By Rick Jenkins.

WEST ORANGE, N.J. Brett Jones, the assistant golf professional at Trump National Golf Club – Bedminster, closed his round in style today to win the 89th NJSGA Open Championship at Rock Spring Club. Playing the final nine holes in three-under par, Jones catapulted himself from one stroke behind leader Brian Gaffney to two strokes ahead. The shot heard ‘round northern New Jersey was an eagle on the par-5 14th hole when Jones hit the green in two and ran in a twenty foot putt. He followed that with a birdie on 17 for the two-stroke lead and the eventual victory.

Jones was the only player to record all three rounds in the 60s, reflecting amazing consistency on a course where, in spite of its modest length, trouble lurks in a number of places. The putter got the job done for Jones, who cited his 27 putts in round one and 24 putts in round two as giving him the confidence on the greens he needed for the final round. He made some important putts when he had to coming down the stretch.

With only four bogies on the week against ten birdies and an eagle, obviously his ball striking was firing on all cylinders as well. With prodigious length, his strategy for maneuvering around Rock Spring was to use driver as often as it made sense. “Generally, if pins were back, I hit driver to get the ball as close as possible to the green; if pins were forward, I would throttle back with a fairway wood or iron off the tee and rely on spinning the ball to get it close,” he said.

The turning point for Jones came on the 14th, the lone par-5 on the course and a short one at 528 yards. “My objective was to birdie it,” he said simply. He hit his drive down the right side where it ended up in the rough. With 208 yards left to the hole, he hit 6-iron to about 20 feet and proceeded to roll in the putt for eagle. “I knew at the beginning of the last nine that it was basically between me and Brian [Gaffney], and I thought the eagle probably put me ahead but I wasn’t sure,” Jones said. “The eagle was big for me because I figured Brian would birdie one of his last holes, like 17 or 18,” he added. The birdie on 17 for Jones turned out to be icing on the cake.

Gaffney, the head professional at Rumson Country Club, has been knocking on the door of a State Open win for some time. Many thought this would be his year, as stellar play has led to two major PGA Section victories so far, the Clambake at Rockaway River and the Head Professional Championship at Brooklake. By Gaffney’s 10th hole, he was 4-under par on his round and had opened a one-stroke lead on Jones. He was in command of his game and birdie was just a matter of time, it seemed. But he failed to birdie the short par-5 after a faded approach shot left an awkward chip to the elevated green, and birdie putts at each of the remaining four holes failed to drop. His best chances came at 16, the downhill par-3, and 18, where he faced an uphill, fifteen foot putt for birdie; but he did not convert. There is no doubt that Gaffney will find himself in the winner’s circle one day at the State Open.

Multiple challengers began the final round but faded at various points in their rounds. Chris Dachisen of North Jersey C.C. was one stroke back of Jones at the start of the final round, but bogies at the first and second holes followed by a double bogie at the ninth led to 75 and a T-7 finish. Dachisen is a two-time Open champion from 1997 and 2001. Chris Mazzuchetti of Colonia C.C., in the same position as Dachisen at the start of the final round, was in the hunt until bogies at holes 12 and 13 derailed his bid to win. He finished with 71 and a three-round total of 207, good for T-3. Finally, Greg Baker of Rockaway River C.C., who began the final round in third place with Gaffney, closed with 72 for a sixth place finish.

Low amateur was Little Mill’s Chris Gold, the 2006 NJSGA Amateur champion and a University of Maryland golfer. His final round 66 tied several other players for low round of the championship. Robert Cronheim of Twin Brooks C.C., Gregg Angelillo of Montclair G.C., Tom Gramigna of Tavistock C.C. and Michael Deo of High Bridge Hills G.C. rounded out the low five amateurs.

The State Open moves to Springbrook C.C. in Morristown next year.

Photos by James N. Lum.

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