New Jersey golfers Brian Komline, Mike Stamberger and Niall Handley may hold a home-state advantage, but it’s their fresh familiarity with Galloway National Golf Club that could push this team past their competitors when the USGA Men’s State Team Championship is contested Sept. 18-21.
On May 1, the New Jersey State Golf Association conducted its 29th Mid-Amateur championship at none other than Galloway National Golf Club. Komline, Stamberger and Handley each competed, learning the ins and outs of the Tom Fazio design during the match-play competition. Komline defeated Stamberger, a two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur quarterfinalist, in the championship match, while Handley was eliminated in the semifinals by Komline.
The Garden State trio was selected by using the New Jersey State Golf Association’s Player of the Year points list, in which (as of Aug. 30) Komline holds the No. 2 standing, with Stamberger and Handley trailing closely behind at spots four and five. Players currently on a college team are ineligible, per NCAA rules, to compete in the Men’s State Team Championship, which consists of three-man teams from 49 states (Hawaii is not fielding a team), the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Handley is the newcomer of the group, although his accolades are not lacking. Originally from Ireland, Handley came to the United States in 1993 originally to play soccer, but later turned his attention to golf at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Handley’s golf résumé include: Essex Fells Country Club champion in 2011 and 2012, 2011 Metropolitan Golf Association Mid-Amateur champion, 2011 Bergen County Amateur champion, and Northeastern Conference Player of the Year in 1994 and 1995.
Now residing in West Caldwell, N.J., Handley’s hometown will play host to the USGA Senior Amateur Sept. 29-Oct. 4 at Mountain Ridge Country Club.
It’s easy to see why Stamberger was chosen to represent his state. The Brielle resident’s accomplishments in New Jersey golf speak for themselves. The 40-year-old has taken the titles of the Metropolitan Golf Association Amateur in 2003, the Bergen County Amateur in 2004, and the NJSGA Mid-Amateur in 2008, just to name a few. USGA championships are also nothing new for the 2011 NJSGA Player of the Year, who has appeared in four U.S. Mid-Amateurs, with his appearance at the 2012 Mid-Am at Conway Farms in suburban Chicago bringing his total to five.
And then there’s Komline, whose name is awfully familiar to those who populate the New Jersey golf arena. The Bridgewater resident’s most recent victory on the NJSGA circuit came May 3, when he defeated Stamberger, 3 and 2, to win the 2012 NJSGA Mid-Amateur championship at Galloway National.
Adding the Mid-Amateur win to his already impressive list of accomplishments may have seemed like another notch on the 38-year-old’s belt, but this wasn’t just any win to add to the list. After securing his Mid-Amateur win, Komline became the first player in the state's history to have captured all five NJSGA major championships — the Open, Amateur, State Public Links, Four-Ball and now Mid-Amateur. Consider it New Jersey’s own spin on the career Grand Slam.
Komline and Stamberger are the veterans of the team this year, playing in their third Men’s State Team Championship, while Handley’s appearance for the New Jersey team will mark the first USGA competition.
Handley is enthused not only to play in his first USGA event, but to represent the Garden State while doing so.
"I can’t wait! I’ve been hearing so much from the guys about it all week, just how much fun it is and how much of an honor it is to represent your state, so I’m really looking forward to it," said Handley.
When asked if he had any advice for the USGA novice, Komline quickly stated that he has complete trust in Handley’s unwavering confidence. Recalling his collegiate days with Handley at Fairleigh Dickinson, Komline said, "Niall and I have known each other for a long time and I know he’s very capable of playing great golf anytime he tees it up. I think you can have some nerves that kind of hold you back at your first USGA event, but he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t get too nervous out there, or at least he doesn’t show it, so I don’t anticipate him having any problems at Galloway.
"Niall just kind of free wheels it and goes out there and plays hard and never really worries about his score. So I think he’s going to do great."
But the real master of experience on this team lies with New Jersey’s true veteran, honorary caption Bob Housen. "We rarely have an honorary team captain but since we’re playing on home turf this year, we decided to pull out the big guns," said NJSGA president Tom McGovern, when he spoke at media day for the Men’s State Team on Aug. 28.
Housen represented the Garden State in the inaugural Men’s State Team Championship in 1995 at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla., where New Jersey finished tied for 12th place. New Jersey’s best finish is a T-4 in 2001 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
Since the New Jersey trio has recently acquainted themselves with the greens at Galloway, they know where to hit the ball without getting themselves into too much trouble on the challenging Fazio-designed greens.
"You have to be very precise around here. When the holes get tucked in some positions and on top of some shelves you really have to try to keep your ball in the right section of the green. So for me it’s going to be a lot of picking my numbers and picking my spots and realizing where I can miss the ball and still have a putt, or at least be able to 2 putt, rather than have some tremendous putt that’s not going to be able to keep on the green," said Komline, a member of Black Oak Golf Club.
For Handley, the key to success will rest on his capacity to drive the ball long and straight. The greens are huge with big undulations on them, so it’s very important to hit it well and pick your spots on the greens so you’re getting it into the right quadrants. But you have to have the ability to drive the ball well to be able to do that.
According to Stamberger, it’s as simple as starting off on the right foot. "You have to get off to a good start, especially when you’re playing on a team. Sometimes when you’re playing well it kind of takes the pressure off, but if you’re not, then you have to keep grinding it out for your team," said Stamberger who plays out of Spring Lake Golf Club.
But with course knowledge on their side, could there be some added pressure for the home team?
"Geez I hope not!" laughed Komline, whose cousin, Devin, will play for Vermont.
One thing Komline and Stamberger know from their USGA experience, the course setup will be challenging.
"When you’re in a USGA event - whether it’s the State Team, Amateur or Mid-Amateur - everyone who’s coming here to compete is going to be a good player," said Komline. "So in terms of added pressure, it’s still a USGA event and you know you have to be on your A-game, play your best, and at the end of the day, you add up the scores and hope that you were better than the rest."
The format for the competition is 54 holes with the two best scores counted each day for the team total.
Added Komline: "The way I’m looking at it, I’m very confident that we have three of the best players in the state and we have the ability to win the tournament."
Kelly O’Shea is the USGA’s summer online intern. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.