NORTH KINGSTOWN— Recent South Kingstown High School graduate McKinley Slade is playing the kind of golf he always knew he was capable of.
Slade – who finished tied for third at the RIIL State Golf Championships this spring – made it all the way to the quarterfinals of the 108th Rhode Island Amateur Golf Tournament held at Quidnessett Country Club last week before finally falling to Ledgemont County Club’s Bobby Leopold.
After upsetting Ryan Pelletier 4 and 3 in the first round Thursday Slade – who entered the 32-golfer bracket as the No. 27 seed – knew he was in store for a good day.
“This is how I would like to play every time I go out,” Slade said. “I’ve been getting a lot more consistent lately just with my ball striking and more with my scoring overall.”
The two golfers were even through six holes when Slade began to make his charge against the elder Pelletier.
A bogey from Pelletier allowed Slade to move 1-up with a par, and on the 416-yard par 4 eighth Slade carded a birdie to take a 2-up lead heading into the turn.
Slade took a step back on the 10th – lipping out a short par putt to settle for bogey – but it would mark the last time he let his opponent sniff the lead.
A great tee shot and approach on 11 set Slade up for an up-and-down birdie, while on the par 3 12th he sunk a 15-foot putt for his second birdie in as many holes to move to 3-up.
Both players made par on 13 but on the par 5 14th Slade ran into a bit of trouble as his tee shot found the left rough just under one of the pine trees that sparsely lined the hole.
Slade still had enough room to get a full swing and put an iron shot from over 200 yards away in the greenside bunker to get back in the hole.
After getting out of the bunker Slade sunk another long putt for birdie, while Pelletier just missed on his attempt to settle for par and fall four-holes back.
“Towards the end I was dialing a lot of them in,” Slade said. “A lot of the time when I start to get the speed down and dial my putts in the hole I start putting a lot better and that was the case today.”
Slade had yet another look at birdie on the par-four, 331-yard 15th but his two-putt par was still good enough to close out the match.
He didn’t stop there though, knocking off Billy McDonald of Meadow Brook Country Club 3 and 2 after taking an early lead in the match.
After the two split the first two holes Slade won the third and – following two halves on the fourth and fifth – won the sixth with a par to go 2-up.
Slade remained 2-up at the turn, won the 10th with a par to go 3-up but McDonald bounced back with a birdie on 11 to get within two.
The former Rebel responded with birdies on 12 and 14 to go 4-up with four to play to take a commanding lead before finally closing out the match with a par on 16.
Slade returned for day two on Friday and made the most of his encounter with Leopold, pushing the far more seasoned golfer to the brink.
The front nine was filled with plenty of scoring as each golfer won three holes to keep the match all square at the turn.
A double-bogey from Slade on 11 allowed Leopold to go 1-up but the SK grad knotted the match thanks to a Leopold bogey on 14.
The two halved 15 and 16, but Leopold grinded out a par to Slade’s bogey on 17 to take a one-hole lead heading into the 18th.
Slade needed to earn a point on the final hole to force a playoff but could not as each golfer made par to clinch the match for Leopold.
Slade – who will play at Bryant University in the fall – would have played his future coach, Charlie Blanchard, had he won his match with Leopold.
“I was one spot away from playing him in the first round, which would have been fun,” Slade said. “It’d be a tough match obviously because he’s a very good player but it would be interesting.
“I’m excited to play for Charlie, I’m sure he’ll teach me a lot of valuable stuff. He’s a great player, I know a lot of players on the team like him also so it should be fun.”
Instead Blanchard took down Leopold 5 and 3 in the semis before finally falling to four-time defending amateur champion Brad Valois 4 and 3 in the 36-hole championship match.