WEST ORANGE, N.J. (Sept.28, 2011) - As multiple players made their way to the top of the leaderboard late in the final round at the 5th MGA Mid-Amateur Championship at Essex County Country Club, it was first-round leader Niall Handley of Essex Fells who emerged as the champion in this prestigious invitational that attracts a field of the best 35 and older players from across the Met Area. However, the final round had plenty of drama, as Handley lost the lead on two occasions, then had to execute outstanding shots down the stretch in order to come out victorious.Runner-Up Gregg Angelillo
Handley, who held the overnight lead after an opening-round 3-under-par 68, was challenged by Gregg Angelillo of Baltusrol and Mike Stamberger of Spring Lake, who all held a share—or outright—lead at some point during Wednesday’s 18-hole finale.
“This is my biggest win, it’s a huge victory for me,” Handley said afterward. “I’ve had a really good year with a second-place finish at the New York City Amateur and a win at the Bergen County Amateur a few weeks ago, but this is one of my favorite tournaments. I’ve been very close the last two years, playing in the last groups. This victory is huge to me.”
Handley, 39, who hails from County Dublin, Ireland, got off to a steady start with pars on his first eight holes, but dropped back with three consecutive bogeys on the 9th, 10th and 11th holes, opening the door for Angelillo and Stamberger. In that stretch, Stamberger took the lead at two-under for the championship after birdies on the seventh, eighth and ninth holes to make the turn in 33 for the second consecutive day.
Meanwhile, the long-hitting Angelillo was patiently recording pars and remained at even par through 12 holes before recording his first birdie on the par-five 13th hole, which propelled him into the lead at one under par as Stamberger and Handley both stood at even par. However, the difficult back nine at Essex County would take its toll on the contenders, especially as the wind strengthened and intermittent rain showers began to come down.
As Stamberger registered bogeys on 14, 15 and 16, the championship came down to a race between Angelillo and Handley, who were both even par through 16 holes after Angelillo made his first bogey of the day at 16. On the 385-yard 17th, Handley hit a beautiful approach shot to seven feet, then sank the birdie to take a one-stroke lead heading into the final hole.
On 18, Handley’s tee shot found the left fairway bunker while Angelillo hit a long, straight drive past the bunker. Handley then hit the shot of the tournament, escaping the bunker with a 7-iron from 155 yards that came to rest 10 feet from the hole. Angellilo, needing a birdie, hit a poor approach that reached the front fringe.
“It was fun being in the hunt, and I played well,” said Angelillo. “Niall hit some great shots down the stretch, and that was the difference.”
As a large group of spectators gathered around the 18th green, Handley narrowly missed his birdie putt and tapped in for par and the win.
This is the first MGA victory for Handley, who began playing golf at the age of four under the tutelage of his grandfather, and credits his father for the opportunity he provided to come to the states on a golf scholarship and continue to improve his game.
“I only see my dad once a year, so I know he was glued to the computer [in Ireland] watching.” Handley won the Bergen County Amateur earlier in September and expressed his gratitude during the awards ceremony.
“To win a trophy with Gene Westmoreland’s name on it, who is a great ambassador of the game, is truly an honor and a privilege.” Handley is now eligible for an invitation for the next five MGA Mid-Amateurs, and gains an exemption into the 2012 Ike Championship at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, N.Y.
Notable players with top-ten finishes include: 2010 MGA/MetLife Public Links champion Brian Komline of Black Oak (4th); 1996 Met Amateur winner Ken Bakst of Friar’s Head (T6); 2011 MGA Senior Amateur and 2010 MGA Senior Open winner John Ervasti of Sleepy Hollow (T8); and two-time defending MGA Mid-Amateur champion Dennis Lynch of Nassau Players (T8).
The top 15 players plus ties earn exemptions into the 2012 MGA Mid-Amateur, scheduled for the Meadow Brook Club in Jericho, N.Y. The scoring average over the two days was 78.7 with 146 birdies recorded.
View results for Metropolitan Golf Association Mid-Amateur Golf Championship