By-Rick Jenkins

ALPINE, N.J. In the 22 year history of the Senior Open Championship, hosted jointly by the NJSGA and the NJPGA, an amateur has never won. Until today. Jon Tingley of Stanton Ridge Golf & Country Club prevailed over a field of PGA Professionals and top senior amateurs to win his first major title at Alpine Country Club.

A former All-American golfer at the Coast Guard Academy, Tingley has performed well in NJSGA events before, such as the Mid-Amateur, so it’s surprising this is his first win. Perhaps it’s just a matter of returning to form after years away from competitive golf. “I just returned to competitive play four or five years ago,” he said. The 52 year-old telecom consultant has been busy with his career and family, and called his Senior Open victory a “breakthrough win.” He shot rounds of 69-74=143 for a four-stroke victory and was the only player to finish under par for the championship. “Maybe I should stick to the senior circuit,” he added jokingly. His victory today follows a T-13 finish at the Met Senior Open last month where he shot 74-73=147.

Tingley’s game was firing on all cylinders at Alpine. His opening round of three-under par 69 immediately distanced him from the rest of the field – save one player, Steve Sieg, who also shot 69 and would become the other figure in the two-player duel that defined the second round of this 36-hole event. Paired together, Tingley and Sieg, the head pro at Navesink Country Club and the 1989 State Open champion, were still tied after the front nine. Sieg played the better golf going out, actually taking a two-stroke lead after the sixth hole, but a double-bogey on the par-5 seventh scuttled the lead he was starting to build. After a stretch of four bogies on holes 4 through 7, Tingley righted the ship with an important up-and-down par save on the par-3 eighth. “That stabilized things for me, and I went on to play well after that,” he said.

Indeed, he did. Tingley saved his best golf for the back nine, where his game rose to the occasion while Sieg’s game slipped. The tournament was decided on the back nine, where it often is. Tingley was the model of consistency, hitting fairways and greens on his way to seven pars, one bogey and one birdie for an even-par nine. Sieg, on the other hand, hit a snag with four bogies on the last five holes, and that proved to be the difference. Tingley shot a final round 74 while Sieg shot 79 and finished in a tie for third.

Jay Blumenfeld, the veteran amateur from Mountain Ridge Country Club, finished second with rounds of 73-74=147. Blumenfeld finished fourth last year and has been low amateur at the Senior Open four times in his career.

A host of PGA Professionals finished in a tie for third: Sieg, Mike Burke of Montammy, Chris Dachisen of North Jersey and Ed Whitman of Knickerbocker. All are past Senior Open and/or Open champions – impressive company for the amateur field to take on.

In addition to being a solid ball-striker, Tingley manages him game well, which is a necessity at a course like Alpine. The A.W. Tillinghast layout is extremely hilly and, in spots, tight. But its standout feature is the greens, which are small, undulating and quite treacherous in places where they slope from back to front. Tingley managed to keep his ball in play off the tee, hit a lot of greens and putted well. He cited only two three-putts in 36 holes, quite an accomplishment at Alpine. Although the greens were not scary fast this week, they are always fast enough to demand extreme care, and the false fronts give players fits. The trick to playing Alpine well, according to Tingley, is to hit your approach shots close enough while still staying underneath the hole – without backing the ball off the front of the green.

Scoring was more difficult on the second day due to gusty winds, which probably forestalled any serious run at the two leaders. That condition played into Tingley’s hands, who could stay close to par with his outstanding game management and not have to worry too much about someone going deep. In fact, the low round of the day was 73 shot by Dachisen.

All in all, it was a nice win for a player who has been knocking on the door.

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