Tom Collins of Essex County continued his fine play this season and fired a round of 3-under-par 69 to claim medalist honors in qualifying for the 118th NJSGA Amateur Championship, presented by Provident Bank, on Tuesday at the par-72, 6,738-yard Fiddlers Elbow (River Course) Country Club in Bedminster.

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Collins, age 38 and a resident of Morristown, was one stroke better than Franco Castro of Fiddler’s Elbow and two shots clear of Will Celiberti of Arcola, a rising freshman at the University of Maryland. La Salle University rising junior Ron Fischang of Neshanic Valley shot even-par 72.

A total of 34 golfers who shot 77 or better advanced to the NJSGA Amateur, presented by Provident Bank, July 9-11, at Neshanic Valley Golf Course in Neshanic Station.

Last week Collins reached the match-play portion of the NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship after shooting a 2-under-par 69 for second place at a Mid-Am qualifier at Copper Hill Country Club in Ringoes. 

In May, Collins and partner Tom Guy of Eligo Club finished as runners-up in the NJSGA Four-Ball Championship at Forest Hill Field Club in Bloomfield.

“The difference in my game is that I’ve learned to hit the ball three ways: draw, fade and straight. I studied a lot of video and forced myself to improve,” said Collins, who qualified for the 2018 Amateur at Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield, but was forced to withdraw after two rounds due to a work commitment.

Collins is familiar with Fiddler’s Elbow, having played multiple times with his father-in-law and club member, Rudy Simek.

“My putting was great today. I made everything inside five feet. This place is always in good condition and it always plays fair. Despite the tough weather – the wind, plus the rain we had last night and this morning – the course recovered well,” said Collins, who carded four birdies against only one bogey.

Castro, 27, is in his first year as an assistant golf coach at Rutgers University and was playing in his first NJSGA event. The native of Alpharetta, Ga., played collegiately at LSU for two years before graduating from UNC-Charlotte. He played on the mini-tours for two years.

Immediately following his round, Castro was catching a plane to Pebble Beach to join his brother, Roberto Castro, a seven-year member of the PGA Tour, who is playing in the U.S. Open there. Roberto is looking to make the cut at the U.S. Open for the first time in six tries. Franco caddied for his brother at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.

“It was windy today – but a lot of the par fives played downwind and I tried to take advantage of that,” said Castro.

The final of four qualifiers for the 118th Amateur Championship takes place on Thursday at Cobblestone Creek Country Club in Lawrence Township. Follow live scoring, presented by NJM Insurance Group, at njsga.org. Neshanic Valley Golf Course in Neshanic Station will host the championship proper July 9-11.

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