ORADELL, N.J. (July 10, 2013) -- Defending champion Benjamin Smith of Neshanic Valley on Wednesday moved a step closer to history. Fashioning his second consecutive 4-under-par 67, Smith stands at 8-under-par 134 and holds a commanding lead with one round remaining in the 93rd NJSGA State Open at the Hackensack Golf Club in Oradell.
Smith stands four shots clear of Graham Dendler of Trenton (70-68-138) and five shots better former PGA Tour pro Jim McGovern of White Beeches (70-69-139), Tom Gramigna of Tavistock (73-66-139), a former state amateur champion (2008), and Frank Esposito Jr. of Brooklake (67-72-139), the 1999 State Open champion. Gramigna’s 66 was the low round of the tournament.
A total of 55 golfers who shot 149 or better return for Thursday's final round.
Smith could become the first amateur to win back-to-back State Open titles and would become only the third amateur to win two State Opens. Smith would also become the first to capture back-to-back championships since pro Ed Whitman of Knickerbocker did it in 1995-96.
VIEW PHOTO GALLERY COMPLETE SCORING ROUND 3 PAIRINGS AND TEE TIMES
Only two amateurs have won the State Open twice, legendary Chet Sanok of Upper Montclair (1951 and ’56) and Brian Komline of Black Oak (2005 and ’07), the only golfer to win all five NJSGA majors. That’s pretty heady company.
“It’s not so much the tournament, but the time of the year,” said Smith, 26, who works in his father’s packaging company in Bristol, Pa. “It’s exciting to have the chance to put my name on the trophy once again and be the first amateur to do it consecutively. I hope I’m the first to do it.”
Smith stated he doesn’t have much time to practice, but builds his game as the summer unfolds. He tied for 12th at 308, 17 strokes behind winner Mike Stamberger of Spring Lake, in last month’s State Amateur.
“If I can get it in the fairway, get it on the green and if I can make a putt, I have a good chance of having a good round,” said Smith. “Today, I was making putts of 15 to 20 feet. I have the speed pretty well down and the greens are not so treacherous. The putts are pretty straight forward.”
Smith started on the 10th hole on Wednesday and made four birdies in his first eight holes. He drained a 30-foot putt on the par-3 12th hole, then birdied holes 15 through 17. He two-putted for birdie on the par-5 15th, made a four-foot putt on the par-4 16th, and a 10-footer on the par-3 17th. That put him at 8-under-par for the tournament.
He gave back a pair of bogeys, on the par-4 second hole and the par-4 seventh, both times missing the green. He got those strokes back with a birdie on the par-5 eighth, lipping out an on eagle attempt. He punctuated the round with a six-inch birdie putt on the ninth hole, his finishing hole, after he landed a 5-iron shot from 180 yards next to the cup.
“If I can drive well on Thursday, I can keep my focus,” Smith said. “I remember the night before last year’s final round when I kept telling my friend that I was going to win.”
Smith didn’t sew up last year’s State Open championship until the final hole at the Manasquan River Golf Club, holding off fellow amateur Niall Handley of Essex Fells and pro Bill Britton, who took home the winner’s check, by one shot.
“I’m feeling a little pressure to repeat, but golf is a game to me. I have fun with it. I’m still just trying to win,” Smith concluded.
Dendler is in his seventh year as head professional at Trenton and playing in his first State Open. He is a former Philadelphia Open champion. Dendler, who was sent off the 10th tee, birdied three of his final five holes. He birdied the par-4 fifth hole, the par-3 sixth, and the par-5 eighth. He totaled five birdies against two bogeys for his 68.
McGovern, a four-time club champion in the 1980s at Hackensack, is in his third year as head professional at White Beeches. Jim McGovern is the last New Jersey pro to win a PGA Championship, when he won the Shell Houston Open in 1993. McGovern, a native of Oradell who attended Bergen Catholic H.S., played 20 years on the PGA Tour. In 1993, besides winning the Shell Houston Open, he had two other top-10 finishes, earned $587,495 and finished 27th on the money list. His best finish in a major was T5 at the 1994 Masters Tournament. He was also 13th at the U.S. Open. As an amateur, he won the 1987 Metropolitan Open and in 1988, the Met Am.
"I hit the ball pretty solid and gave myself a lot of chances," McGovern said. "I just didn't hit it pretty close and that's probably why I didn't make a lot of putts. All I want to do is keep hitting it solid and give myself chances."
Esposito, 50, played in the National Club Pro championship last month in Oregon.
"I've been working on a few things and it's been working out for me. I just need to do a little better with my putting," said Esposito, who carded two birdies, a bogey snd a double bogey on the par-4 11th hole..
Gramigna’s round included eight birdies and three bogeys.
“I like this type of course, an old style, classic course,” Gramigna said. “On Tuesday, I had four birdies and six bogeys and I was on the same path with three bogeys and three birdies after seven holes, but I played steadier after that.”
He went on to birdie five of his final 11 holes.
View results for New Jersey State Open Golf Championship