ORADELL, N.J. (July 11, 2013) -- It was 14 years between victories, but none could have been sweeter than what Frank Esposito Jr. of Brooklake accomplished in the 93rd NJSGA Open Championship on Thursday, July 11, at Hackensack Golf Club in Oradell.
Esposito, 50, made up five strokes, finally took the lead with a birdie on the 17thhole, and then two-putted for par on the final hole to become the second-oldest player to win the State Open.
Ed Whitman of Knickerbocker was 52 when he won the State Open in 2004.
Esposito on Thursday fired a four-under-par 67 to give him a combined 7-under-par of 67-72-67-206, one stroke better than local favorite Jim McGovern of White Beeches (70-69-68-207), and two shots clear of Sam Kang of Farmstead (72-68-68-208).
Defending champion Benjamin Smith of Neshanic Valley, who led by four shots coming into the final day, was low amateur at 67-67-75-209. Brett Jones of Mountain Ridge, the 2009 champion, was fifth at 69-71-70-210.
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“It’s feels great to win this. It means a lot, that an older player can still beat the younger players, some only as old as my (19-year-old) son,” said Esposito, who won his first State Open in 1999 at Echo Lake. Esposito is one of the most accomplished professionals in the state and has already been inducted into the New Jersey PGA Hall of Fame.
“It was nice to be in contention. I knew exactly what was going on, what Jim McGovern was doing. On (par 3) 17 , I hit a perfect shot with an eight iron, from right to left and it left me with a 12-foot putt for birdie,” said Esposito, a former Rutgers player.
“My caddie, Tom Cermack, gave me a perfect read on inside right edge. On 18, I drove it into the left rough, and I was able to hit a seven iron to the right side of the green for a 45-footer. It was the exact same putt I had in 2003 when I won the PGA Sectional championship here.
“It just missed going in. I spent a lot of time on the putting green yesterday and this morning I decided to go with a cross-handed grip. It gave me a different perspective and made things stress-free. It’s something I have used before and today, it worked out. I don’t know why I don’t use it all the time.”
Esposito played par golf until getting his first birdie on the par-4 ninth hole. He added birdies on the par-5 10th hole, the par-5 15th and the par-3 17th.
“I had birdie opportunities the whole way in,” Esposito said. “I just played solid golf. I really enjoy playing this course. It was in beautiful condition and made it very enjoyable. I feel sorry for Ben (Smith). He had a tough day and it’s very understandable. The golf course set up nice for me.”
Smith bogeyed two of his first three holes, and added a third bogey at the par-4 seventh hole. He delivered birdies on the par-5 eighth and par-5 10thand stretched his lead to two shots over McGovern, who was being followed by a sizeable galley.
But Smith could not overcome bogeys at the par-4 11th, par-4 14th and par-4 16th.
“I came out with bogeys on the first and third holes, then had another at seven, before I got things turned around,” said Smith, 26. “It just wasn’t my day. I’m happy to be the low amateur for the second year in a row. I feel I defended my championship well. I was glad to be in contention.”
McGovern, who spent 20 years on the PGA Tour including one victory, the 1993 Shell Houston Open, seemed destined to win the championship as he continued to pile up birdies on the back nine. He stated with a bogey on the first hole, parred the next eight holes, then had birdies on the first four holes of the back nine.
His birdie on the par-13thhole got him a one-shot lead over Smith. But the birdie streak ended as McGovern , 47, parred his way in and Esposito was able to overtake him with his two late birdies.
“I can’t complain. I hit the ball well all week,” said McGovern, a four-time club champion in the 1980s at Hackensack. “I think I put a lot more pressure on myself. I gave myself a lot of chances.
“I never looked at the scoreboard. Making one or two more birdies would have been nice.”
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