AUBURN — Brendon Croteau's golf game has grown in the past year. In his first attempt at qualifying for the Maine Amateur in 2017, he came up three strokes short, shooting an 83 at the qualifier at Biddeford-Saco Country Club.
The Lewiston native worked on his game as a member of the golf team at the University of Southern Maine, where he's studying sports management.
A year later, the results are evident as he was easily inside the cut line at the 2018 qualifier at Biddeford-Saco. Croteau shot a 76 and finished in a tie for 13th, seven shots off the winner, Reese McFarlane.
Croteau will now tee it up this week at the 99th annual Maine Amateur, held at Belgrade Lakes.
The Martindale member chose the qualifier 50 minutes from his hometown instead of the 30-minute drive to Poland Spring Golf Course because Biddeford-Saco fit him better.
"Last year I went to Biddeford, as well, and I really liked the layout there," Croteau said. "Poland is a little bit of a shorter course, and I am a little bit of a longer hitter. So, I like Biddeford on how it has the length to it. I felt a more comfortable there, I did a few practice rounds with my dad there. It really fit my eye a lot better than Poland. I thought I would have a better chance at Biddeford than I did at Poland Spring."
Having played in the qualifier in the year before also calmed his nerves down this time around.
The Biddeford-Saco qualifier played at 6,286 yards, while Poland is a little more than 200 yards shorter at 6,054 yards. The Maine State Golf Association said Belgrade Lakes will be set up around 6,600 yards for the Maine Amateur.
Croteau feels Belgrade Lakes' length will fit his game. He also has played two practice rounds with his dad, and one thing he said about the course is it plays true and if he has any mistakes during the tournament he said it won't be the course's fault.
Croteau wasn't the only golfer who plays at a tri-county area golf course to qualify down at Biddeford-Saco. Chris Cloutier, who plays out of Fairlawn, finished 10th by shooting a 3-over-par 74.
Croteau liked how the qualifier had a competitive but also a laid-back atmosphere. He enjoys playing with and against other quality golfers, and he said his playing partners, Alex Markakis and Sean Foye, were positive during the round.
"When they started to do bad, I was expecting them to react a certain way, but they actually reacted in a positive way," Croteau said. "They said, 'Hey, you will do great in the Am,' and they were positive. They were giving me some tips and stuff because one of them already had been in the amateur and he knew what it's like. He said Belgrade will fit my eye, and he was really happy for me. That was really awesome having someone like that helping me through my way and giving me some tips on what he did at the amateur last year."
Neither of his playing partners didn't qualify, as Markakis and Foye both shot 85s.
The back nine is where Croteau solidified his spot in the Maine Am: he carded a 39 on the front and was only 1-over on the backside for a 37.
"I was playing really well off the tee, my driver was awesome," Croteau said. "I was also hitting all the putts I needed to make. If I had a 10-footer for par, I was saving it. I made a few big putts actually, I made a few 30-footers too. That was going, my putter was rolling well and everything off the tee was dead straight."
He did say he left a couple of strokes on the course, which would have lowered his score even more.
After not playing much as a freshman at USM, Croteau saw his playing time in actual matches increase this past season as a sophomore. He matched his career low at the collegiate level with a 74 at the USM Cup. He also shot a 74 at the USM Cup as a freshman.
Getting into matches and practicing gave his game a boost.
"The key to the confidence is experience," Croteau said. "Getting a qualifier round under the belt and also college, I played a lot. My freshmen year, I didn't play so much, but sophomore year I played a lot. I played a lot of matches, and that experience of competition golf really helps builds your confidence."
Croteau credits USM coach Reg Grant for helping getting his game to where it is today.
Croteau's goal for the week is to play two solid days of golf and make the cut — which is the top 40 and ties after two days — so he doesn't have to make the drive back down to Biddeford to qualify for the 100th Maine Amateur in 2019.