LITTLE EGG HARBOR – Standing in the clubhouse at Sea Oaks Golf Club as the final scores trickled in at the Ocean County Tournament, Southern Regional boys’ golf coach Jeff Reilly couldn’t hide how proud he was of his team.
“I really believe this is the hardest working team in the state,” he said. “They love to compete. They love to practice. They have a lot of pride.”
What transpired over a five-hour period on the 6,330-yard test Monday certainly gave credence to his sentiments.
Senior Jackson Fiel, the Rams’ leader, won the individual title for the third straight year, posting an even-par 72 for a four-shot victory over teammate Matt Rizzo, a sophomore.
And when you factored in a 79 by freshman Caleb Rossi and an 80 by senior Chase Clark, the Rams’ total of 307 was 21 shots better than second place Toms River North as they captured the Handchen Cup for the second straight year.
“That’s the best this team has played, but I can’t say I’m surprised,” Fiel said.
For Fiel, the performance was a continuation of his dominance in Ocean County since he took his first title as a sophomore at Westlake Country Club.
“It’s just very special to win this for a third time,” he said. “From the moment I stepped off the course in this tournament last year, that was the goal.”
If nothing else, Fiel showed his resourcefulness on this day, struggling off the tee but managing to recover time after time.
Starting on the tenth hole, Fiel insured it would be a wire-to-wire victory by rolling in a four-foot birdie putt to get things going. He got to 2-under-par when he needed just a 9-iron to reach the green in two on the par-5, 16th hole, two-putting for birdie.
He gave two shots back with a double-bogey on No. 17, but quickly got back into red numbers with a tap-in birdie on the first hole. He got back to 2-under by rolling in a five-foot birdie putt on No. 6, and stayed there when his 15-foot par-saving putt on the next hole dropped.
After a bogey on his next-to-last hole, Fiel closed his round with a tremendous bogey, rolling in a 20-footer from the fringe after his tee shot went out-of-bounds on the par-5.
Fiel will take on the best from Monmouth County at next Tuesday’s Shore Conference Tournament at Eagle Ridge in Lakewood, where he won last year’s OCT. Fiel finished fifth at last year’s SCT at Charleston Springs in Millstone.
Rizzo, who carded four birdies on the day, was actually within two shots of Fiel with four holes remaining, but was unable to close the gap.
“I hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of green, and managed to make some putts,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Rams opened their season by competing against a strong field at The Palmetto in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It was an event that appears to have made them stronger as a team, both on and off the course.
“That trip did a lot for us,” Reilly said. “It was good for team bonding and we played a ton of golf together. We also learned about the value of par. The team that beat us by 20 shots had as many birdies as we did. But they made significantly more pars and avoided the big numbers.”
Staff writer Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @SteveEdelsonAPP
Team (Shore Conference Tournament qualifiers) : 1. Southern 307; 2. TR North 328; 3. Jackson Memorial 329; 4. Jackson Liberty 331; 5. Brick 365; 6. Central 370.
Individuals: 1. Jackson Fiel (Southern) 72; 2. Matt Rizzo (Southern) 76; 3. tie, Shawn Meyer (Brick), Jared Mullin (Jackson Memorial) 78; 5. tie, Cole Moskal (Jackson Liberty), Caleb Rossi (Southern), Andrew Jeans (TR North), Marc Dempsey (New Egypt) 79; 9. tie, Danny Lee (TR North), Shane Askew (Central), Chase Clark (Southern) 80; 12. Kevin Holland (TR North) 81; 13. Zan Ahmad (Jackson Memorial) 82; 14. Cody Cito (Jackson Liberty) 83; 15. tie, Kevin Santino (Jackson Liberty), Tim Sharp (Jackson Memorial), Tim Blomgren (New Egypt) 84; 18. tie, Mike Spino (Jackson Memorial), Brandon Grosso (Jackson Liberty), Troy Rice (Central) 85; 21. tie, Patrick Carney (Manchester), Gabe Christiansen (Barnegat) 86; 23. Mike Nelson (Jackson Memorial) 87; 24. Brian Majka (TR North) 88.