Brandon Dalinka of The Ridge at Back Brook bested Steve Zychowski of Mendham, 3 and 1, earlier today in the final match of the 36th New Jersey State Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship at the par-72, 6,616 yard Crestmont Country Club in West Orange. Dalinka saved his best for last en route to claiming the Gigi Carnevale Championship Trophy, as he won three of the final four holes to seal his first victory of any kind since his sophomore year at the University of North Carolina.

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Adding to the impressive nature of Dalinka’s winning effort, the 25 year old resident of New York City had never won a match in a championship-level event. Despite his track record, he defeated four opponents over two days – while fighting to remain sharp as he closed in on his first NJSGA title.

“I felt fatigue setting in and my swings getting lazier and lazier, but my putting got better and better,” said Dalinka, 25, a New York City resident who was playing in his first Mid-Am. By virtue of his victory, he earned exemptions into this year’s NJSGA Amateur and Open and next year’s Mid-Am.

Clinging to a 1-up lead following Zychowski’s birdie victory on the par-4, No. 13, Dalinka’s putter caught fire. He drained a curling 30-footer for birdie from off the green at the par-5, No. 14, and followed that with a 12-foot birdie putt from the right side on the par-4, No. 15 to stretch his lead to 3-up.

Zychowski shaved the lead to 2-up with a par triumph on the par-4, No. 16, but Dalinka ended the match when he sank a 17-foot par putt for a victory on the par-3, No. 17.

“The biggest momentum changer was that 30-footer from off the green on No. 14,” said Dalinka, who had a kick-in birdie on the par-4, No. 12 when his 8-iron shot from 148 yards landed six inches from the cup. That gave him a 2-up lead after he had also won the par-3, No. 11, with a par.

“My putting got good down the stretch. It’s funny, I just got back from a 10-day vacation on Sunday night, and I think I play better when I don’t play for a while. I’m happy to have my name on a trophy. It’s a privilege,” said Dalinka, whose family resides in Margate. He has played in five USGA events, including three U.S. Amateurs. He played in the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach.

“My goal all summer was to compete in one event and be in contention on the final day and I accomplished that.”

Zychowski had back-to-back victories to go 1-up after he sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-4, No. 7 and when he took the par-3, No. 8 with a par. Dalinka tied the match with a birdie victory on the par-5, No. 9.

“Brandon went on a bit of a run with his great putting down the stretch,” said Zychowski, 27, who lives in Summit. “He is a great player and you know you can’t miss putts and opportunities. I had a couple of lip-outs and a couple of bad bounces on what I thought were good shots, but credit goes to Brandon.” 

Zychowski, who displayed a knack for late rallies throughout the championship, needed an extra hole for the second straight match to get past Jack Skirkanich of Rumson in the semifinals.

In  Wednesday’s quarterfinal vs. Paul Giovannoli of NJSGA E-Club, Zychowski stormed back from 3-down at the turn with three birdies victories on his final nine holes, including the par-5, No. 18. He won the match with a par on the par-5, No. 1 hole (19th hole).

Zychowski’s rally against Skirkanich, a former Vanderbilt University golfer, was just as dramatic. After missing a six-foot birdie putt on No. 17 that would have tied the match, he reached the green on No. 18 in two. He birdied from 60 feet to tie the match for first time since the fifth hole.

On the 19th hole, the par-5, No. 1, Zychowski hooked his drive into fescue above and left of the fairway. He hit his pitching wedge out of deep rough 100 yards down the 18th fairway and still found himself 110 yards, but hole-high. His third shot landed just over the left-side bunker and on the fringe, 25 feet from the hole.

Skirkanich, meanwhile, drove his tee shot down the middle, but he hooked his approach into the left rough, 60 feet left of the hole. His flop shot found the inside rim of the bunker, just three feet from Zychowski’s ball. Skirkanich’s bunker shot ended 40 feet past the flag. Zychowski then converted his two-putt for a miracle par against his opponent’s bogey for the victory.

“My third shot on the 19th hole, from 110 yards, was my best shot of the day,” said Zychowski, who won the NJSGA Tournament of Club Champions in 2015. “I was up and down all day and Jack was steady, hitting fairways and greens.

“This is a very difficult golf course and you can’t ever relax. Basically, you have to be perfect. If you’re not in a good spot, you can lose a hole, and momentum can change in a second,” said Zychowski, a former Holy Cross College golfer. “I like the finishing holes here. They suit my eye. I always try and figure something out.”

At 36, Skirkanich, who works for Tripp Davis as a golf course design associate, was the oldest of the four semifinalists who all earned exemptions into the upcoming NJSGA Amateur Championship next month at Neshanic Valley Golf Course.  

“I thought I had a good lie for the flop shot, I just got under it a little bit and it came out a little soft,” Skirkanich said.

Dalinka edged Vince Kwon of NJSGA E-Club (South Jersey), 3 and 1, in the other semifinal. Dalinka won the par-4, No. 11 with a par and the par-4, No. 13 with a birdie to take a 3-up lead. Kwon came back with a par victory on the par-4, No. 15, but Dalinka closed out the match with a par victory on the par-3, No. 17.    

“It was a ball-striking round. I put my irons in good spots and didn’t get above the holes. It put pressure on my opponent, making easy pars rather than scrambling to make pars,” said Dalinka, who placed fourth in the 2012 NJSGA Amateur Championship.

“I’ve never played match-play in tournament conditions before. It’s exciting to reach the final. My goal was to make the cut and hopefully win my first match. I didn’t come here with any expectations.”

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