Marc Issler of Toms River Golf Center stared down an eight-foot birdie putt on the treacherous 18th green at the par-70, 6,520-yard Montclair Golf Club in West Orange, with the title of the New Jersey State Golf Association’s 98th Open Championship squarely on the line.
All Issler did was sink the left-to-right breaker from the right side into the heart of the cup, enabling him to win the Championship, earn the $15,000 winner’s check in the event presented by The Lincoln Motor Company and match his father and caddie, Bob Issler, who won the Open Championship in 1981.
Issler’s birdie putt enabled him to complete a round of one-under-par 69-209, one shot better than two-time champion Tyler Hall of Upper Montclair Country Club, who shot 70-210. Tied for third were amateurs Thomas La Morte of Haworth Country Club (73-211), the second-round leader at 138, and Troy Vannucci of Little Mill Country Club (70-211).
In fifth place were Pat Fillian of Echo Lake Country Club (73-212) and former champion Brian Gaffney of Essex Fells Country Club (72-212).
The Isslers are the third father-son combination to win the NJSGA Open. Art Silvestrone Sr., of Pike Brook Country Club (now Mattawang) won the Open in 1972 and 1973. Art Silvestrone Jr. of Preakness Hills Country Club won the Open in 1979. Johnny Farrell of Baltusrol won in 1936 and his son, Billy Farrell, also of Baltusrol, won in 1961.
Issler had entered the day in third place, sitting at 140, two shots behind La Morte and one behind Fillian.
“Early this morning, I saw Montclair head pro Mike Strlekar practicing out there and he made that putt two or three times. I saw what it was doing from that exact same spot. I didn’t want to pore over it. I said to myself it’s uphill, so don’t leave it short,” said Issler, 32, a native of Toms River who played NCAA Division 1 golf at High Point University in North Carolina. He also played on the mini-tour circuit in 2010-11.
Issler has also participated in the PGA National Professional Championship each of the past three years. The closest he came to winning this event, he said, came in 2007 when he tied for the lead with eventual champion Brian Komline and Frank Esposito going into the final round.
“I played an awful final nine holes that day. My dad calmed me down, talking about some of his awful finishes. I haven’t been that close since, but it made me realize that I can play with anybody in the area,” Issler said.
On the par-4, 383-yard uphill final hole, Issler had an approach shot of 169 yards, that he said effectively played at 182 yards. He stuck it to within eight feet of the hole.
“I hit a five iron solid, just past the cup, and I’m lucky it came back. I thought I hit it too far,” said Issler, who carded three birdies in his first seven holes and briefly took a one-shot lead in the tournament. He lost the lead due to a bogey on the par-4 No. 8, and added bogeys on the par-4 Nos. 13 and 15 but stayed in contention.
Issler and Hall entered the final hole even after Hall three-putted for a bogey on the par-4 No. 17. Gaffney, playing with Issler, also bogeyed No. 17 and No. 18 to take himself out of contention. Hall, playing one group ahead of Issler, could not convert a 12-foot birdie attempt on No. 18.
“Marc made a heck of a putt on 18. I was on a side ridge on 18 and I was afraid of hitting my putt. I was burning edges all day,” said Hall, who won the Open in 2015 and 2016.
“This is way better than when I won,” said Bob Issler, 70, who works alongside his son at Toms River Golf Center and was the head pro at Woodlake Country Club when he won in 1981. “It’s very gratifying because this is a very hard game and you don’t win very often. When your son can win, it’s even better.”