By Rick Jenkins

ESSEX FELLS, N.J. (July 30, 2009). The qualifying medalists at the 88th NJSGA Junior Championship and the 39th Boys’ Championship held true to form and marched on to win their respective championships at Essex Fells Country Club. Anthony Alex of North Jersey Country Club, who shot even-par 70 in the qualifying round to lead all Junior qualifiers, defeated Charlie Edler of Rumson Country Club 2&1 in the match play final. Similarly, Louis Bodine of Copper Hill Country Club, who shot 71 to capture medalist honors in the Boys’ division, edged Sean Lee of Neshanic Valley Golf Course 2&1 in that final.

On a day when severe thunderstorms ripped through parts of New Jersey, both groups of finalists had to endure a three hour weather delay on Wednesday before returning to the golf course. Alex and Edler were able to conclude their match but the Boys’ match was halted again due to lightning, this time on the 17th hole. Fifteen year-old Bodine had to sleep on a 1-up lead and a 140-yard approach shot awaiting him on Thursday morning. Lee, also 15, had a more fitful night’s sleep because he had already bunkered his approach shot at #17 when the weather suspension hit.

The 9-iron that Bodine struck out of the gate on Thursday morning covered the flagstick on its way into #17, ending up about 15 feet behind the hole. His birdie putt skated by the edge, and when Lee failed to get up and down from the bunker, the 2&1 victory belonged to Bodine. The champion was relieved: he had to endure one extra trip to and from his hometown of Flemington, and he nearly squandered a 4-up lead with five holes to play. After a strong front side with three birdies that allowed him to build a considerable lead on Lee, Bodine lost holes 14, 15 and 16 to see his lead dwindle to 1-up, setting up the 17th hole showdown.

Bodine generally cruised through his early rounds of match play, with victories of 4&2 over Sean Keane, 8&7 over Jacob Gurock, and 3&2 over James Willett, before the testing final with Lee. Lee had similar success in his early round victories over Scott Kim and Sean Doyle, but then played a tight match against Keith Schuman in the semifinals, which Lee won 2&1. Bodine just completed his freshman year at Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington.

In the Junior Championship, all eyes were on Anthony Alex. At the young age of 14, his game has surged to new heights since he won the Boys’ Championship last year. He has added length, touch around the greens, and a level of playing maturity well beyond his years. Even though his current age favored the Boys’ division, he opted to compete in the Junior division this year. It was a good decision.

Alex marched through the field of match play competitors after firing the lowest qualifying score in the field. En route to the championship match, he defeated T.J. Malman, Jake Goldenring, and Ernie Renda. Alex was ahead in the final match against Edler from the start; a birdie on the first hole and par on the second gave him a 2-up lead. His lead never grew beyond that, and occasionally was cut to 1-up, but Alex never lost his lead and went about his job in a very workmanlike manner. Both finalists were long off the tee, and at last Alex found a rival who could match his distance. The three times that Edler cut into Alex’s lead, Edler found trouble and gave back a hole. A turning point in the match was the short par-5 eleventh hole, just after Edler sliced Alex’s lead to 1-up with a great, par-saving chip on the tenth. Going for the green in two at #11, Edler’s shot inexplicably found the lateral hazard well right of the green. The match belonged to Alex as long as he didn’t stumble coming home, which he did not.

After a month of match play, Alex is eager to return to stroke play events. He played the Met Junior Championship in mid-July, making it to the quarterfinals at Engineers Country Club on Long Island, and then played at the U.S. Junior Amateur at Trump National – Bedminster the following week. “That was a great experience for me,” he said referring to the USGA event, “and introduced me to kids from all across the country who can really play.” Alex made it through stroke play qualifying at Trump and won one match before bowing out. He received an invitation to play in the Carter Cup, the MGA’s junior stroke play championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in early August, along with this week’s runner-up Charlie Edler.

Essex Fells was a great site for the Junior and Boys’ Championships. It has several long par-4s to challenge the Juniors and a number of short par-4s to accommodate the Boys’ competitors. Of course, with the length this generation shows off the tee, hole yardages are becoming moot!

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