by Rick Jenkins

GALLOWAY, N.J. Perseverance was the name of the game at the 27th Mid-Amateur Championship played at Galloway National Golf Club from May 4-6th. Contestants not only had to battle each other in the match play format but had to battle a demanding golf course. As the course played progressively firmer each day with winds and a bright sun hardening it, it became clear that the golfer who controlled his ball the best would win. That man was David Pierce.

Pierce defeated Marc Grinberg of Battleground Country Club 5&4 in the final match. Playing in only his second Mid-Am at the age of 38, Pierce has some experience competing in NJSGA events but the Mid-Am marks his first State victory. Of the 32 players in the field, Pierce was the one who had the best control of his driving game, approach shots and short game on a fast golf course. He managed to find plenty of fairways, his iron game was a source of strength all week, and he was near perfect in making putts in the four to six foot range. And that’s what it takes to win on a hard championship layout like Galloway National. “This course is in championship condition – and more,” he said after the victory.

In the championship match, Pierce got up early on Grinberg by winning the first two holes with pars. In fact, quick starts were Pierce’s trademark during the week: he was two up after the first two or three holes in every match save one, his quarterfinal match against Lance Oberparleiter of Little Mill Country Club, which was the only time Pierce trailed in a match. In the final match, Pierce improved to 4-up on the ninth hole when Grinberg squandered an enormous drive on the downhill par-5 hole by clipping a tree on his attempt to get home, deflecting his ball into the woods and necessitating a chip out. For Pierce, that was an important point in the match because what looked like an eagle opportunity or easy birdie for his opponent turned into bogie and gave Pierce a commanding lead with which to open the back nine. On the back side, both players started to show the effects of a long week grinding on a difficult golf course, but a ten foot birdie putt on the par-3 14th hole sealed the victory for Pierce. “I said to my caddie, let’s make this putt and end it right here,” Pierce said as he reflected on the prospect of playing more holes. Both players were playing their second consecutive day of double matches and their fifth match overall.

Galloway definitely showed its teeth this week, playing like the championship caliber course it is. The wind, which is almost always a factor here with the course exposed to the tidewaters of Brigantine Bay, was gusty and seemed to swirl and change direction, wreaking havoc with players’ shots and their mentalities. But, as Mike Killian, Galloway’s Director of Golf, says “The great courses are all hard.” Galloway will host a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open next Tuesday. Keep an eye on those scores, as the players this week liked to point out.

Both Pierce and Grinberg had big wins in their semi-final matches. Pierce ousted Tom Gramigna of Tavistock, a three-time Mid-Amateur champion, whose first such win came at Galloway in 2002, and the 2008 State Amateur champion. Pierce, true to form this week, got up early and never opened the door for Gramigna, who struggled in the semi-final match. Grinberg defeated Anthony Scelba, the defending champion, to reach the finals. Scelba struggled in the semi-final match as well, lacking the laser-like precision that won him this event last year, and admitted after the match that he was happy to make it as far as he did. Both Gramigna and Scelba eliminated some strong players from the field, including Mike Stamberger of Spring Lake, Gregg Angelillo of Montclair, Allan Small of Fairmount and Mike Paduano of Hyatt Hills.

David Pierce has some past experience playing on the New Jersey stage, having finished in the top ten at two NJSGA Amateur Championships and leading the 2005 Amateur after the first round. He has a Metedeconk Invitational to his credit from 2003. A former Echo Lake member and eight-time club champion there, he doesn’t play as much golf as he used to with two young children at home, but he feels his move to Neshanic Valley a few years ago has improved his game. “I’m now playing most of my golf with scratch players like Frank DeCraine and Keith Grant, and those games can get pretty competitive,” he said. Pierce and fellow club mate DeCraine met in the quarterfinal round of this championship. With the Mid-Am title under his belt, Pierce is exempt for the 2010 State Amateur and plans to play in it at Montclair Golf Club next month.

Full field results for the Mid-Am can be viewed by clicking the Live Scoring icon on the home page.

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