When the 87th NJSGA Four-Ball Championship kicks off this upcoming Monday, it will mark the first time in 21 years that Forest Hill Field Club in Bloomfield is hosting the event – and the fifth time in history.
The 6,547 yard, par-71 A.W. Tillinghast gem - built on a hillside with spectacular views of the New York skyline – has hosted numerous local and regional championships over the years, including the NJSGA Open, NJSGA Amateur, and Met Open. As has been the case for generations, Forest Hill’s challenging greens and undulating terrain will prove to be a stern test for those in the field – and will go a long way to deciding the champions.
The 2019 Four-Ball Championship features a wide-open field, as no past championship teams are part of the competition. Defending champions Randall Lazzaro of Trump National-Colts Neck and Brendan Hansen of Spring Lake Golf Club, classmates at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, are unable to compete due to other commitments. Niall Handley (Essex Fells; 2008 with Brian Komline) and Brad Mills (NJSGA E-Club; 2003 with Damon Gacicia and 2004 with Craig Smith) are the only players in the field to be part of a winning NJSGA Four-Ball squad. Handley is partnered with his son, Conor, while Mills is teamed with John Venne of Laurel Creek.
Despite the shortage of titles among the championship field, numerous teams can be considered strong contenders, including Forest Hill’s combination of Chad Johnson and Frank Almasy, who reached the match-play portion of last year’s Four-Ball Championship at Rumson Country Club.
“Chad and Frank are a strong team that will build on their success of last year. They are both good players who play a lot together have a lot of course knowledge,” said Forest Hill head PGA professional Jason Fiore.
According to Johnson, the key to success at Forest Hill will include “hitting fairways and greens. The approach angle is a factor on a quite a few holes, so good tee shots are key. Players must be careful not to be above the hole on several greens.
Johnson and Almasy know each other’s games very well. They have played each other in the finals of the Forest Hill club championship the past two years, with Almasy winning in 2018 (as well as 2016) and Johnson taking the title in 2017.
“Forest Hill lends itself perfectly to an event like this and I think course knowledge is critical, particularly on holes 9 through 13. That is a feast or famine stretch of risk and reward,” Fiore added. “With good drives you can make it easier on yourself to create more birdie opportunities.
“But you must be careful. On holes 9 and 10 there is out of bounds to the right which can easily turn into double bogey. We call No. 12 ‘Little Poison.’ It’s a 290-yard par-4 and is drivable, but if you’re short of the green, you wind up in a gully and it’s hard to make par from there. It is a true Tillinghast false front,” Fiore said.
The greens at Forest Hill were aerated a few weeks ago in preparation for the Four-Ball Championship and should be, “great come game time,” said Rick Garrigan, a former president of the club.
“A key is playing to the right places on the greens, giving you a good chance at making birdie – and of course, making putts. Also, teams must be ready if the match gets to the last few holes. Hole 17 is a strong par-4, and the hole location on 18 can win or lose a match,” said Garrigan. The longtime member also noted improvements around the course, including drainage on the lower holes (3 and 4) as well as strategic tree removal on several holes.
Last year’s runners-up will be on hand to take a crack at claiming the perpetual Ridgewood Country Club Championship trophy. Edmund Broderick of Shackamaxon, age 17, and Stephen Ellis of Toms River, age 48, play well together. Ellis played doubles tennis at Rowan University with Edmund’s father, David, and the families are close friends.
Broderick has knowledge of the course. As a junior on the golf team at St. Peter’s Prep, his high school matches are often played at Forest Hill.
“Last year at Rumson, I knew the course. This year, we’re relying on Edmund. I try to be consistent and put the ball in play and let Edmund play his own game because he has loads of talent,” Ellis said.
Added Broderick: “I feel the first few holes especially 3 and 4 (back to back par 5's) can be a tone setter early on as they will yield a good amount of birdies. My favorite part of the course is the quick and undulating greens which I'm sure will play an interesting role in the match-play portion of the event. The course will test every aspect of the players’ games this week because of the narrow tee shots, the demand for accuracy on every approach, and controlling speeds on the putting surface.”
The NJSGA conducted two qualifying events leading up to the 87th Four-Ball Championship. On April 15 at Stanton Ridge Golf and Country Club in Whitehouse Station, the medalists were Tom Collins of Essex County and Thomas Guy of Eligo Club who carded a four-under-par 67.
Two days later at Knob Hill Golf Club in Manalapan, the team of brothers Steve and Brian Zychowski of Mendham Golf and Tennis Club, and the duo of Jim Dufficy and Mike Paduano of Eagle Oaks Golf Club each shot three-under-par 67 to share medalist honors.
“Brian and I play a lot of matches together on weekends at Mendham, so Four-Ball is familiar to us,” said Steve Zychowski. “We’re used to knowing when we have to pick each other up; there’s that comfort level and it’s huge for a tournament. In Four-Ball, there are two ways to react to a partner’s bad shot: You either get nervous or you say, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got this hole.’ As brothers, we do a lot of leaning on each other.
Paduano and Dufficy participated as individuals in the NJSGA Pre-Senior Championship at Forest Hill in 2017. “It will take a lot of birdies to win. There’s not a lot of length and there’s trouble off the tee, but you do have the opportunity to play wedges into many of the par fours. It’s a matter making birdies and making putts,” Paduano said.
The relationship between Paduano and Dufficy goes back many years. Both play regularly in the Caliendo Jersey Shore Winter Golf League and play together at Eagle Oaks.
“Jim hits it far and straight off the tee – and he just makes a ton of pars which allows me to be aggressive. If we lose a match, it’s because I haven’t made enough birdies. But if we’re on our game, a 65 or 66 as a team will make us tough to beat,” Paduano stated.
“I really like playing Four-Ball. It’s relaxed, it’s a lot easier and there is not as much mental fatigue as when you’re playing your own ball in a tournament and any shot can end your chances. It’s a fun way to play golf,” added Paduano.
The championship will begin with 18-holes of stroke play on Monday, when teams will attempt to qualify for 16 match play spots. The round of 16 and quarterfinals will take place on Tuesday, May 7, with the semifinals and championship match on Wednesday, May 8. Live scoring throughout the championship will be available at www.njsga.org.