State Open Preview: Rock Spring, A Fork In The Road
When the 89th NJSGA Open Championship commences at Rock Spring Club on July 14th, one thing is clear: the winner will be under par. Depending on conditions and how firm and fast the course plays, it’s a question of how much under par. Baker Maddera, Rock Spring’s Head Professional, thinks the winning number will be 10-under par. “We’re probably not the longest course that’s out there for the State Open,” Maddera said, so speed of the greens and thickness of the rough will be key factors in determining how the field performs.
Managing play around the greens will go a long way in determining the winner. Course restoration efforts over the last several years have re-introduced some exacting hole locations and deep, penal bunkers in the style of course architect Charles Banks. If the greens are fast, navigating the bold undulations of several greens and the more subtle ridges and spines of others likely will separate the contenders from the rest of the pack.
Players may take alternate routes to the greens. One school of thought places a premium on accuracy and driving to the proper side of the fairway to set up the best approach to the green. At Rock Spring, there is usually a preferred side of the hole from which to approach the green. The other school favors the “grip it and rip it” mentality: bombing drives to get as close as possible to the green. Half of the par-4s at Rock Spring are under 400 yards and therefore would permit this kind of strategy; the removal of many trees on the course last year also facilitates this approach. However, to make this strategy pay off, the player will need to be sure of his wedge game from lies that could be in thick rough and could present awkward angles to the green. As is the case at any tournament, players will employ different styles of play, but the common denominator at Rock Spring will be play around the greens.
The field of 125 players reflects the typically strong field one would expect for the State Open. There are no notable absences except Jason Lamp of Deal, the 2006 Open champion, who is recovering from wrist surgery. Defending champion Mark McCormick likes his chances because Rock Spring is not dissimilar from his home course, Suburban, and the course on which he won last year, Alpine. “You need to be straight [at Rock Spring]. It’s a little bit similar to Suburban in that you have to keep it in the fairway,” he said.
Other Open champions in the field include four-time winners Ed Whitman of Knickerbocker and David Glenz of Crystal Springs; two-time champions Chris Dachisen of North Jersey and Russ Helwig of Essex Fells; 1999 champion and perennial favorite Frank Esposito, Jr. of Brooklake; and 2003 champion and last year’s runner-up Greg Farrow of Deerwood. Home course Professional Baker Maddera also is a past champion (2002) and has called Rock Spring his home turf for 18 years.
John DiMarco of Laurel Creek, who won the State Open when it was last held at Rock Spring in 2000, also is in the field.
Other Professionals to watch include Brent Studer of Manasquan River, who was in contention last year; Mark Schaare of Glenwood, the 2006 runner-up; Greg Baker of Rockaway River; Bill Britton of Trump National – Colts Neck; and Brian Gaffney of Rumson, who won this year’s NJPGA Rockaway River Clambake and NJPGA Head Professional Championship, and has been knocking on the Open door for quite some time.
There is plenty of strength in the amateur ranks as well. Two-time Open champion and NJSGA Player of the Year Brian Komline, of High Bridge Hills, is playing a curtailed schedule this year but will play in the Open. Recent Amateur champions Michael Deo (2009), Tom Gramigna (2008), Bill McGuinness (2007 and 1996), and Chris Gold (2006) also have the games to compete in the State Open. Veterans and multiple winners Jay Blumenfeld of Mountain Ridge, Allan Small of Fairmount, and Ron Vannelli of Metuchen have the experience and patience to finish well at Rock Spring. Potential dark horses from the amateur ranks could be Marc Issler of Woodlake, Robert Cronheim of Twin Brooks, or Kyle Hartlaub of Canoe Brook, who contended in this year’s Amateur Championship at Fairmount. Former assistant Professionals Gregg Angelillo of Montclair and Merv Smith of High Mountain can contend if they keep the long ball in play. In addition to Maddera, home club representation in the field consists of assistant Professional Todd Rickenbach and club champion Patrick Bosworth. Of the 125 competitors in the field, 76 are Professionals and 49 are amateurs. Spectators are welcome at Rock Spring; there is no charge.