It was a moment former Central Regional golf coach Jon Grossman won’t soon forget, as then-CBA star Chris Gotterup drove the 19th green at Metedeconk National, a 416-yard dogleg left that open’s the Jackson Township club’s third nine, during the season-ending All-Star Challenge matches the club hosts for local high school players each spring.
“I’ve never seen anyone before or after do it, from the tips. It was crazy stuff,” Grossman said.
“Yup, I remember doing it,” said Gotterup, now 24. “I think there was a little wind helping me.”
Ryan McCormick, another Shore Conference champ, played in the event for the last time as a senior at Mater Dei in 2010, with his emergence marking the start of what has been a Golden Era for Jersey Shore golf.
“I remember it very well. It was always a really nice end to the spring season,” he said.
It all comes full circle next week when McCormick and Gotterup return to Metedeconk National for the $1 million Magnit Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour, where a good four days could go a long way towards securing a coveted 2024 PGA Tour card for each of them.
In addition, Gotterup’s former CBA teammate, Jack Wall, who won the N.J. Amateur title last month and is a rising senior at Texas Tech, will be playing on a sponsor’s exemption.
And there could be a fourth former Shore Conference champion in the field. Howell’s Dawson Jones, a two-time N.J. Amateur winner who finished all-square in a singles match against Gotterup at the 2015 All-Star Challenge, will play in a Monday qualifier for the Magnit, having picked up his first professional victory – he turned pro late last year – at the Greater Cedar Rapids Open in Iowa 10 days ago.
“When I look back on those events, it just shows how good the players were in the area. Some of the best competition we had was locally,” Jones said.
“I think we kind of took it for granted a little bit,” Gotterup said. “Our high school team, we had five or six guys who played Division I golf. And not just CBA. There was Dawson and some other big-time guys. It was kind of engrained in us you had to go play good to win.”
Now a banner crop of local golfing talent is making an impact at the highest levels of the sport.
“It’s a brutal thing … ”
McCormick, 31, a Middletown native and former Big East champion at St. John’s, has been on the verge of breaking through for three years. He enters this week’s event in Omaha, Nebraska ranked 23rd on the Korn Ferry points list, with the top 20 earning their PGA Tour cards for the 2024 season. He has two straight top-10 finishes, including a third two weeks ago, missing a playoff by a shot after opening with a career-best 60.
It’s a situation he knows all too well. Two years ago he was in position but contracted COVID-19 and missed the final event of the season, before finishing 28th a year ago.
“It’s a brutal thing to be that close,” he said, “but I think truly I am much better off now than if I had made the Tour because I don’t think my game would have held up as good as it would now. Last year, having come so close, my putting was the thing that kept me from getting to Tour last year, and that’s what I worked on all offseason.
“This version of me this year is the best version of me in my golfing life. While it certainly hurt at the time, without those couple of experiences I probably don’t look further within and get to the place I’m at now.”
This season McCormick is eighth among Korn Ferry players in putts-per-round, up from 112th a year ago, and third in total birdies after ranking 37th in 2022. He’s won $240,626 this year, and bankrolled $656,695 during his time on the tour.
“Tougher than I thought”
To say 2022 was a whirlwind for Gotterup would be an understatement. After starring at Rutgers for four years, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors in 2021, he transferred to Oklahoma for his COVID season and picked up the 2022 Haskins Award as the top player in college golf.
He then went out and won $586,159 on the PGA Tour playing on sponsor’s exemptions, making the cut in 10 of 13 events, and making the cut at the U.S. Open.
But the Little Silver native’s first full season on the Korn Ferry Tour has been a mixed bag. He’s won $197,094, and is third in driving distance at 323.8 yards and second in total birdies, with a pair of top-5 finishes. But he’s 37th on the points list and needs some good performances down the stretch.
“It’s been tougher than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “Everyone was telling me how I was going to be on the PGA Tour next year, but I have so much respect for these guys out here now and how hard it is. I think it’s harder to put together four rounds out here than four really good rounds on the big tour just because out here you have to shoot 26 under to win. That’s almost 7-under every round.
“I fully expect to go out and play well the next few weeks. But I also wouldn’t be the first person ever to play Korn Ferry next year and have a chance to do it next year. I’d love to play great the next few weeks but I’m not going to beat myself up. If I go out and play good and finish 31st, I finish 31st.”
Didn’t add up
Last year at this time, Jones, who played at Rhode Island, was working as an accountant, having put away his clubs two years earlier, when he decided it was time to make a change.
“The big thing was I was not liking the job and I was actually looking for something else,” he said. “And then an opportunity came up that allowed me this opportunity, and I had always wanted to play pro golf.”
The fact that Gotterup was having such success while he was crunching numbers also factored into the decision.
“That’s a good example of like, ‘I used to play against him,’ “ Jones said. “I played against him a lot and I think I can play against him. Obviously he hits it really far and stuff like that, but it’s a confidence boost through someone like that. It’s like a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Jones picked up his first pro victory two weeks ago, banking the $30,000 winner’s share at the Greater Cedar Rapids Open, before qualifying for the MET Open earlier this week. And he’s been at Fairmount Country Club in Chatham Monday trying to grab one of eight spots available in the Magnit field.
McCormick has traveled the world playing golf for nearly a decade, including time on the Asian PGA Tour. So it will be nice to finally play a competitive round at the Jersey Shore again.
“It will be awesome to be able to share some of the things that I know growing up at the Shore with some of my friends out here on the Tour,” he said. “Just kind of showing them what is home for me, where they should be staying, where they should eat.
“I’ve been looking forward to this all year. I have so many family and friends who support me, so it will be great for them to see me play.”
In Gotterup’s last local competitive round, he was the medalist at local U.S. Open qualifying at Hollywood last year.
“Next week will be a culmination for all the people who root for me and support me, whether it’s Rumson (Country Club), Rutgers, Oklahoma, or just New Jersey in general. All the people who had an impact on me.
“So I am definitely excited but nervous, too. It’s an important week for me with everything that is at stake, along with all the extra stuff that is involved in it.”
If you go
What: Magnit Championship
Where: Metedeconk National, Jackson
When: Aug. 17-20.
Tickets: Daily tickets are $25; Four-day tickets are $75; Children 17 and under are admitted free when accompanied by a ticketed adult; First responders and military (active, retired, reserve, veteran) are admitted free. Tickets are available at the main entrance, or on the Magnit Championship website.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: PGA Tour: Former Shore golf champs ready for Korn Ferry event