By Rick Jenkins

Like last year when David Pierce of Neshanic Valley Golf Course broke through for his first NJSGA victory, the Mid-Amateur Championship produced another first-time winner this year. Kevin McSorley of Charleston Springs Golf Course won his first major event of any kind yesterday at Deal Golf & Country Club – and did so with an improbable defeat of Tom Gramigna of Tavistock Country Club in the championship match, 2 & 1.

The 39 year-old Jersey City fireman used every bit of his professional “grace under fire” training to stay calm in a tight match with Gramigna, who as the 2008 Amateur champion and three-time Mid-Am champion was the heavy favorite. “I was calm coming down the stretch because I knew I was playing with house money,” McSorley said. “There was less pressure on me as the underdog in this David vs. Goliath match,” he added. McSorley dug deep to hit several clutch shots to preserve his tenuous 1-up lead on the closing holes when Gramigna knew he was running out of holes. “I put a Callaway RAZR driver in my bag this week after hitting it well in practice rounds, and I drove it well all week,” McSorley said. Indeed, he hit perfect drives on holes 15 and 16, two of Deal’s longest par-4s, when he needed them most.

The championship match got off to a scrappy start with both players fighting their swings as well as the gusty winds, a remnant from the storm which had dumped heavy rains on Deal the day before. On the front side, the finalists managed only eight pars between them and no birdies for an all square outcome. The elements were a battle most of the week, with weather more befitting of course architect Donald Ross’ hometown of Dornoch, Scotland. In fact, the final match had to be postponed one day when the Deal course became too saturated from rain to play.

But play improved on the back side with McSorley hanging on to a 1-up lead which he gained with a birdie on the par-5 twelfth hole. A nice up-and-down saved par for him on the short 13th hole, where his nine iron tee shot covered the pin in the air but just trickled off the right side of the green. Gramigna’s best opportunity to square the match again came on the par-5 fourteenth hole, where his 3 foot birdie putt caught the edge of the cup sharply and spun out. Still one down, the door remained open for Gramigna when McSorley’s downhill birdie putt on the sixteenth hole raced nearly ten feet past the hole and led to bogie; but Gramigna experienced problems of his own and could only manage bogie for the halve. On 17, McSorley drove into the left rough near a tree on this dogleg right par-4 while Gramigna hit a big drive around the bend that caromed down the hill close to the green. McSorley proceeded to hit a pitching wedge safely to the center of the green while Gramigna, with an excellent opportunity to square the match, caught his approach heavy and found the pond that guards the right front corner of the green, where the pin happened to be located. The 2 & 1 upset victory belonged to McSorley.

McSorley’s win could be the confidence booster he needs to contend more, or even win again, at the State level. He plays in most NJSGA events and has played well at the Mid-Am and the Amateur in the past. The self-taught “feel player,” as he describes himself, proved to himself and others that he has the game and mental stamina to win. En route to the finals, he beat Jay Blumenfeld, Matt Finger and Pete Barron – all accomplished competitors at the State level. Barron was the Mid-Am finalist two years ago against Anthony Scelba. McSorley also credits NJSGA player Andrew Hurley, who was on his bag at Deal, for guiding him around the course both physically and mentally.

As for Gramigna, more championships surely are in his future. A multiple NJSGA and GAP champion, he has compiled one of the region’s best amateur records over the last decade. “It was a tough day,” he said. “I didn’t play very well, but give all the credit to Kevin, who hung in there and beat me.” On his way to the finals, Gramigna defeated Ron Vannelli, fellow Tavistock club-mate Jamie Slonis, and Niall Handley.

Deal proved itself an exemplary match play course. Short in length, it still presents a formidable test of golf with greens that ably defend par with their small dimensions, strategically-placed ridges, and speedy surfaces. The greens at Deal give this old-school Ross gem its character, as they demand precision with approach shots and a deft putter. Under superintendent Jim Thomas, the course is in excellent condition with firm fairways and sleek and smooth putting surfaces.

The new format at this year’s Mid-Am was a success. The starting field was increased from 32 to 50 players (plus ties) and a stroke play qualifying round at the championship site was introduced to determine the match play field of 16 players. “We like the change because it means more players can actually play at the championship site,” said NJSGA Executive Director Steve Foehl. Medalist honors for the stroke play round went to David Pierce, the defending champion, who shot two-under par 69.

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