COLTS NECK, N.J. March came late to New Jersey this year. Facing three straight days of cold temperatures, gusty winds, and an on and off drizzle, 32 intrepid amateurs squared off in the 26th NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship at Trump National Golf Club – Colts Neck this week. Left standing in this match play event was Anthony Scelba of Deer Run Golf Course, who with precision ball-striking and a never-say-die attitude outlasted his opponents to claim his first victory in an NJSGA event.
When the rain finally stopped with only two competitors left in the field, the final match saw the best conditions of the week. However, even with exceptional drainage, the Trump National course remained very wet. All week, the players were permitted to lift, clean and place onto drier ground, but soggy turf still led to the occasional chunked wedge or sprayed long iron. The Trump National greens held up exceptionally well and putting was relatively unaffected by the conditions, a tribute to the work of Superintendent Tyler Otero.
In the final match between Scelba and Stone Harbor’s Pete Barron, Scelba’s play was the model of fairways and greens perfection, producing five birdies in the fifteen holes played before the match concluded. An opening birdie by Scelba was answered by Barron on the second hole, but a birdie barrage a few holes later set Scelba up for the win. Birdies at holes six, seven and nine gave him a 3-up margin at the turn and put a lot of pressure on Barron to win holes quickly. Barron responded with a win on #10 but lost momentum when his 8-iron on the par-3 11th hole hit the front of the green and rolled back down the embankment, leading to bogie. Two holes later, on the par-5 13th hole, Scelba threw in another timely birdie to go 4-up in the match. He lost the next hole but his par on the 15th hole closed out Barron for the 4&3 victory.
Scelba, a 32 year old resident of Wayne, is a former professional who worked briefly at Mountain Ridge C.C. and played the Florida mini-tours for three years. He decided the professional life wasn’t for him, returned to New Jersey to get married and start a family, and settled into a contracting job. He plays a light competitive schedule, consisting of the NJSGA’s Mid-Am, Amateur and Open Championships. His Mid-Am win brings him an exemption into the Amateur and Open fields this year.
He has learned to be patient with his game, but that wasn’t always the case. He is a perfectionist when it comes to ball striking, and used to ride himself when he didn’t pull off the exact shot he intended. “I would let my emotions get to me. Now, I start singing or humming to myself and that puts my mind at ease,” he said. “My game isn’t as competitive as it used to be, but I have more fun playing,” he added.
Pete Barron, himself a former professional who was medalist at the Pine Barrens qualifying site in April, had a relatively easy path to the finals. After a close duel with Tavistock’s Sean Leonard which Barron won on the 19th hole, he won his next three matches by sizeable margins, including a 4&3 win over a hot Matt Finger of Darlington G.C. But Scelba’s birdie machine was too much to handle, indeed too much for anyone to handle.
The facilities at Trump National – Colts Neck are undergoing quite a transformation after Trump purchased the former Shadow Isle property last year. Most of the work is being done beyond the Jerry Pate-designed golf course, which is only five years old. The focus is on practice facilities, with a new putting green, short game facility and 19th hole all under development.
Other notables in the Mid-Am field included defending champ Michael Stamberger of Spring Lake G.C., who lost to Scelba in the quarter-finals on the 20th hole after being 2-up with two holes to play. Merv Smith of High Mountain G.C. played well as he advanced through his early matches, but lost to Finger in the quarter-finals. Smith’s heroics occurred in the Mid-Am qualifier at Forsgate in April, where he shot an amazing 73 in horrible rain and wind to capture medalist honors. Another victim of Finger’s was three-time Mid-Am champion Tom Gramigna of Tavistock C.C. Next year’s Mid-Amateur Championship will be contested at another Jersey Shore course, Galloway National.