Niall Handley of Essex Fells has a championship pedigree. The only stipulation is he’s never won in a New Jersey State Golf Association event.
On Wednesday, April 19, he was medalist at qualifying for the 34thNJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship with a one-under-par 71 at Mercer Oaks G.C. (West Course). Tyler Duke, 37, of Rumson was one shot off the pace with an even-par 72. Jamie Slonis of Tavistock was third with a 73 in the field of 88 golfers.
The 20 players, who shot 78 or better, advanced to the NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship, for golfers age 30 and older, to be played May 9-11 at Trump National Golf Club in Colts Neck. Another qualifier is set for next Tuesday, April 25, at Metuchen Golf and Country Club in Edison.
Handley, 45, has won two Met Mid-Amateur Championships, in 2014 and 2011. The native or Ireland has also won the Bergen County Amateur in 2011. Handley was also Mid-Am medalist last year with a 67 at Royce Brook. But he shot 74 and failed to make the cut in the championship at Spring Lake Golf Club.
“I’ve never won a NJSGA event, but I feel like I might be able to this year. I’m driving the ball really well. This winter I didn’t play much, but worked on my core training five days a week, and it’s really helped my flexibility.
“On the new range at Essex Fells last week, I was hitting it better than I had all of last year,” said Handley, who has also spent time working with his son Conor, 15, a freshman at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange.
Handley’s round included four birdies, a bogey and a double bogey. The double came on the 485-yard, par 4 sixth hole, when his drive landed in a divot hole. “I couldn’t get it to the green and I yanked it left,” he said.
The bogey came at the par-3 eighth hole when his tee shot landed in a bunker.
He carded a birdie at the par-5 seventh hole when his wedge from 80 yards ended a foot from the cup.
“The greens were very firm and it was hard to get it close to the hole,” said Handley, who nonetheless drained a 30-footer for a birdie on the par 3 No. 13 and added a 15-footer for a par save at the par 4 No. 14.
“It was windy on the back nine, but I managed to hit very green except 14. I was flighting my irons very well. I ended up hitting 15 greens in regulation,” said Handley.
Duke is playing in the Mid-Amateur for the first time. A financial analyst in Red Bank, he is a former NCAA Academic All-American from Ohio University, where he was also captain of the golf team. He is a native of Washington, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh.
“I plan on playing in some events this year. Today I was making pars and keeping it in play. I putted it well and kept the tee ball in play,” Duke said.