KENILWORTH, NJ (July 11, 2016) -- Defending champion Tyler Hall, a teaching professional out of Upper Montclair, left little doubt about his intention to become the first back-to-back champion of the NJSGA State Open in 20 years.
Hall fired a course-record seven-under-par 64 to take a one shot lead over amateur Jeremy Nevius of Metuchen after the first round of the 96th State Open Championship on Monday at 6,665-yard Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth.
Galloping Hill is the first public venue to host the State Open since Asbury Park Golf Club in 1930. The last back-to-back State Open champion was Ed Whitman of Knickerbocker in 1995-96.
Hall strung together seven birdies, including five on his final six holes, to erase the previous course record of 65 set by Joe Birofski in the 1960s. One hour later, Nevius, a rising senior at Campbell University in North Carolina, tied Birofski’s record, also by notching seven birdies but against a single three-putt bogey on the 15thhole.
Behind the two leaders was 40-year-old amateur Michael Brown of Pennsauken pro Dave McGovern of Brooklake at 68, and amateur Jeremy Wall of Manasquan River, a rising senior at Loyola of Maryland.
Two-time champion and Champions Tour member Frank Esposito of Forsgate was among a group of nine players who shot one-under 70.
David Cha of Rolling Greens, a recently graduated member of the Seton Hall University golf team, aced the par-3 150-yard fifth hole for his first career hole-in-one. Max Greyserman of Crestmont, 2014 champion and 2015 runner-up, failed to show for his morning tee time.
The field of 125 players returns Tuesday for the second round. Following 36 holes, the field will be trimmed to the low 50 players and ties for Wednesday’s final round of 18 holes.
A year ago, Hall was medalist at qualifying for the State Open at Galloping Hill when he shot 69, one of only two players to shoot subpar.
“Last year here, I let the course come to me. I felt more steady. This course fits my eye. Today, I felt I stole a lot of birdies. I know tournaments are marathons. They are not won in a day,” said Hall, 34, who was runner-up in last year’s Met Open and spent 10 years playing on the PGA Tour’s mini-tour circuit.
“If I hit it straight tomorrow, it could be fun. For me, it’s all about confidence. My ball-striking is my strength. When I’m driving it straight, the game comes to me.”
Hall’s irons were a strength on Monday.
“My iron play today was really sharp,” he said, noting many of his birdie opportunities were the result of his fairway shots tight to the hole.
His longest birdie putt was a 15-footer on the par 4 13th hole.
“That putt on 13 got everything going forward for me,” said Hall, who won the State Open in 2015 going away as he birdied three of the final four holes.
“On the (par-4) 14th hole, I hit my drive all the way right and was able to hit a wedge close, so then I stole two in a row and the momentum kept feeding.”
At the par-4 16th, his tee shot strayed right again, but his wedge approach shot from 135 landed 10 feet from the cup, setting up yet another birdie.
“The year has been up and down. I messed up at the U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Canoe Brook. After a 71 in the morning I came back with a 77. I’ve been fighting it for a few weeks, but today, I missed in the right spots,” Hall noted.
Nevius grew up in nearby Mountainside and is very familiar with Galloping Hill.
“I definitely played it on the safe side. I needed to trust my game,” said Nevius, whose 65 was a career-best by two strokes. “There were some rough spots, but I’m proud I was able to get out of them.”
Nevius finished tied for sixth at last year’s State Open at Rockaway River.
“I didn’t expect the course to be in this great shape. The greens were a little soft and that made it easier to go at the pins,” said Nevius who the Rutgers Junior Open with a 67.
Galloping Hill had absorbed five inches of rain in the previous four days.
View results for New Jersey State Open Golf Championship