Defending champion Frank Esposito of Forsgate Country Club carded a one-under-par 70 for a two-day total of 137 to win the NJPGA/NJSGA Senior Open championship by two strokes over playing partner Brent Studer of Metedeconk National Golf Club and two-time champion Jim McGovern of White Beeches Golf & Country Club on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at Green Brook Country Club in North Caldwell.
It was the third victory in the event for Esposito, 55, who also won in 2014. McGovern won in 2015 and 2016 before Esposito earned the right to again have his name etched on the Emery Thomas Trophy in 2017, beating Greg Baker of Rockaway River Country Club in a two-hole playoff.
Nick Desai of Baltusrol Golf Club shot 71-143 for fourth place overall and earned low amateur honors.
Tied for fifth place at 145 were professionals Mike LaBrutto of Cobblestone Creek Country Club, Mark Yannotta of Anchor Golf Center, and Andy Brock of Metuchen Golf & Country Club.
“My strategy was to keep playing the way I’ve been playing. I wanted to go as low as I could, but with the soft conditions, when I tried to spin the ball onto the greens it did not work out too well,” said Esposito, a New Jersey PGA Hall of Famer who has won five section championships and two NJSGA Opens.
Esposito had two bogeys in his first four holes, although he did birdie the par-4 No. 2 hole. After that, he carded three birdies and only one more bogey. Two of the birdies came on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes, which he played in four-under-par over the two rounds.
“I missed a couple of greens early, but after that I was consistent. It’s tough to play with the lead. All kinds of things go through your head. But you just kind of go about your business,” he said.
Esposito admitted his game was off for most of the summer.
“I was struggling off the tee and I started to lose confidence. In this game, you’ve got to have confidence,” he said. “It’s always nice to win an open championship in your state.”
A recent switch back to his former driver and 3-wood helped him get his game back on track.
“This was good timing for me,” said Esposito, who won the Senior PGA Professional National Championship in 2014 and 2017 and will his defend his title next month in Port St. Lucie, Fla. “Hopefully, I’m peaking at the right time.”
Studer, 53, the co-leader with Esposito after firing a 67 on Monday, said the course played longer today, an advantage for Esposito.
“I didn’t hit my irons as close to the pins as I did on Monday,” said Studer, himself a NJPGA Hall of Famer. “It hurts your chances against a guy like Frank Esposito who still hits it 300 yards off the tee.”
Desai had never played the course before shooting a one-over-par 72 on Monday.
“I had a hard time reading the greens, but after a while I started hitting them straight to take the break out of the putts,” said Desai, who won the NJSGA Pre-Senior championship in 2017. “I love playing here. It’s a great course.”