When Jeff Bourdon learned last summer that the Waubeeka Golf Links had been selected to host this year's Massachusetts Golf Association Amateur Public Links Championship, he didn't immediately envision himself teeing it up in the state championship event.
"My first thought was that it would be exciting to watch the tournament at my home course," said Bourdon, who is a Waubeeka member.
But, with a game that has shown steady improvement in his four years playing at the Williamstown layout, the former Drury High School athlete eventually decided to attempt to qualify for the 120-player field that will tee off in Sunday's opening round of the 36-hole event.
"Knowing that the tournament was going to be at Waubeeka, I said, 'why not give it a try,'" the 31-year-old said. "I love to compete. ... I've only been playing in member-guest and club championships competitively, but I decided it was time to try a higher level of competition."
Turns out Bourdon was more than ready, shooting a steady 4-over-par 76 on July 5 at Westover Golf Course in Ludlow to tie for fifth in a 44-player field to successfully qualify. A total of 11 golfers shot 78 or better at Westover to earn their tickets to Waubeeka.
Although Bourdon said he believed he was capable to playing good enough to qualify, he admitted that "I definitely surprised myself."
Now, on Sunday morning at 9:20 a.m., he will take another step up in competition. However, instead of playing at a course he had played only once in a practice round with best friend and caddie Matt Ziter, he'll be teeing it up on a course he knows very well. Still, he knows it'll feel a little different when he steps on the tee at the par-4 first hole this time.
"It's a week away and I'm already nervous, " Bourdon said during a phone interview early this week. "I'm going to have family and friends watching me. ... It'll be exciting."
It should steady his nerves to know that he played well under pressure down the stretch at Westover, finishing with five consecutive pars while not knowing what score he'd need to qualify.
"I figured that 75 or 76 would be a good round and that if I shot 76 I'd have a pretty good shot," he said.
The final hole turned out to be a true test of nerves when for a few moments thoughts of a double bogey or worse could have entered his mind
"I lost my tee shot into the trees to the right and played a provisional ball," Bourdon recalled. "When we got down there, we found my first ball and I punched out from the trees, hit my third shot short of the green and got up-and-down [for a par 5]. That was a little nerve-wracking."
With 27 golfers still on the course after he putted out, the nervous time wasn't over.
"I sweated it out while I waited to see if I made it," he said.
Given his athletic background, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that Bourdon performed well under pressure despite a lack of tournament experience.
At Drury, he played on the baseball, football and basketball teams and then settled on baseball while attending Division III Brandeis University in Eastern Mass.
"I started at third base my first three years and at second my senior year and hit pretty well," he said. "I had played a lot of golf as a kid at North Adams Country Club — we played 36 holes a day — but I didn't play much golf from ages 18 to 25. I got back into the game seriously when I moved back to North Adams and started playing Waubeeka. It's such a great course."
Bourdon says he's not a long hitter, depending more on smart course management and his short game than on pure power.
"When I play well, I avoid making any big mistakes," he said.
That suits him well at Waubeeka, which measures just over 6,400 yards from the back tees. Accuracy off the tee, distance control with the irons and a good touch on the greens are much more important than booming drives.
Bourdon believes his one advantage over others will be on the putting surfaces, especially on the back nine where severe undulations can create putting nightmares if you end up on the wrong side on the pin.
"I've had every putt you can have on these greens," he said. "I think it's worth one or two shots over those who may be better ball strikers than I am."
While making the cut to the low 60 and ties is an obvious goal for someone playing in his first MGA state-level tournament, Bourdon has higher aspirations.
"Obviously, I want to make the cut on Sunday, but I'd also like to put myself in position to still be in contention on Monday," he said. "It's much more fun being near the top of the leaderboard."
To contact Richard Lord: 413-281-2226 or email@example.com.