MET Pub-Links: Aloi wins in playoff

COLTS NECK, N.J. (July 6, 2011) -- On a hot and humid day with scattered thunderstorms, it took a dramatic eagle on the first playoff hole to decide the winner of the 64th MGA/MetLife Public Links Championship at Hominy Hill Golf Course in Colts Neck, N.J. In the end, it was Anthony Aloi who prevailed in a sudden-death playoff over fellow MGA eClub-New Jersey member Eric LeFante. The playoff began and ended on the par-five ninth hole as dusk descended on the parkland-style Monmouth County layout.Aloi hugs his dad after sinking an eagle putt on the first playoff hole.

Aloi, a Plainsboro, N.J., resident who is a rising senior on the Furman University (S.C.) golf team, entered the final round one stroke off the lead. He then put together a near-flawless round that included three birdies, one bogey, and an eagle on the ninth hole, which would be a sign of things to come in the playoff. Aloi made it through the grueling 36 holes of heat and rain with the help of his father, who caddied all 36 holes.

“It feels amazing,” said Aloi. “This is the first real men’s event that I’ve won. In the playoff, I eagled that hole in the second round, and I left a few putts short today so I was just focused on getting it to the hole, and it went in.”

Aloi put together rounds of 72 and 68 for a 4-under-par total of 140 to finish in a tie with LeFante and force the playoff. Both players hit 3-wood off the tee to start the playoff, and both found the fairway to give themselves a chance to go for the green in two. Aloi was left with 244 yards and again hit 3-wood, with his ball coming to rest 15 feet from the hole.

LeFante’s approach skipped out of a bunker and found the greenside fringe, and his chip stopped just short of the hole. With daylight dwindling, Aloi stood over his eagle attempt and seized the moment, curling the putt into the left side of the hole. After a fist pump that emphasized both triumph and exhaustion, and a big hug with his father, Anthony Aloi stood on the green once again as an MGA champion.

Eric LeFante“It’s the first time I’ve ever played in this event, and it means a lot to win at this level,” said Aloi. I’m really excited to play Bethpage Black next year [for the MGA/MetLife Public Links], and definitely looking forward to the Met Amateur at Piping Rock next month, too.”

It is the second MGA championship for Aloi, 21, who won the 2008 Met Junior Championship at Rockaway River. LeFante now adds a second runner-up finish at the MGA/MetLife Public Links to his résumé, which also includes two wins at the NJSGA Public Links in 2009 and ’10.

“I’ve been playing this course since I was 11,” said LeFante. “It’s a special place, and everyone supported me so much. I shot 40 the first nine holes today, so I made a nice comeback and I feel like I’m close [to winning].”

The 36-hole championship turned into a marathon after lightning forced a two-hour suspension while groups were finishing their first rounds and beginning the second. A second suspension occurred during the final 18 holes, this time lasting 40 minutes.

After the first round, there was a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard between Dennis Lynch, 50, of Nassau Players, the two-time defending MGA Mid-Amateur champion; Adam Larkin, 19, of Bethpage and Marc Kunesch, 20, of Rolling Green.

First Tee of Metropolitan New York participant and soon-to-be freshman at Penn State, Xander McDonald-Smith of Marine Park, shot a first-round 73 and after a blistering 4-under 32 in his opening nine holes of his final round to get into contention and hold the lead for a while in the afternoon. He stumbled a bit down the stretch to close with a 39 and a 36-hole total of even-par 144. Also finishing at 144 was Max Bichsel of Neshanic Valley and Kunesch.

“It was a great first 11 holes to my final round,” said McDonald-Smith. “After that I started to think ahead and get nervous. I made that first bogey, on 12, and after that I just sort of lost it. I tried to keep it together but it was the first time I’ve been in the race for an MGA tournament.”

Hominy Hill proved to challenge the field in the morning round, as the scoring average was 76.7. A strong thunderstorm with widespread lightning hit the course just before 2:00 p.m., causing a delay in play and possibly causing softer greens and more birdie opportunities as the day progresses. The field battled back in the afternoon as the course average dropped to 75.3. This was the fifth time the 6,918-yard, par-72 Robert Trent Jones layout hosted the MGA/MetLife Public Links, with the previous editions coming in 1986, 1991, 1996, and 1999.

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