Nick Desai of Baltusrol knew he faced an uphill battle if he wanted to capture his second NJSGA Pre-Senior Championship.
Trailing playing partner Niall Handley by three shots with nine holes remaining, the odds were not with him.
“I just wanted to stay in it through the first couple holes of the back nine. I knew I had a couple of birdie holes coming up. The way Niall was playing, I didn’t think I’d catch him.”
But catch him, he did, by stringing together three birdies on holes 12, 14 and 15, and hanging to record a 77-150 to outlast Handley (80-153) in the 59thPre-Senor Championship at 6,455-yard Forest Hill Field Club in Bloomfield. The event is for golfers age 45-54. Desai won his first Pre-Senior in 2015 at Hawk Pointe G.C. in Washington.
The players went into the day tied for the lead after first-round 73s.
Kevin Purcell of Forest Hill shot the low round on the windy day, a 75, for 75-154, and tied Mark Stankiewicz of Neshanic Valley, 79-154, for third place. Bob Johnston of White Beeches was fifth at 76-155.
After claiming a birdie on the par-4, 300-yard No. 12, Desai still trailed Handley by three shots. Things changed dramatically on the par-4, 434-yard No. 13 when Handley hit into a hazard and settled for a triple bogey against Desai’s par, and suddenly, the golfers were even.
On the par-5, No. 14, Desai drove it down the middle, then hit a five-iron 25 feet above the hole. He two-putted for a birdie against Handley’s bogey for a two-shot lead. He added another birdie on the par-4 No. 15 when his chip from 30 yards left him eight feet for a birdie putt, which he drained.
Both golfers bogeyed the final two holes.
“All through the day, I felt pretty good. You’ve got to be focused on the pace and the line of where you’re going to hit it on these greens. I pretty much had the speed and putted really well,” said Desai, 50. “Kudos to the superintendent (Frank Tichenor). He should be proud of himself. This is the toughest little golf course I’ve ever played,” said Desai, a former club champion at Baltusrol.
Desai also enjoyed having his 15-year-old son, Arman, serve as caddie. Handley’s son, Conor, was also on the bag, and both are sophomores at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange.
“It was special to have both kids here. Niall and I texted last night about having them here today,” Desai said. “I’m ecstatic to win for the second time in three years.”
Handley hadn’t played in an NJSGA event since the State Amateur in early June, nursing a pulled muscle in his back.
“It felt good to get in the mix again. Normally, I’m a solid driver, but I was blocking everything to the right today. It was good to have my son on the bag. It taught him a good lesson, that even though I didn’t play well, I kept grinding,” said Handley, 45, a two-time champion of the Met Mid-Amateur and NJSGA Tournament of Champions. He won the club championship at Essex Fells this summer.
“As a member and executive director of the NJSGA, I’m very proud of the golf course. The course really presented itself well. All the players raved about the conditions,” said Purcell.