Michael Brown (NJSGA photo)
Michael Brown of Darlington didn’t sugarcoat what it would take to walk away with victory in the final match of the 37th NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship at the spectacular, par-71, 6,549-yard North Jersey Country Club in Wayne.
He was facing Mark Costanza of Hamilton Farm, winner of both the NJSGA Open and MGA Ike Championship, and a shoe-in for NJSGA Player of the Year.
“I was in a difficult position. I know what he’s done this year. He’s a very refined golfer, the best in the state this year. I was going to have to play my best to beat him and I managed to get the job done today,” said Brown, 47, who won four of the final five holes to walk away with a 2-up victory over Costanza.
Costanza held a 1-up lead through 13 holes before Brown won the next three holes with two birdies and a par to pull ahead. The win wasn’t without drama, though, as Costanza won the par-5, 17th hole, with a birdie, leaving the match in the balance on the par-4, 18th hole.
It was there that Brown blasted out of a bunker to four feet, setting up a par while putting pressure on Costanza who ended up with a three-putt bogey from 25 feet to seal Brown’s triumph.
“It was a great match, won by a very deserving champion. I fought hard, but he made great shots down the stretch,” said Costanza, a resident of Jersey City. “At this level, there are so many good players, that you are bound to run into somebody who is playing well. I played a great round, but it would’ve taken a phenomenal round to win.”
The Open champion grabbed his final lead with a par victory on the par-3, 13th hole. But then the match turned squarely towards Brown. On the downhill, 285-yard, par-4, 14th, Brown’s drive found a penalty area on the left side, 68 yards from the hole. His wedge shot ended five feet from the cup. He secured a birdie there to even the match.
On the short par-3, 15th hole, Brown, who lives in Maple Shade, two-putted for par from 35 feet while Costanza couldn’t recover from his tee shot that rolled some 50 yards off the green.
Brown pulled off the shot of the day on the par-4, 16th hole, with his approach from 142 yards out of the left rough.
“When I hit it, I thought it was too deep. I didn’t realize I was only two feet from the cup. It was a gift birdie,” he said. That gave him a 2-up lead with two holes to play.
After an excellent bunker shot, Brown had a chance to halve the 17th hole and end the match, but the putt slid past the left edge of the cup. On 18, he repeated with another great bunker play, again to four feet, and this time, he didn’t even have to make a stroke; Costanza couldn’t convert from 25 feet.
“After the missed putt on 17, I told myself not to make too much of it. You certainly don’t want to give him multiple chances. On 18, I had the wind in my face, and that helped slow it down. By hitting it close with the bunker shot, I put pressure on him and he had to go at it,” said Brown, who has qualified for 10 USGA events, including the past two U.S. Men’s Amateur Four-Ball Championships with partner Pete Barron of Stone Harbor, also an NJSGA Mid-Amateur champion.
In the semifinals, Brown defeated John Havay of High Bridge Hills, 5 and 4, while Costanza eliminated Troy Vannucci of Little Mill, 4 and 2.
Brown, 47, reached the final for the second time in three years, losing to four-time champion Trevor Randolph of Arcola in 2018.
In the morning semifinal, Brown counted three birdies in his victory over Havay, a co-medalist, including a 25-foot putt that conclude the match on the 14th hole.
“These greens are so perfect. If you feel good on them, you’re going to make some putts,” said Brown, 47, who earlier this season won the Pennsylvania Amateur. In past years, Brown, who spent seven years on the mini-tour circuit (1998-2005) has won the Philadelphia Open in 2010 and the Philly Mid-Am in 2009.
“In this tournament you have to get off to a good start in these matches, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing,” he said following the semifinal victory. Brown opened his match against Havay with triumphs on the first three holes, going par, par, birdie. He was never in trouble after that.
“I try not to take any lead for granted and try to build on it. Honestly, my match play record is terrible. Stroke play is better for me because it’s more of a marathon. In match play, it seems you have to go after it right out of the gate.”
Brown said for him, a key to success at North Jersey was “missing the ball in the right spots. I am putting myself in a place where I can make up-and-downs. My irons are solid and I’m driving it well.”
Brown was named the 2019 Pennsylvania Golf Association Amateur Player of the Year.
All things considered, after his one-stroke victory in the Pennsylvania Amateur with a 10-under-par 68-69-69-206 score at the Lookaway Golf Club, “I’m playing with house money, maybe for the rest of my life.”
Costanza collected three birdies in his semifinal victory over Vannucci. He was particularly happy with the birdie at the par-4, eighth hole, where he said, “the pin is tough there, diabolical, in the middle front. But I was fortunate, hitting it out of the rough from 135 yard. It landed short and rolled up to five feet.”
That victory provided a two-up lead that he followed with a par victory on the par-4, ninth hole.
“I figured some of the pins would be tough, as they should be with four good players out here,” said Costanza, who had an 8 and 6 quarterfinal victory over Jason Bataille of Neshanic Valley. “All of the placements are fair, but it is difficult just to get on the right side of the hole.”
“After my State Open victory, I said in my golfing career I wanted just one more major victory. To have two in the same season (the MGA Ike) I’ve already surpassed my goal,” he said.