An open throne awaits at the 2020 Vermont Amateur championship

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STOWE – Take the four-peat off the list of storylines for the 2020 Vermont Amateur championship.

Rutland’s Drake Hull, winner the past three years, has decided not to defend his crown this summer. 

That choice leaves a sizable void at the pinnacle of golf in the Green Mountains, one that several challengers and past champions could fill when the Vermont Golf Association sets up shop at Stowe Country Club from July 7-9 for its annual flagship event.

More: Stowe Country Club guide for the 2020 Vermont Amateur golf championship

Hull could’ve matched Newport’s Grady Girard as the only player to win four consecutive Am titles. Instead, the recent University of Connecticut graduate, without plans to turn professional, has relished some time away from the game as he readies to start a career in Boston this summer

“I miss the winning part but I don’t miss everything that goes into winning, all the anxiety that comes with it,” said Hull, who made it three in a row at his home club last summer. “Last year kind of capped it off and left me in a good place.”

More: Vermont Amateur: Drake Hull seals 3-peat at Rutland Country Club

Without Hull, it’s easy to picture anywhere from five to 10 golfers who have resumes worthy of succeeding him on the Am throne. 

One of last year’s runners-up, Barre’s Bryson Richards, who pushed Hull on the final day, is coming off a splashy freshman year playing at the University of Rhode Island. The lefty earned a win in his five tournaments and finished with a 73.0 scoring average.

And Hull’s UConn teammate and roommate, Jared Nelson, tied for fifth a year ago, has been consistently in the hunt the last three years. His prodigious length could be a game-changer on a relatively short Stowe layout.

A pair of former champions, Evan Russell (2013, 2014) and Bryan Smith (2016), should be in the thick of the chase as well. Russell regained his amateur status earlier this year after spending three years as a professional. 

Russell said he’s been playing about five rounds a week at his new home club, Champlain, where he set the course record in May. He qualified with an even-par 72 at Neshobe on June 21.

“I love it. It’s been a ton of fun so far,” Russell said.  “I’m pretty fresh to it although I’ve had the mindset of being an amateur for a while now. The qualifier was the real first event I’d played in a year and I definitely felt it a little bit but I found a way to get it done.

“That was kinda cool to feel the nerves again a little bit (on the back nine).”

Russell expressed gratitude for the help he received exploring a professional career. But his decision to return to the amateur ranks has been the right thing to do — expectations now don’t carry the weight of making ends meet.

“Obviously I’d like to win but it kind of goes back to the mindset I have now,” Russell said. “I like to play well, I like to be competitive, but it’s not life or death.”

Rutland’s Max Major is another prior contender making his return to amateur golf. He pushed Hull to the limit at the Country Club of Vermont in 2018 before springing to the professional ranks.

Major’s clubmate, Garren Poirier, the five-time Mid-Amateur winner, is another perennial top-10 fixture with pedigree, while Fairfield University junior Jacob Zaranek, who matched Richards at 1-over in 2019, is also back in the mix.

They and the rest of the field will be contesting the Amateur for the first time as a stroke-play event at Stowe. The last time it hosted, in 1966, the match-play format led to the coronation of Rutland’s Richard Smith.

Given what he knows of the course, the most recent Vermont Amateur champ expects low numbers to decide this year’s victor.

“I’ve gotta think if someone keeps the pedal down out there one of those top guys could shoot 2-, 3-, 4-under every round,” Hull said. 

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Contact Austin Danforth at 651-4851 or edanforth@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @eadanforth.

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