Kevin Sarlo of Little Mill returned to a place where he won two club championships and promptly came within one stroke of tying the course record.

Sarlo, 26, fired a five-under-par 65 to easily earn medalist honors in the first of four qualifying rounds for the 119th NJSGA Amateur Championship on Thursday at the 6,649-yard, par-70 Burlington Country Club in Mount Holly.

Corey Katzen of Burlington, Jack Irons of Little Mill and Sean McMonagle of Tavistock were the only players to finish under par; all three carded a one-under-par 69. A total of 12 golfers who shot 72 or better qualified for the Amateur Championship, presented by Provident Bank, which will be contested at Arcola Country Club in Paramus on August 3-5.

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Sarlo remarked of the strange start to his golf season: “It’s funny. I was playing so well the end of last year that I lowered my handicap to plus-3. Then when we started up this year, I was shooting 77s and 78s. It was nice to come back here and see fairways I was familiar with.

“My strategy was to hit driver as hard as I could, then flick wedges onto the green, I birdied the first hole, then had a sand save on No. 2, and after that it was smooth sailing with a lot of good looks,” said Sarlo, who was a four-time golf team MVP at Rutgers-Camden.

Sarlo’s longest birdie putt, a 15-footer, came on the par-3 No. 5, a place where he has recorded all three of his holes-in-one. He was cognizant of Joe April’s course record of 64 when he himself got to six-under-par after a birdie on the par-5 No. 14. But he promptly carded his only bogey on the par-four No. 15 when he three-putted from 35 feet.

“This will be my first time in the State Amateur. I just don’t play in enough tournaments. I almost didn’t enter today, but because it was at Burlington, I felt I would give it a shot. I’m happy because this is pretty much the way I was playing at the end of last year.”

Sarlo does have one Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) victory on his ledger. In 2016, he drained a 15-foot birdie putt to the first playoff hole as he and Drew Guarino teamed to win the GAP Four-Ball Championship at Laurel Creek.

He ended his Burlington Township High School career by being named Burlington County Times Player of the Year in 2012. He shot a one-over-par 73 (fourth overall) at Hopewell Valley to lead Burlington Township to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title and the Group 3 championship.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about Arcola and I know Mike Hyland of Little Mill won the NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship (2015) there. I’m sure he’ll tell me a lot about it,” Sarlo said.

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