By Rick Jenkins
MONTCLAIR, N.J. Good things come to those who wait. For Brian Komline of High Bridge Hills Golf Club, the wait is over. With two NJSGA Open victories to his credit, a Four Ball title, a Men’s Public Links victory and Player of the Year awards in 2008 and 2007, the trophy that befits one of the top amateur golfers in New Jersey – the E.M. Wild Amateur Championship Trophy – is finally in his hands. Komline won this elusive title in a playoff today at Montclair Golf Club over a young college phenom named Pat Wilson in the most thrilling finish in recent Amateur history.
Standing on the sixteenth tee in the final round of the 72-hole stroke play event, Brian Komline knew his three stroke lead over Wilson was not secure. “I knew Pat would keep fighting and a couple of the guys in front of us were still factors,” Komline said. In fact, David Pierce, the reigning Mid-Amateur champion, birdied the sixteenth hole just ahead of the Komline/Wilson group to move into a tie with Wilson, three strokes in back of Komline. But the 165-yard par-3 hole became a momentum changer when Komline’s tap-in par putt deflected off of a spike mark and missed. Wilson had life and would capitalize on Komline’s misfortune. Playing aggressively all week, he ripped a drive on the seventeenth hole, a short par-4, and chipped to five feet from where he rolled in a tricky, downhill birdie putt. One stroke behind with one to play. Wilson, a 19 year-old rising sophomore and college golfer at Susquehanna University, would not back down. “He kept fighting and coming at me,” Komline said. “To get up there and stick his approach [shot] inside of me on 18 was huge,” Komline added, referring to the high 8-iron that Wilson calmly floated into the green on the final hole of regulation play, setting up another five foot birdie putt that he needed to tie Komline and force a playoff. Komline later admitted to not watching the putt and letting the reaction of the crowd reveal what happened.
Tied after regulation play at 284 (+4), Komline (71-68-72-73) and Wilson (70-76-65-73) proceeded to the tenth hole to start a three hole aggregate playoff. Komline took the early advantage with an opening birdie after reaching the par-5 in two shots, while Wilson’s attempt to get home found the steep bank of the punchbowl green with virtually no chance for birdie. But on the next playoff hole, in a repeat performance of his last trip down the seventeenth, Wilson produced another gutsy birdie. When Komline stumbled with a three-putt bogie, Wilson suddenly found himself ahead in the playoff by one stroke. It wasn’t enough. Trying to bust a drive on 18, consistent with his aggressive style of play, Wilson hooked it and proceeded to make double bogey to Komline’s par, giving Komline the one stroke playoff victory.
The duel down the stretch was a classic battle of experience versus youth. Komline, 36, is one of the most seasoned players in the New Jersey amateur ranks, with multiple victories and top-10 finishes under his belt after years of competing at the highest level. “I felt comfortable out there today, nerves were not a problem,” he said after the victory – just what you would expect from this seasoned veteran. Wilson, on the other hand, was playing in his first NJSGA championship; he tried to qualify for last year’s State Amateur and State Open but missed. One would expect his nerves to be fragile, but just the opposite proved to be the case. He did not back down and played aggressive golf throughout the championship. In the heat of battle, he demonstrated poise and nerves of steel beyond what his youthful record should have sanctioned, and a future champion was born today at Montclair Golf Club.
Next to the playoff, the highlight of the week was Wilson’s dazzling 65 in the third round on Thursday morning, which included five consecutive birdies on holes 16-18 and 1-2, and eight birdies altogether, after starting his round on the back side. The low round of the tournament and a personal best for Wilson, the 65 elevated him into the last group for the final round.
The leader board in the 109th Amateur Championship was stacked with top players. Bill McGuinness of Tavistock C.C., a two-time NJSGA Amateur champion from 1996 and 2007, shared the 36-hole lead with Komline after rounds of 69-70. He was in the hunt until the end and finished in a tie for third place at 286 (+6), two strokes behind Komline and Wilson. David Pierce of Neshanic Valley G.C., who continues to play stellar golf following his victory last month at the Mid-Am, also hovered behind Komline until a triple bogey on the ninth hole dealt a blow to his chances. Two birdies late in the round helped him gain a piece of third place with McGuinness.
Two past Amateur champions and former Montclair Golf Club members, Michael Deo and Mark McGowan, also contended. Both played solid golf on their former home course and came up just a few strokes short, tying for fifth place at 288 (+8). The rest of the top ten was rounded out by younger players: Stephen Ellis of Toms River C.C., Matt Raudenbush of Pine Valley G.C., a past NJSGA Junior champion, and Jacob Stockl of Hyatt Hills C.C. all tied for seventh place. Ryan McCormick of Suburban G.C., the son of head professional and NJSGA Open champion Mark McCormick, finished tenth.
Montclair Golf Club was the consummate host for the 109th Amateur Championship. The Third and Fourth Nines played firm without the greens being overly fast. The hilliness of the terrain and the severe slope of many of the greens help protect par on this 6,550 yard layout, a combination of Donald Ross and Charles Banks designs. It is not a bombers’ course but rather a strategic course in the old-school sense, where placement off the tee is important to set up the proper angle for approaching the greens, which are full of plateaus, swales and humps. The greens are challenging enough as designed, and speed is not required to make them difficult. “These greens were in perfect shape, true and fair,” said Wilson.
With the victory, Brian Komline moves into second place in the Player of the Year points race behind David Pierce. Next year, the NJSGA Amateur Championship will be contested at Trump National Golf Club – Bedminster.