ATKINSON — They may not be able to legally buy a beer for another six years, but that doesn’t mean North Andover’s James Robbins and Haverhill’s Aiden Azevedo can’t win a golf tournament.
Playing against golfers three times their senior — and older — in the ninth annual Joseph F. Healey Memorial tournament, the two 15-year-olds more than held their own.
After Day 1, they’re contenders.
Robbins, an upcoming sophomore for North Andover High, beat Friday’s heat and fired an impressive 3-over 75 at Atkinson Country Club. That puts him all alone in fifth, trailing leader Michael Souliotis of Haverhill Country Club by two strokes.
Haverhill’s Shane Donahue, Renaissance Country Club’s Jeffrey Weishaar and Thorny Lea Golf Club’s Shuvam Bhaumik are all tied for second after firing 2-over 74s.
“I was just 4-over on the par-5s,” said Robbins. “But I had three birdies, so that sort of evened it out. It was a pretty good day.”
Anyone who was following the local high school scene last fall could see this coming.
Robbins was named an Eagle-Tribune All-Star after a stellar season where he had a 35.8 stroke average and helped the Knights claim the Division 1 North Sectional title and finish fourth at D1 states. The right-hander has all sorts of game, and it showed on Friday.
And he’s certainly in prime position after Day 1 of his first Healey.
If Robbins can stay within striking distance after Saturday’s round at Haverhill Country Club, he’ll get to play Renaissance — his home course that he’s “played all my life” — on Sunday.
“I feel like I have a good chance,” he said.
Not to be outdone, three groups after Robbins finished, in came another rising sophomore in Azevedo. The budding Hillie star was steady with five bogeys and 13 pars for a solid 77 on his home course.
“He might end up being my No. 1 next year,” said Haverhill coach Kevin Murphy, who paid a visit to cheer on his kids. “We’ve got a really young team, and Aiden is a big part of it.”
Donahue delivers with the putter
While the young guns were out in full force, Shane Donahue made sure to represent the “old guys.”
Now 50-years-old on the dot, the former Greater Lawrence basketball star qualifies for the Healey senior championship. But that doesn’t mean he can’t win the whole thing, too.
After a second-place finish a year ago, Donahue started this year’s tournament by shooting 2-under on the back-9 to fuel his 74. The secret to his success: 10 one-putts.
“It’s the best round I’ve played all year,” said Donahue. “I haven’t been playing too much. You know, maybe a couple times a week. But this is by far the best that I’ve played this year. Being my home course made it even better.”
Anyone’s to take
As expected, with three-time defending champ Nick Maccario qualifying for the U.S. Amateur earlier this week and having to miss the Healey, the tournament is wide open.
After Friday, 34 golfers find themselves within 10 strokes of Souliotis’s lead.
“(Maccario) wasn’t here to shoot a 68,” laughed Donahue. “It’ll be fun. Tomorrow will be nice.”
With the tournament switching to Haverhill Country Club — Souliotis’s home course — there’s a chance the former RPI golfer can build a solid lead heading into Sunday.
But he’s got a talented field right behind him, and not a lot a breathing room.
“I’m only two back right now,” said Robbins. “So, I definitely have a chance. And then Sunday, assuming I get there, it’s at Renaissance which is my home course that I’ve played at forever.”
Gover’s great day
You may have noticed that the Healey field was one person short on Friday.
That’s because Atkinson’s Mathew Gover kept on advancing in the New Hampshire State Amateur at Portsmouth Country Club. The 16-year-old rising star remarkably advanced to Friday’s semifinals before losing to John Devito, 2-and-1. You want clutch? He reached the semifinals after winning all of his first four matches in extra holes.
After two years at Timberlane, Gover — who is also a standout hockey player — is transferring to Tabor Academy.
When he arrived at Atkinson, his home course, as a spectator after his match on Friday, he was greeted with plenty of admiration from event director Peter Doherty, as well as many golfers who congratulated him after their rounds.