Gotterup stages back nine rally; wins 99th Open Championship
Too many times amateur Chris Gotterup of Rumson Country Club had a late lead in a major event and saw his hopes vanish into thin air.
This time, armed with a new attitude, the Little Silver resident and member of the Rutgers University golf team came home the champion of the 99th New Jersey State Golf Association Open Championship on Wednesday at the par-71, 6,900-yard Trump National Golf Club (New Course) in Bedminster.
“After so many close calls, I decided to go for it on the back nine,” said Gotterup, who reversed his fortunes after difficult setbacks at 2018's NJSGA Amateur Championship and MGA Ike Championship where he had leads during the latter stages of both championships.
“For sure, I learned some lessons last year. Today, I saw I was only a couple shots out of the lead at the turn, and just told myself that I could win this. Today, I wanted to be aggressive and I just let it rip. And I made a couple nice putts down the stretch which was really nice.”
Gotterup, who came into the final round at four-under-par 138, just one shot behind leader Danny Harcourt of Shackamaxon, fired a blistering round of four-under-par 67 for a 205 total, including an eagle on the par-5, 15th hole that turned the championship around. That enabled him to win by three shots over 47-year-old amateur Mike Muehr of Pine Valley (70-208) and by four shots over Harcourt (72-209).
Tommi Avant of Arcola, 22, a recent graduate of Drake University and native of Chandler, Ariz., took the low professional honors at 71-210 and received a check for $15,000. Two-time winner Frank Esposito of Forsgate was fifth at 71-211, followed by another two-time champion, Tyler Hall of Upper Montclair, who finished at 71-212.
It was only the second time amateurs finished 1-2 in the event. In 1951, Hall of Famer Chet Sanok of Upper Montclair bested another Hall-of-Famer, Billy Y. Dear of Montclair.
Things changed dramatically on the par-5, 15th hole for Gotterup, 20, who helped lead Christian Brothers Academy to the state high school championship in 2017. There, he drained a curling eagle putt from 50 feet to get to seven-under-par, finding himself in a tie with Harcourt.
Just as Gotterup birdied the par-4, No. 16 thanks to beautiful sand shot to four feet, Harcourt, playing in the group behind , tripled No. 15 when he couldn’t extricate his ball which rested deep in heavy fescue. At that point, Gotterup stood at eight-under par and with a two-shot lead over Muehr and four shots over Harcourt.
He came home with another par save out of a fairway bunker on the par-4, No. 17, and an easy par at the par-4, No. 18 to become one of the youngest ever to win the NJSGA Open championship. He also was only the twelfth amateur to win the event and hoist the C.W. Badenhausen trophy.
“Everything came together for me on the back nine,” said Gotterup, who had birdied the par-4 No. 11 when he placed a four iron from 230 yards to within 15 feet of the hole. “It’s great to win the State Open being a Jersey kid and having looked up to all these great amateurs and pros in our state.”
Gotterup has had the advantage of playing at Trump National about 10 times over the past two years as a member of Rutgers golf team. He was second team All-Big Ten this year and fourth in the Big Ten championship. “I didn’t need a practice round here,” he said.
Muehr, a native of Bernardsville who lives in McLean, Va., is one of the country’s top amateurs. He was playing in his first NJSGA Open since 1993.
“To play three good rounds here and compete against the young kids and these great pros was a lot of fun,” said Muehr, who played on the PGA Tour from 2001-2003. “It was great to be back in Jersey and playing at a fantastic golf course.”
Harcourt led for all but the final four holes and ran into trouble when his approach on the par-5, No. 15 found the fescue above and to the left of the green. It took him three strokes to hack his way out of the tall grass.
“I had a great week on a great golf course. It was fun contending and leading the tournament. I misunderstood my lie in the fescue. I thought the ball was sitting down enough that I could pop it out with a nice flop shot, but it was sitting up more than I thought,” said the recent graduate of Gettysburg College who lives in Fanwood.
Avant, in his first year as an Assistant Professional at Arcola Country Club, is the son of PGA professional Greg Avant of Lone Tree Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz.
“It’s crazy to think I won this when a lot of people had no idea who I am. My goal was to come here and make a name for myself,” said Avant, winner of the top professional check. “I do need a new car.”