PRINCETON JUNCTION, NJ (July 20, 2016) -- At 16 years old, Robert McHugh of Darlington was one of the youngest players in the field of 40 to compete in the 12th NJSGA Men’s Public Links Championship at Mercer Oaks (West Course) on Wednesday, July 20.
One wouldn’t know it by the way he played, particularly in the morning when he fired a flawless round of five-under-par 67, a career-best, which included five birdies and no bogeys.
McHugh followed that up with a one-over 73 for a total of four-under-140 to win by two shots over Charles Cai (69-73-142) and Tim Timby (69-73-142), both of Mercer Oaks. Andrew Ward of Mercer Oaks (74-69-143) was fourth and defending champion Peter Kozubal of Fox Hollow (72-72-144) was fifth.
The top five received exemptions into the 2017 Public Links and the State Amateur which will take place at Tavistock in Haddonfield. McHugh is the youngest to win the Publinx championship.
“I played a practice round here on Sunday and just felt the greens were pretty straightforward. I learned what to do off the tees and where to place the drives and what holes you had to lay up on,” said McHugh, a Wayne resident who is a rising junior at Wayne Hills High School who helped lead the team to conference and county championships this spring.
McHugh, who still plays in the Bergen County Pioneer Tour, was coming off a NJPGA Junior one-day victory when he last week shot 75 at Suburban. Prior to that, he won the Passaic County Amateur with rounds of 75 and 74 at Preakness Valley.
A year ago, he reached the semifinals of the NJSGA Boys Championship. This year he will compete in the Billy Y. Dear Junior Championship which takes place next week at Essex Fells.
“I’ve always been able to hit it pretty far for my age. I’ve grown a little since last year. Now, it’s about controlling my drives, putting the ball in places where I can attack from. I’m putting more of my drives in the fairway,” said McHugh, who turns 17 in January.
He has never taken a lesson, learning the game since the age o eight from his dad, Mike, who was on the bag for the big day.
“There are a lot of good players his age. What has led to his recent success is his ability to stay calm after adversity, and his course management,” Mike said.
McHugh got off to a great start in the morning with birdies on his first two holes, Nos. 10 and 11, draining putts of 10 and 20 feet. Coming home, he birdied No. 6 from 22 feet, No. 7 from six feet and No. 9, his final hole, from six feet.
“I saw the ball going in the hole a little more than normal and I gained confidence,” said McHugh, who lists Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Phil Mickelson as his favorite pros.
“In the afternoon, I was still going for birdies, but I hit three wood more often and I wanted to make sure I kept the ball in play. I’ve always had a decent short game. This year, I’ve been working on my wedges and I’m better from 100 yards and in,” he said.
The afternoon round included two birdies and three bogeys. On the par-4 No. 11, he three putted from 45 feet and on the par-5 No. 15, he flew the green from a bunker.
“Last year, I was too aggressive and always try to go for it. I tried to hit driver when it wasn’t needed,” McHugh said.
“He’s getting used to playing in tournaments and winning,” dad Mike stated.
Cai, 21, is a recent graduate of Dartmouth who won the Mercer County Tournament in 2012 when he shot 65 on this course. He reached the round of 16 at the U.S. Junior Amateur five years ago.
View results for New Jersey Men's Public Links Championship