Celebrating the Centennial Open: Four-time champion, Ed Whitman
Photo: Ed Whitman (right) receives the Badenhausen Trophy from the late Ed Batta
When Ed Whitman, the former head PGA professional and current teaching pro at Knickerbocker Country Club, tees it up for the 100th NJSGA Open Championship, he will be playing in his 46th consecutive Open.
Yet, as the champion of the 1991, ’95, ’96, and 2004 NJSGA Open, he will be playing the Open for the first time at Knickerbocker.
“To me, it’s very exciting to be playing in my first State Open at my home course, even though it is at this late stage in my career,” said Whitman.
Whitman, 67, owns several Open records, including most consecutive Opens played (46, 1975-current), most consecutive cuts made (36, 1980-2015), lowest score (17-under-par 267, 1991 at Rock Spring Club), and four rounds in the 60s (1991 at Rock Spring).
Whitman is a self-made golfer whose father, Sherwood, was an original member of Oak Hill Golf Club in Milford. Familiar with the sport from a young age, Whitman won his high school golf conference championship for Delaware Valley Regional in Frenchtown, but football and basketball were his first loves.
Following college, Whitman decided to pursue golf as a career. He got his start at Oak Hill in the early 1970s as an assistant pro. From there, Whitman went on to Hackensack as an assistant from 1975 to 1984 before arriving at Knickerbocker.
He competed in his first State Open in 1975 at Plainfield, started out at four under par through six holes, and made the cut by one stroke. In 1976 at Essex County, divine intervention helped him to a tie for 17th place. On the uphill seventh hole, he hit his drive out of bounds. His ball hit a moving vehicle and ricocheted back onto the fringe of the fairway, only 15 yards from the hole. He converted a fine up-and-down for birdie from this position.
After missing the cut in 1977-79, Whitman made the cut in 1980, thus launching a record consecutive streak of 36 seasons. In the ensuing years, he got better and better. He shot 282 and tied for third at Rock Spring in 1981. He was fifth (291) the next year at Essex Fells. In 1986, he ended in a tie for fourth (284) at Spring Lake.
He tied for fifth (297) in 1988 at Bedens Brook, before tying for second place with a 290 the next year at Alpine, the year that his friend Steve Sieg of Navesink was victorious. After a tie for 22nd place in 1990 at Plainfield, Whitman broke through for his first Open championship with his record 267 at Rock Spring in 1991. He shot a 64 in his final round to punctuate the victory.
“I was worried going into it because my back was hurting, but once I started, the pain went away. I was a big hitter who could hit it all over the place, but if I was on, I could be awesome. That was the week I was on. I was hitting it to a few feet with an eight iron or less. I hit so many close shots that week. After nine holes, I knew I was the winner.”
In 1993, Whitman had a near-miss, losing at Montclair in a two-hole playoff to Greg Hamilton. But he rallied with a vengeance, notching back-to-back victories in 1995 at North Jersey (283) and in 1996 at Essex Fells (283), both times firing a final-round 68.
“At North Jersey, Chris Dachisen had a significant lead on his home course, but he started cramping up in the hot weather. In 1996, I needed a 68 to get into a playoff with Mark McCormick. I salvaged par with a 45-yard bunker shot to one foot on the first playoff hole, and won two holes later.”
Whitman claimed his fourth and final State Open Championship in 2004 at Crestmont with rounds of 67-67-75—209. The event had changed from four to three rounds in 2001. “I was 51 years old and was paired with an up-and-coming Chris Nallen,” Whitman said, referring to the future PGA Tour player. “I blew a five-shot lead over the first nine holes. My youngest son, Eric, was on the bag and told me to just focus. He instilled some confidence in me and I had a good back nine. I birdied the last hole to win by two.”