by Fred Behringer.

COLTS NECK, N.J. (August 7, 2010). Tom DiCinti was new to handling the pressure of the final nine in a major championship, while Jay Blumenfeld and Allan Small had been in that situation countless times. Yet when the last putt dropped at the 52nd NJSGA Senior Amateur Championship, DiCinti emerged as the winner, one stroke ahead of Blumenfeld and three ahead of Small.

DiCinti forged two even-par rounds of 72 for a 36-hole total of 144 on August 2nd and 3rd at Trump National Golf Club–Colts Neck. “He deserved to win,” said Blumenfeld, who was teamed with him in the final round. “He played great.”

This was the sixth appearance in the Senior Amateur (for players 55 and older) for DiCinti, who plays out of The Links Club and Centerton Golf Club, sister courses in south Jersey. But it was his first time in contention. “The competition’s extremely intense, especially at the senior level [in NJSGA tournaments],” he said. “It’s really fun to play under this kind of pressure and get it done.”

When John McQuilken of Woodlake Country Club, co-leader with Blumenfeld at 1-under-par 71 after the first round, got off to a slow start and Small picked up birdies, it appeared that Blumenfeld and Small might battle it out for the championship, which Small won in 2008 and 2009.

Small signaled he was in the hunt as his second shot on the par-5 seventh hole rolled next to the hole for a tap-in eagle. He concluded the front nine with a 4-under-par 32, moving him to one shot under par with nine to play. In the group behind him, Blumenfeld was only one over for the day and even for the championship. Then the par-4 ninth got in the way of his title hopes. “I hit my approach shot in the water and made double bogey,” he recalled. “That threw me off, and I didn’t really recover until I got strong from 12 on.”

Small allowed DiCinti to close in when he bogeyed the 10thafter driving into high fescue and the 11th when he three-putted. He parred 12 and 13 and remained in good position on the tee at the par-4 14th,but there disaster struck. Small’s drive down the right side of the long par 4 evaded the fairway and buried in very tall grass. He tried to extract it toward the green but only reached a hazard and had to drop. His chunked fourth shot found the same hazard, so Small had to drop again before hitting his sixth shot onto the green and two-putting for a quadruple-bogey eight. “I should have laid up [with the second shot],” he said later.

When DiCinti soon learned of Small’s misfortune, he concluded that he and Blumenfeld likely would contend for the title. After Blumenfeld snaked in a cross-country birdie putt on 15, DiCinti led him by three strokes. “You start to think ahead, and that’s a problem,” he noted. “You can’t be thinking about winning. You’ve got to think about the next shot and going forward, and I forced myself to do that.”

Despite his self-advice, DiCinti hit a weak approach to the par 4-16th and took bogey from a steep greenside mound, so now in a match-play situation, he and Blumenfeld went to the par-4 17th which DiCinti had bogeyed in the first round after losing the ball on his drive. This time he played it beautifully.

“On 17, I give Tom a lot of credit,” Blumenfeld said after the round. “I hit a really good drive, and then he hit a better drive. Then I hit a really good 8-iron to about 20 feet, and he hit an iron in there about six feet, and I made my [birdie] putt, and he made his putt, so I went first on all three shots on 17, and he answered every single one. To me, that was a great job.”

The final hole, a par 5 with water on both sides, nearly proved costly to DiCinti, who drove to the lip of a fairway bunker and nearly put his second shot in a water hazard. The ball stopped just short of the water, partly touching the red hazard line. He was able to ground his club from 139 yards and sent a clutch shot just off the back of the green. Although his putt from the fringe came up well short, he needed only to two-putt from there when Blumenfeld missed his birdie try, and DiCinti was the Senior Amateur champion with a fine round of 72. Blumenfeld finished with 74 and Small with 73. Jerry Horton of Forsgate Country Club and Robert Lodovici of Little Mill Country Club tied for fourth. Lodovici also recorded the low-net score of 140 for 36 holes.

For Blumenfeld, it’s been what he called a disappointing season, since he also finished second in the Met Senior Amateur by a stroke and lost a playoff to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open. “But,” he said, “we still have a lot of golf to play,” including the NJSGA and Met Senior Opens.

DiCinti called the championship his most significant. “It’s tough to get in the winner’s circle,” he said, “so it’s a sweet situation to be here. This is something special for me. I had not won anything of this magnitude, and I’m really happy to have accomplished something like this.”

What was the key to his outstanding play? DiCinti quickly gave a one-word answer: Putting. “It comes down to either putting or driving the ball,” he pointed out, “and yesterday I drove it poorly but managed to strike my irons well and putt exceptionally well. I had 25 putts. Today I drove the ball exceptionally well and just putted marginally but still struck the ball with my irons very well. I was able to get around in even par, and I was tickled to do that under the gun.”

DiCinti, a native of Elmira, N.Y., moved to south Jersey 30 years ago. He and his wife, Judy, have two sons, Brian and Eric. He operates an insurance wholesale business in Voorhees.

Bill Charpek of Navesink Country Club earned the Pre-Senior Championship (age 50-54) by winning the first hole of a playoff over Jay Antonelli of Pine Barrens Golf Club. Charpek shot 73-77—150 and Antonelli shot 74-76—150.

Robert Housen of Manasquan River Golf Club (77-80—157) won the Super-Senior flight on a match of cards with Jim Byer of Springdale Golf Club (79-78—157).

The golf course at Trump National–Colts Neck drew numerous compliments from the players. “The course is terrific,” said DiCinti. “It’s in immaculate shape. It’s got all the tests you could ask for. The people in the New Jersey State Golf Association have done an outstanding job in getting clubs like this for us to compete at. It was a pleasure.”

The Jerry Pate design opened as Shadow Isle. It offers fairways of generous width, undulating greens of significant size, numerous deep bunkers, plenty of water to avoid and, especially, waves of high fescue eager to hide wayward shots. The Trump organization has substantially improved amenities and facilities. After smoothly staging last year’s NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship and now the Senior Amateur, it’s obvious the Trump folks are comfortable with major championships and lookingfor more.

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