Golf: Late entry wins Met Amateur at Laurel Links

Matt Mattare had not planned on being in Laurel for the Metropolitan Golf Association’s 115th Met Amateur Championship. Not only was he there, though, he was the last one left standing when it was all over.

“I didn’t plan on signing up for a qualifier because it’s so far out,” Mattare, 31, of Jersey City, N.J., said. “I don’t want to shell out like a thousand bucks for hotels. And it turns out I get the exemption, so I don’t have to do a qualifier. My buddy’s mother-in-law has a house in East Quogue, so that’s like a 15-, 20-minute drive, and suddenly I’m like, ‘All right, I’m in.’ Am I glad that happened.”

For good reason.

Mattare, a member of Darlington Golf Club in Mahwah, N.J., made his third appearance in the tournament a memorable one by winning it, 1-up over Bradley Lankler of Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club (Bedminster, N.J.), after 36 back-and-forth holes at Laurel Links Country Club Sunday.

“I did get a little bit of redemption here,” said Mattare, who was a runner-up in the tournament in 2012, reaching the round of 16 the following year. “It’s surreal. It feels great. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”

What did it take for Mattare to win the MGA’s oldest event?

Mattare played impressive, steady golf over four days and 122 holes on the par-71, 6,900-yard course. He won four of the first five holes, but the scrappy Lankler, 21, a Franklin & Marshall College graduate from Westfield, N.J., battled back, taking the match down to the final hole where Mattare calmly sank a three-foot putt for the victory. “At this level everybody is really good and it’s who makes the putts,” said Mattare.

Lankler said: “Matt played great golf. There’s just no ifs, ands or buts. You can’t take it away from him. It was a great match.”

With a huge smile and kudos for his caddy, Matt Czujko, a Mattituck High School sophomore, Mattare had no problem hoisting the trophy on Sunday afternoon. However, getting to that point wasn’t so easy.

Players must have a 5.0 handicap or less to enter the regional qualifying rounds. Of the 500-plus hopefuls participating this year, 38 golfers played well enough to make it to Laurel Links. The rest of the 61-player field was made up of players who had exemptions, giving them a free pass to participate in the event.

Day 1 consisted of 36-hole stroke play to determine the 16 match play qualifiers. The round of 16 and quarterfinals were played on Friday. The semifinal matches were played Saturday.

Laurel Links, designed by Kelly Blake Moran, opened for play in 2002. Moran, who attended the tournament, was asked about the course. “I did not envision it evolving into something this good and superintendent Bill Shufford has brought it to a new level,” he said.

The club has hosted two U. S. Open qualifiers, in 2007 and 2009, along with a U.S. Amateur Championship qualifying event in 2010.

Sixty-one golfers teed it up last Thursday for a chance to earn one of the 16 spots in the next round. Through 36 holes, no one was able to break par, a statement in itself about the challenging course. Four players came in at 143, one stroke over par.

The round of 16 started, literally, with a bang as early in the day an MGA official was hit in the head by a shot and had to be transported to a local hospital by ambulance. The morning offered exciting matches, eliminating eight golfers. The afternoon quarterfinals also provided drama with the match of the day belonging to James Nicholas and Ethan Ng. Nicholas rolled in a 12-foot putt on the 20th hole for the win. “That was a championship-caliber match,” he said.

One of Saturday’s 18-hole semifinals pitted Lankler against Nicholas. Lankler had his game on and won his match, 5 and 4. The second match featured two players with ties to Notre Dame University, with John Felitto squaring off against Mattare. It took 19 holes and a long birdie putt for Mattare to move on to the final.

Mattare, an executive with Morgan Stanley, attended Notre Dame, but wasn’t taken onto the team. He said the coach didn’t accept walk-ons.

“I’m very confident I could have played and contributed, but a lot of coaches don’t want walk-ons,” Mattare said. “To me that seems kind of silly. I wasn’t looking for money.”

Mattare has since proved himself. He recently won the Philadelphia Open and was runner-up in the Ike Championship. His victory on Sunday was special, having taken second in this event in 2012 at Hollywood Golf Club in New Jersey. “You never know whether you’re going to get another chance,” Mattare said. “To be able to make it back and get over the hump is an unbelievable feeling.”

With Bob Liepa

Photo caption: Matt Mattare pumps his fist after sinking a three-foot putt that clinched his first Met Amateur Championship title. (Credit: Bob Liepa)