players little chance to stop a putt when they are above the hole. They have to expect to have a 12-footer coming back if they miss it.
“In my head, I was mentally ready to have that 12-footer for my second putt,” said Slade, 26, of South Kingstown. “I was either making it or having the 12-footer that I had. Mentally, I was fine with it. I saw the ball roll by the hole, so I knew the line.”
Slade calmly rolled it in to go 2-up with two to play. He would halve the next hole with Silva to secure his spot in the Quarterfinals.
Historically, there’s a lot at play for Slade if he can win three more matches. In the history of the event, no member of Point Judith has won the #RIAmateur. And he’s looking to make some history of his own by securing his best finish.
“Honestly, that never crossed my mind,” said Slade. “I know a lot of people at the club have been following along and I am sure it means a lot to them to see a fellow member still alive with a chance to win.”
Next up for Slade is No. 8 seed and the host club’s Tom McCormick at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. McCormick won the Amateur the last time it was held at Kirkbrae in 2005. The Semifinals will take place following the conclusion of the Quarterfinals.
There are a total of five past champions in the final eight. McCormick, Leopold (2009, 2014), Brad Valois of Kirkbrae (2006-07, 2011, 2013), Andrew O’Leary of Pawtucket Country Club (2019) and defending Champion Jamie Lukowicz of Agawam Hunt are looking to add to their Amateur legacy.
“I just have to stay patient out there,” said Slade. “I’m happy with how I am playing and Kirkbrae offers me plenty of opportunities. There’s a lot of good players left so I am going to have to earn it.”