A pair of high school juniors showed the way at the 2017 NJSGA Tournament of Club Champions.
Brendan Hansen of Spring Lake, a junior at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft who placed third in the State Open, and Hartley Zook of Stanton Ridge, a junior who helped lead Hunterdon Central to the state high school championship title for the first time, were the Men’s and Women’s Champions at the Tournament of Club Champions on Oct. 17 at Deal Golf and Country Club.
Hansen, 17, who finished at two-over-par 73, needed a two-hole playoff to defeat 16-year-old Johnny Bush of Plainfield and 24-year-old Bin (Vince) Kwon of Little Mill. Hansen parred the 185-yard, par-3 No. 18, the second playoff hole for his victory.
Zook, 16, shot an 83 to earn the women’s championship by two shots over Donna McHugh of Upper Montclair, Sue Dahabsu of Colts Neck, and defending champion Hilary Abramowitz of Rutgers.
“This feels great. It was a very rough way to lose the State Open, hitting my tee shot on 18 behind a tree. I probably wasn’t as focused as I needed to be. Today was a very interesting day. I didn’t have a par until my 10th hole, but at that point I was one under,” said Hansen, who has been playing golf since age seven when his grandfather took him out to Shark River Golf Course.
“My best shot came on my 13th hole (par-4 No. 2) when I pulled my drive left to avoid the out-of-bounds on the right. I took a six iron to hit a punch shot from 145 yards, and it hit the flagstick and left me one foot for a birdie.”
On the first playoff hole, on No. 18, all three parred. They then proceeded to play No. 18 again, and Hansen was the only one of the three to hit the green the second time around, leaving him a 15-footer to the right of the hole. Both Bush and Kwon ended in the left-side bunker.
Hansen just missed his birdie putt to the left, but neither Bush nor Kwon could negotiate their par putts of 10 and 12 feet, respectively.
“On No. 18 this morning, I hit an eight iron and left myself short for a bogey. In the afternoon, there was a similar wind, so I hit a soft seven. Any time you win an NJSGA event, it’s pretty big,” Hansen said.
Hansen’s breakthrough came in 2015 when he played in 10 Hurricane Tour events around the northeast, and won four of them. He was second in the nation in total points that summer. The following summer, he played in 10 AJGA events and reached the top 10 in about half of them. Also in 2016, he won a U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier at Edgewood. In the U.S. Junior Amateur at The Honors Course in Tennessee, he advanced to match play.
In the State Open at difficult Metedeconk National, Hansen led the event heading into the final day.
“Obviously, it boosted my confidence, just knowing I didn’t play my best on the first or third day and still had a chance to win,” said Hansen, who lives in Spring Lake.
Bush defeated Jake Mayer, 2015 NJSGA Junior Champion and runner-up this year, to take the Plainfield C.C. club championship. Earlier this summer, he was medalist at stroke-play at the Met Junior, shooting 73-70 at Plainfield.
Kwon won the State Amateur qualifier on May 17 at Burlington Country Club by shooting a three-under-par 67.
Zook, a resident of Readington, is playing for only her third year in golf and has improved from a 20-ghandicap to a 2.9 this year. Her 36 was the lowest round by a Hunterdon Central golfer this spring.
“I always saw potential in her. She’s very devoted to the game and has improved every year,” said Fran Gacos, the Hunterdon Central coach who shot 86 for fifth place in the TOCC. “I’ve worked with her to give her confidence and taught her how to get over a bad shot. “
Gacos’s resume includes 18 club championships, 10 New Jersey State Golf Association Championships, including four State Senior Amateurs, two State Mid-Amateurs, four State Mixed Pinehurst titles, including 2016 with John Feindt.
“When Hartley had that 36 and then broke 80 a couple of times, she was on her way. I’m very much looking forward to having her as our No. 1 player this year at Hunterdon Central,” said Gacos, of Copper Hill.
Zook played a practice round at Deal a week before the TOCC.
“I live this course and the greens. They roll out really nice and they’re super smooth. I had only one three-putt today, and I putted pretty well,” Zook said.
She recorded two birdies on the par-4 No. 3, when her seven iron from 149 yards ended five feet from the cup, and on the par-4 No. 4, when a wedge from 79 yards came within six feet of the hole.
She also employed a new Callaway driver.
“I was drawing it nicely and I could cut it when I had to. I’m learning how to shape shots,” she said.
She was very complimentary to Fran Gacos and her husband Chris, the HC boys’ coach, in helping her move forward in golf.
“They helped me so much with my confidence. They are dedicated to our teams. They are the perfect mental coaches. Fran is always there to help me,” Zook said.
Over the past year, as part of Dewsweepers Golf instruction, she has traveled to Texas and California and will play in Alabama in the near future.
“Now, I know I can take my game anywhere and it’s pretty exciting,” she said.