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Big names lead at the Metropolitan Golf Association Open

SCARBOROUGH, N.Y. (August 23, 2011) – With a stacked field full of talent, the first round of the 96th Met Open Championship sponsored by MetLife is in the books at Sleepy Hollow Country Club. Forty- year-old professional David Schuster of Haverstraw shot an opening-round, four-under-par 66 to lead the field of 144 in the Met Area’s premier event for professionals and amateurs, boasting a $150,000 purse.

Schuster, who lives in New York City and plays mostly on mini-tours, assessed his round. “I made a couple key putts in the round but overall just hit it solid and kept it in play,” he said. “I’m looking forward to my morning round tomorrow.”

As expected, there are many accomplished players right on Schuster’s heels. This group includes a trio of professionals who shot three-under-par 67’s. One of them is Danny Balin of Burning Tree, fresh off his appearance in the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, who was one of only four morning starters to finish their rounds under par. Balin, 29, lost in a playoff to Bob Rittberger (who is battling an injured hand and struggled to an 81 today) in this championship last year at Bethpage Black. Over the last two years Balin has gained valuable experience playing in two consecutive PGA Championships and contending for the PGA National Club Professional Championship.

“I'm happy with getting off to a good start,” said Balin. “This is the marquee event in our area, and I've always strived to do well in it since I've been in this section for the last eight years. It's why we work hard, for this event. Especially last year, losing in a playoff, it gives me a little extra drive to do well.”

Also at 67 after a bogey-free round is 2005 Carter Cup champion Morgan Hoffmann of Arcola. In his first summer of professional play, the 21-year-old Hoffmann has primarily been playing in PGA and Nationwide Tour events.

“I feel good. It’s great to be back home playing in an MGA event,” said Hoffmann, who has been logging plenty of miles as of late, playing in the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., last weekend and trying to Monday-qualify for the Nationwide Tour event yesterday in Knoxville, Tenn. He took an early flight back to the Met Area this morning to make his 1:40 p.m. tee time. “I was driving it well and you need to do that out here. I played here in 2006 for an AJGA event, but haven’t seen the course since.” 

Rounding out the group at 67 is Craig Smith, an assistant professional at Trump National-Bedminster. Smith had the nine holes of the championship thus far with an opening 30 on his opening nine (holes 10-18), and he rattled off 6 birdies in 15 holes before finishing with bogeys on his last three holes.

“The first nine holes were pretty incredible. It’s all a blur, honesty,” Smith laughed as he reflected on his round. “I’ll take some positives from the round, I haven’t been playing my best coming into today, so it was a lot of fun to hit some good shots. I didn’t want to bogey my last three, but I can’t complain.”

Another player in hot pursuit of the lead is 2008 Ike winner and 2011 New Jersey State Open champion Kevin Foley of Neshanic Valley, who finished at 68 and looks to become the fifth player in history to win the New Jersey Open and Met Open in the same year. The last player to accomplish this was David Glenz in 1986.

“The Met section is arguably the strongest in the country, and when you look at this year's field and what they've accomplished, and I don't think many other golf associations can compete with what we have here,” said Foley. “I got off to a strong start last year in this event and I'm excited to be back. It's been a focus of mine all year.”

Foley made the turn at three under par and, while stumbled a bit with bogeys on the par-three 10th and 16th holes, he hit a 162- yard approach shot on number 18 to three feet for a closing birdie.

Mike Gilmore of Winged Foot, the 2000 Met Open champion, and 1997 MGA/MetLife Boys champion Tyler Hall of Packanack, also shot 68.

On the amateur side, leading the way with a two-over 72 is John Ervasti of the home club, Sleepy Hollow. Ed Gibstein of Engineers shot a 73 along with Mark Costanzaof Tuxedo and Sam Bernstein of Century, the runner-up in this year’s Met Amateur at Piping Rock. The youngest player in the field, 14-year-old Cameron Young, who won the Carter Cup last month and plays out of Sleepy Hollow, shot 75.

In total, ten players shot 69 or better on the opening day. Other notables include 2011 New York State Open champion Rob Labritz of GlenArbor, with an even-par 70, a score shared by 2005 Met Open champion John Stoltz of Concord and former Met Junior champion Mike Quagliano. Eight players are at one-over-par 71 and still very much in the hunt, including 1987 Met Open champion Jim McGovern of White Beeches and two- time Ike champion Mike Ballo Jr. of Woodway.

One stroke farther back at 72 are two-time Met Open champions Bobby Heins of Old Oaks and Mark Mielke of Mill River, along with 1999 Met Open winner Mark Brownof Tam O’Shanter.

With 72 players tightly packed at 74 or better, moving day at the Met Open will be quite the test as the field looks to make the cut, which will come for the low 60 players and ties as well as anyone within eight strokes of the lead. The course average today was 74.8, with 3 eagles and 287 birdies recorded.

Second-round action begins at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, August 24, with live scoring on www.mgagolf. org and Facebook and Twitter updates available throughout the day.

View results for Metropolitan Golf Association Open Golf Championship

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