Host of Contenders set for 118th Amateur Championship
A talented and youthful field will vie for the honor of hoisting the Edwin M. Wild Trophy, symbolic of the 118th NJSGA Amateur Championship presented by Provident Bank, when the event comes to Neshanic Valley Golf Course in Neshanic Station this Tuesday through Thursday, July 9-11. The competition will be conducted over the Lake and Meadow courses, which has hosted numerous state, regional, and national competitions – including the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.
Five of the six top finishers from 2018 are on hand, but defending champion Dylan Stein of Stanton Ridge will not be present, having turned professional this spring during his senior year at the University of Arizona.
Runner-up Jack Wall of Manasquan River Golf Club, 18, who lost to Stein in a four-hole playoff last year, is considered a top contender. Wall won his second consecutive New Jersey high school Tournament of Champions in mid-May, and on June 17, fired a 67 at Springdale Golf Club in Princeton to qualify for the U.S. Junior Championship.
“Over the last year I’ve been working really hard on my putting and short game. My mental approach to all my tournaments this year is to try to avoid making mistakes,” said Wall, an incoming freshman at the University of South Carolina. “I realized that little mistakes cost me the Met Open and State Amateur, so this year I’m really going to focus on avoiding mistakes and putt better to close events.”
The top of last year’s Amateur Championship leaderboard features a cadre of top local players. In addition to Jack Wall, Chris Gotterup of Rumson (who placed third in 2018) had an outstanding sophomore season at Rutgers University, as he was named to the All-Big Ten second team.
Three players finished tied for fourth at Echo Lake last season – including two past champions. Dawson Jones of Eagle Oaks, who won in 2017 at Tavistock, and Thomas LaMorte of Knickerbocker (who won in 2016 at Montammy and is the reigning NJSGA Player of the Year) are both off to strong 2019 campaigns. Jones won the MGA’s Ike Championship at Canoe Brook in late June, where LaMorte finished as runner-up. Jeremy Wall (Jack’s older brother) won the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Amateur crown for the second consecutive year in mid-June.
Only weeks off of his victory in the Philadelphia Amateur, Jeremy Wall is encouraged by his chances, but thinks younger brother Jack has an even better shot to take home the coveted Edwin M. Wild Trophy.
“I have no problem saying Jack’s a better player than me. He’s always in the middle of the fairway and hitting it 320. Jack is a great ball striker with a good long game. There’s really not a course out there that doesn’t suit his game,” said Jeremy Wall.
Jones concluded his stellar career at the University of Rhode Island and earned All-New England accolades. He led URI in scoring, with a 71.2 stroke average and had top-10 finishes in eight of URI's 10 tournaments. Jones was the individual medalist at the Rhode Island Invitational. He finished under par in half (5-of-10) of the team's tournaments and carded nine sub-70 rounds during his senior campaign.
Said Jones: “I feel I have a good chance this year. My game is in good shape right now. I won my first collegiate event this past spring, and finished in the top-ten in our conference championship. I have really been focusing on short game this year, especially putting. It’s the key to my success. I have always been a good ball striker.”
LaMorte played the course on June 27 when the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders and Somerset County Park Commission hosted a reception to welcome the Amateur Championship to Neshanic Valley.
“You’re going to have to hit your irons close and make your putts. It’s a necessary combination to have,” LaMorte said.
“You have to have a game plan and stick with your shots,” said LaMorte, a recent graduate to Campbell University in South Carolina who plans to test himself at Web.com Q-School in the fall. “You have to be prepared for the hot days and the wind. You’ve got to be mentally ready for it.”
Familiar faces also highlight the strong field, including two-time champion (2013, 2014) Michael Stamberger of Spring Lake. Brandon Dalinka of The Ridge at Back Brook won the 2019 NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship at Crestmont; he looks to become only the second player to win both the NJSGA Mid-Amateur and Amateur Championships in the same season since Jeff Thomas did so in 1991. In addition, a host of 2018 Champions are in the field including Johnny Bush of Plainfield (Junior Champion), Gregg Angelillo of Baltusrol (Pre-Senior Champion), and Anthony Fioretti of Ballyowen (Senior Champion).
Neshanic Valley Golf Course is owned and operation by the Somerset County Park Commission. It was designed by the Hurdzan/Fry design firm, and opened in 2004. The 27-hole facility includes a spectacular practice facility, a shorter “Academy Course”, and a recently renovated banquet facility. Open to the public, Neshanic Valley is only the second course – and first since 1990 (Hominy Hill) – to host the NJSGA Amateur Championship.
18-holes will be played on both Tuesday, July 9 and Wednesday, July 10. After the conclusion of 36-holes, the field will be cut to the low 40 scorers. The low 40 advance to the final day of 36-holes on Thursday, July 11. The champion will be the player with the lowest 72-hole aggregate score.
Spectators are welcome to attend the championship; admission and parking are free. Live scoring and updates will be provided at NJSGA.org, and across the NJSGA’s social media platforms.