Paolo Matti of Plainfield West epitomizes public-course golf. He learned the game at the nine-hole course there at the knee of PGA professional Bill Castner.

Years of effort and dedication paid off when the 21-year old Union resident was crowned the 2018 NJSGA Public Links champion on Monday, Aug.20, at the par-71, 6,786-yard Heron Glen Golf Course in Ringoes.

Matti, who birdied three of his final six holes, put together rounds of 72-71 to finish the 36 holes at 1-under par 143. Bob Duenskie of Flanders Valley, Dan Joseph of Mercer Oaks and 2016 champion Robert McHugh of Darlington shared second place at 145. Lou Fulgoni of Howell Park and Max Newill of Neshanic Valley tied for fifth at 147.

LEADERBOARD

Joseph, and Eric Hill of Shark River, set the pace in the morning with rounds of 2-under par 70. McHugh and Matti were two shots off the pace at that point, with Duenskie and Chris Lee of Overpeck another shot behind.

But the field seemed to back up in the afternoon. Hill struggled with his putter and shot 78 while Joseph carded a 75.

"I think it was probably fatigue more than anything," Joseph said. "I think we all got tired out here. Thirty-six holes is a grind."

Matti bucked that trend. His closing 71 was the lowest of the afternoon, although his round got off to an inauspicious start when he hit his opening tee shot out of bounds at the 555-yard, par-5 10th hole and made double bogey. He went on to play his remaining 17 holes in three under par.

"I kept my cool," he said, "and didn't let it (the errant tee shot) rattle me. I hit a lot of quality iron shots and kept giving myself looks."

Matti recorded five birdies in the afternoon, including one thanks to a 30-foot putt at the 18th hole, his ninth of the afternoon. "That kind of turned the corner for me," he said."

Matti, who is a senior at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., and captain of the Gaels' golf team, regularly plays the public courses in Union County, including Ash Brook and Galloping Hill. But Plainfield West remains special to him. He's worked with Castner since he was seven years old.

"I've been with him so long," Matti said. "I can't thank him enough for all he's brought me and my game." -- Rick Woelfel

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