By Rick Jenkins

JACKSON, N.J. The NJSGA’s final major of the year concluded today at Metedeconk National Golf Club with first-time winners. The team of Keith Grant and Frank DeCraine from Neshanic Valley G.C. threw a slew of birdies at Merv Smith and Ron Cochran from High Mountain G.C. to defeat them in the final match of the 77th Four Ball Championship, 5 & 4. For Grant, 38, and DeCraine, 41, it’s their first win in an NJSGA event but they certainly played like they knew what they were doing.

In the best ball, 18-hole final match, Grant and DeCraine unleashed four consecutive birdies on holes five through eight on Metedeconk’s 3rd Nine to go 4-up. The Smith/Cochran team was able to win back only one hole when Grant missed a short, par-saving putt at the ninth. The match returned to 4-up when both members of the Smith/Cochran team missed the green on the long par-3 eleventh hole and failed to get up and down. Their fate was essentially sealed on the next hole, the watery par-5 twelfth, when both team members found the hazard on their approach shots. Two halved holes later, the Grant/DeCraine team secured a 5 & 4 victory.

The winners teamed together very well. Their play was steady, they avoided costly mistakes, and each brought certain strengths to the Four Ball. “I drove it well all week,” said DeCraine, “and Keith hit great irons.” Indeed, he did. In the semifinal match against Ryan Harpster and Michael Sparks of Glen Ridge C.C., Grant aced the par-3 sixth hole, their fifteenth hole of the match, using a 7-iron from 169 yards. It was his first-ever hole-in-one, and for a while the timing looked perfect: it allowed them to go 2-up with three to play in their semifinal match. However, Harpster and Sparks came roaring back and squared the match on 18, sending it to extra holes where the Glen Ridge duo eventually lost on the 21st hole. “That was our toughest match,” said Grant, “because we let a sizable lead slip away and then we had to go extra holes.”

In the other semifinal match, Smith/Cochran defeated the team of Eric Lasota and Brendan O’Brien from Hominy Hill G.C. The Smith/Cochran team looked primed to go the distance, but several wayward shots in the finals cost them dearly and led to bogies, the nadir of team match play.

The Metedeconk course played to its reputation as a difficult, supremely conditioned golf course. Trouble lurks at every turn, off the fairways and off the greens, and Metedeconk demands perfection in ball striking to tame it. The course was set up to play between 6,800 and 7,000 yards for the three days of match play, and the greens “stimped” to about 12 feet. The Robert Trent Jones, Sr. course is sure to return to the NJSGA line-up soon, perhaps for a State Open or State Amateur.

For the full match play bracket, please click here.

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