BRIELLE, NJ (July 12, 2012) -- For amateur Benjamin Smith of Little Mill, a Voorhees resident, his time has finally come.
After a runner-up spot in the New Jersey State Golf Association Amateur in 2011 and the Golf Association of Philadelphia Mid-Amateur in May, Smith (74-212) won his first major tournament by edging fellow amateur Niall Handley of Essex Fells (73-213) and veteran professional Bill Britton of Trump National-Colts Neck (72-213) by one shot to win the 92nd NJSGA State Open on Thursday at the Manasquan River Golf Club in Brielle.
Amateur Mike Stamberger of Spring Lake (69-214) was fourth. Pros Marc Issler of Toms River (72-215), Paul Poandl of Bedens Brook (68-215) and Jakob Gerney of Trump-Philadelphia tied for fifth place and each earned a check for $5,000.
The last amateur to win the State Open was Brian Komline of Black Oak in 2007.
Smith, 25, who came into the final round with a two-shot lead over Handley and was the first-day co-leader with Issler with a 68, was in a dead heat with Handley as the pair approached the par-4, 350-yard 18th hole. Both drove to the right rough, about 80 yards from the pin. Handley´s approach found the second cut of rough beyond the hole, 15 feet from the pin.
Smith´s approach was brilliant, up the right side of a hill to within five feet. Handley, using a hybrid to chip, ran the shot past the pin and down a slope, 30 feet away from the hole. He settled for a bogey, while Smith easily two-putted for par and his one-shot victory.
Britton, playing two groups ahead, birdied the 18th hole to go to 3-under par for the tournament. In 2006, he won the New Jersey PGA championship at Manasquan River.
Smith played an uneven round with six bogeys and four birdies, but never lost the lead, although he was tied on several occasions. His three-putt bogey on the par-3 15th hole allowed Handley to tie him at 4-under. But Smith pulled off an amazing birdie on the course´s toughest hole, the 471-yard, par-4 16th hole that plays into the winds coming off the Manasquan River.
Smith´s approach from 173 yards ended just inches from the cup for a birdie and gave him a one-shot ledad heading into the final two holes. But he hooked his tee shot off the par-4 17th hole and had to settle for a bogey, again allowing Handley, who had parred, to tie him at 4-under.
"I never felt I was losing control of the tournament. I felt no one was swinging the club better than me. I never gave up. I just kept going. I made most of my piutts inside eight feet. I guess that´s why I´m holding the trophy," he said.
He also credited his caddie, Dan Matthews, the son of Manasquan River president Chip Matthews.
"Dan told me where to hit it on the 18th green. That was big. This is a lot of weight off my shoulders. There were times when it was pretty tough to keep it together. The course was beautiful and it played well. It feels good that my first victory happened here, at a big event," Smith added.
View results for New Jersey State Open Golf Championship