For Stan Plummer, it was just another 4-iron that failed him and had to go. For his son, Mark, it turned into a gift that would lead to a fulfilling life in the game of golf that would feature a down-to-the-wire match at the highest level against an all-time great and casual rounds with multiple U.S. presidents.
Mark Plummer’s golf genesis story started when Stan lost his temper and snapped his 4-iron. But instead of chucking it into the nearest body of water, Stan held on to it, regripped what was left and gave it to young Mark. Mark started hitting balls, got hooked immediately and one of the most decorated careers in the history of Maine golf was born.
Augusta Country Club was the Plummers’ home away from home. A fun Donald Ross layout with small greens, it’s where Mark, now 66, learned the game and improved his craft. It’s also where he shot a course-record 60 – though he makes sure to remind you he missed a putt on 18 for the mythological 59 – and owns what he believes to be 38 club championships through 2018. But who can keep count?
A native of Manchester in the central part of the state, Mark pursued his childhood passion for golf from the first week of April through Thanksgiving. But being a golf junkie in Maine comes with the unstoppable force of Mother Nature and her unforgiving New England winters. Winter was spent inside on the basketball court, counting the days until April showers and May flowers. For Mark, this hiatus had its benefits.
“I think it kept me from getting burned out,” he said in his distinct Maine accent. “It was kind of like spring training. You came out with a fresh attitude looking for answers, thinking that everything was going to be wonderful. Then you play a couple times, and reality sets in.”
In his youth, Mark won the 1968 Maine State Golf Association (MSGA) Father/Son Championship with Stan, then followed that up with the MSGA Junior title in 1969. He then attended the University of Maine and started to dominate the state amateur circuit.
But for one day in 1995, Mark shared the spotlight on a much bigger stage. He qualified for the 1995 U.S. Amateur at Newport (R.I.) Country Club and hoped to simply advance to match play. Four victories later, at age 43, he found himself in the semifinals against a phenom by the name of Tiger Woods, who at that point had already won the 1991-93 U.S. Junior Amateur titles as well as the 1994 U.S. Amateur.
Although this was amateur golf before the Internet and social media, Woods was already a towering figure in the game with a presence that hung over the proceedings.
“He was kind of a rock star already,” said Plummer, who had met Woods at the players’ dinner before the championship.
Fortunately for Plummer, the U.S. Amateur format at the time put the quarterfinals and semifinals on the same day. So, after defeating Southern Methodist University star Greg Enloe – Enloe is now SMU’s head men’s golf coach – 3 and 2 in the quarters, Plummer only had time for a quick lunch before returning to the tee to face Tiger.
“I was surprisingly calm,” said Plummer. “I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it.”
Plummer more than held his own, taking Tiger the distance despite yielding considerable distance off the tee. Woods won the match, 2 up, on the way to an identical 2-up win over Buddy Marucci in the final the following day, but Plummer returned home with one heck of a story, one that still resonates a quarter-century later.
“Of all the things I’ve done in golf, I’m most famous for a match I lost,” said Plummer, who also qualified for match play in the 1982 and 1983 U.S. Amateurs. “But it was a great experience I’ll never forget. I was proud to go 18 holes against him and I have no problem with that being my legacy.”
That legacy hardly tells the complete story. Tiger isn’t even the most famous person with whom Plummer has played. Plummer’s local stature earned him opportunities to play with President George H.W. Bush, who had deep ties to the state and vacationed in Kennebunkport.
Plummer became fast friends with President Bush, whom Plummer described as a “legendary name dropper.” Soon, Plummer was sharing the course with Bush and some of those legendary names that were dropped – Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Brad Faxon and David Toms in particular.
“Probably the most fun I’ve had playing golf was with the older President Bush,” said Plummer. “I was fortunate enough to be invited by him to play with those guys, so I met some really great people along the way. I’m forever thankful for that. We had a wonderful time together.”
President George W. Bush was also a frequent golf partner of Plummer. According to Plummer, the younger President Bush was less serious on the course, but a better player who would play through torrential downpours and could post a score in the 70s on a good day.
When not taking 14-time major champions down to the wire and teeing it up with leaders of the free world, Plummer remained the dominant force in Maine amateur golf. He has won 10 different state championships (from individual to four-ball to club team) and an astonishing 45 in total, highlighted by 13 State Amateur titles. Most recently, he won the 2017 state senior amateur (his fifth) and the 2018 senior four-ball at Augusta Country Club with Len Cole.
“Mark Plummer is Maine golf,” said Brian Bickford, executive director of the Maine State Golf Association. “He has a swing that’s all his own with a personality and grit unparalleled in Maine. His ability to focus on the task and maximize the result no matter what he is faced with is unique to him. His respect for the game earns him the admiration of all who play in our great state.”
Safe to say that admiration extends beyond Maine’s borders, as well.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.