EAST PROVIDENCE — Bobby Leopold would have loved to compete in more amateur tourneys this spring, but just couldn't find the time.
On December 10, he and his wife, Taylor, became proud new parents of Grayson Robert, now a bouncing six-month-old boy, so – naturally – most of his days, and of course nights, are devoted to his baby and work.
That's why the 28-year-old former Cranstonian, who moved with Taylor to a bigger home in Coventry last July, was more than pleased after firing a one-over 70 at this, the second of the four-round 52nd annual Northeast Amateur Invitational at plush Wannamoisett Country Club on Thursday afternoon.
Coupled with his opening-round, three-under 66, Leopold found himself just four shots off the lead with a two-day aggregate of 136.
“I don't play that much with us having the baby, but I've been practicing a lot,” Leopold confessed following his three-birdie, four-bogey trek around the par-69 links. “I took a week and a half off after playing at the U.S. Open Sectionals (in Purchase, N.Y.). I actually played pretty well; I finished 23rd out of 80 guys, so I was happy with that.
“I like the position I'm in,” he added. “If someone had told me beforehand I'd be four shots back and tied for fifth going into Day Three, I would've said, 'I'll take it. That's right where I want to be.'”
Leopold began his afternoon on the 10th hole and birdied before registering seven consecutive pars, but took a bogey five on the 456-yard 18th.
On the front, he suffered a bogey five on the lengthy 505-yard second hole, but rebounded with a birdie 3 at the 372-yard fifth. He followed that with bogeys on the par-four sixth and par-three eighth (the last due to a dismal three-putt).
He nevertheless finished strong, dropping a short putt on the 453-yard ninth for the bird that gave him back-to-back 35s.
“(One over) is good, and I said 'Good' because I hit the ball better than that (70),” mentioned Leopold, whose best finish in four previous Northeast events was a tie for 13th in 2010. “The wind was brutal and so were the pin placements. It seemed we (the guys who played Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon) had the tougher wave because of the wind.
“Making birdie on the last hole helped a lot,” he continued. “I thought I deserved better than par. Like I said, I like the position I'm in because I know I'm pretty good chasing.
“I'd love to win this tournament; it's so prestigious. My wife is from East Greenwich and went to Toll Gate (High in Warwick), and I've lived here for a quite a while, so I consider myself kind of a native Rhode Islander. I've won a lot of (R.I. Golf Association) events, and this I feel is an extension of that, though on a much bigger stage. I can sleep in my own bed at night, and I know my father-in-law (Scott Cooke) is there for me as my caddy. He's doing a great job.”
There was another New Englander who found himself in a three-way tie for the lead at six-under 132, and that was Cameron Wilson, who hails from Rowayton, Conn.
The Stanford University student manufactured his second straight three-under 66, and is knotted with first-day leader Rafael Becker of Brazil at 132. Becker issued a one-over 70 on Thursday after stunning the field with a remarkable seven-under 62 on Day One.
Cory Whitsett of Houston, not to mention the University of Alabama, added a one-under 68 to his 66 and sits alone in third place at 134, while Bo Andrews – a student at Georgia Tech and Raleigh, N.C. resident – mustered an even-par 69 after an initial 66 to grab fourth at 135.
Leopold and Patrick Rodgers of Avon, Ind., who bested the field on Thursday with a four-under 65, share fifth at 136. He's also Wilson's teammate with the Cardinal.
Two others are tied for seventh at 137.
Wilson, like Leopold, is aiming to become the fourth New Englander to claim the tournament title in the last three decades; he'd also love to gain the recognition of being the first lefty to win the red jacket.
And why not? He's already assembled quite a year for himself, finishing in a tie for second at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters and seventh at The Prestige. He also snatched fifth at the U.S. Collegiate Championships and ninth at the PAC-12 Conference tourney.
“I feel pretty good about my game right now,” noted Wilson, who a couple of weeks ago took fifth at the Sunnehanna Amateur. “I hit the ball well, though had a couple of loose shots and made a couple of bogeys. I missed a few putts and made a few, so I thought I played similar to (Wednesday).
“Last year, I was playing well, and I thought I would continue to, but I became injured,” he added of lower-back pain. “I think being a New Englander helps you here. I've played a lot in this state, and I know more about the way it is around here; I've been at Metacomet and Ledgemont, and I know how to drive around here and where to eat. That helps.
“It's good to be in the mix, but there's a lot of golf yet to be played, so I don't want to be too happy.”
He birdied four holes, including the par-four 10th and 14th, the par-five 17th and the par-four first and seventh, though bogeyed the second and sixth, both par fours.
Wednesday's top gun, Becker, admitted he got off to a bad start en route to his 70.
“I just hit some bad iron shots,” he stated. “I fell in between yardages; I didn't have good reads on some of those half-yardage shots.”
He sustained bogeys on the the fourth, seventh and eighth holes before knocking down a lengthy birdie putt at No. 9, then gained some momentum on the back side, where he birdied the 196-yard, par-three 15th and the 558-yard, par-five 17th.
“Those were really important coming in,” Becker explained. “I gave myself a really good look on 18 (a 456-yard, mini-dogleg left); I had an eight-foot putt, but I didn't have the right read … Still, it was a good round. Every tournament you play, you're going to have one off day, and I hope this is the only day.
“Shooting 70 on this course isn't bad, but I really had it going (Wednesday),” he continued. “You're always a little surprised when you shoot seven-under, but I putted real well. You don't expect (a 62), but you're obviously very happy. The more you play here, you get more comfortable. Now I just have to keep my foot on the gas.”
Yet another Rhode Islander, former Cumberland High star and soon-to-be Old Dominion University junior Jamison Randall, fired a three-over 72. That, with his 70 Wednesday, left him deadlocked with seven others at 142 (27th).
Brad Valois of Warwick shot 73 and is one shot behind at 143 entering the third – and “cut” – round today.
“I birdied the third, fourth and sixth, but bogeyed the second and eighth,” offered Randall, 20, who checked in with a front nine of 33. “I was just thinking at the turn, 'Keep it up! Keep doing what you're doing.' I was hitting my putts on the front, but I shorted myself on the drive on (No.) 10, then bogeyed it and the next three.
“On the (par-three, 211-yard) 12th, I almost holed out; it landed four inches from the cup on the fly, and rolled to the back of the green,” he added. “It was a downhill putt, and I thought it might be fast, but I also wanted to give it a chance. It almost rolled off the green, and I three-putted.”
He followed with a bird on the 15th, but then doubled the 16th before birdieing the lone par-five 17th.
“I two-putted from 90 feet there, but three-putted from 12 feet on (No.) 12, go figure,” Randall smiled. “The last time I had a topsy-turvy round like that was at the Big I National Championship, a junior tournament a couple of years ago. I'd birdie two holes in a row, then double the next, then birdie another one before having another double. (Thursday) I was thinking, 'What's going on?' Still, with a 72, I'm still in the hunt. I'm in the mix; the way I'm hitting the ball right now, I'm excited.
“I'm striking it better than I have in months.”