Behind Individual Title From Rossi, Southern Boys Golf Team Snares Another County Crown
Coming off three solid rounds at the Palmetto High School Championship Tournament in South Carolina last week, Southern Regional golfer Caleb Rossi felt good about his chances of winning the Ocean County Tournament on Monday, April 17.
“I was very confident coming into the tournament today,” the junior said moments after finding out he captured the title with a 2-over-par 74 at Sea Oaks Country Club in Little Egg Harbor. “With the way I played down in Myrtle Beach, I felt like this tournament was mine to win, and if I was going to lose I would have to give it away. I was hitting well on the fairways in South Carolina, and I knew that if I hit the fairways well today I would have a good chance of winning.”
Beginning with the 10th hole during the shotgun start, Rossi stayed in the fairways well through the first nine, firing par on seven of the holes. The Rams’ No. 2 guy birdied on the 180-yard, par-3 14th, chipping in from the fringe, but he slipped back to even par for the back nine when he bogeyed the 435-yard, par-4 17th.
After going even on the 520-yard, par-5 first hole, Rossi stumbled a bit on the next two holes, bogeying both the 325-yard, par-4 second and the 310-yard, par-4 third. With six holes left to the tournament, Rossi bore down. He parred the rest of the way.
“I almost slipped up on the fifth and sixth holes,” he said. “I drove the ball right and landed in the woods a couple of times, but I managed to save par both times. I knew, at that point, I had to get on a par train or things could get really tight. But I’m satisfied with how things went today. I’m happy about winning the title because it’s been a focus of mine since last year, when I didn’t finish too well.”
Not surprisingly, Rossi was watchful of teammate and Rams’ senior Matt Rizzo, the defending tournament champion, catching him. But through 15 holes, Rizzo’s card had him at 5 over par.
“My putting was off today,” Rizzo said once he returned to the clubhouse. “Being the defending champion, I felt some pressure, and on my first few holes I was kind of shaken up a bit. I bogeyed four of the first five, and I just couldn’t two-putt to save my life.”
Going into the sixth hole at 4 over par, Rizzo birdied the sixth and parred the next three before entering the back nine. A bogey on the 365-yard, par-4 11th pushed Rizzo back to 4 over par, and he followed with three even-par holes before putting into more trouble on the final four. Rizzo ended up fourth overall with an 8-over-par 80.
“I was playing well the week before last, but I didn’t do too well in Myrtle Beach, and today I think I was just tired,” Rizzo said. “We’ve played a lot the past four days and my swing was tired. And then I couldn’t putt, so all that worked against me today.”
By winning the OCT, Rossi became Southern’s fifth straight individual champion. Jackson Fiel won three straight titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015, before Rizzo captured the crown last season.
As a team, the Rams won a fourth straight county title with a four-golfer score of 319. Junior Chris D’Alessandro finished right behind Rizzo in fifth with an 82, while junior Nick Campanelli placed eighth overall with an 83. Southern finished well ahead of second-place Toms River North (344) and third-place Central Regional (347). All four Rams qualified for next week’s Shore Conference Tournament, and the team should be in the hunt for a top-three spot.
“We definitely wanted to win the team title again today,” Campanelli said. “Individually, Caleb has been playing great, and the rest of us have had our moments of greatness so far. I’m in a little bit of a slump right now and Matt’s not playing his best at the moment, but I’m confident about what’s coming up. We haven’t put it all together for a tournament yet, but we’re expecting that to change soon.”
The Rams certainly will be able to draw from much of the tournament experience so far this season, particularly when they were in Myrtle Beach during spring break. After qualifying with an 81 at True Blue Golf Plantation, Rossi led the squad during the two-round tournament play with a 155, scoring a 76 at True Blue on April 14 and a 79 at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club. After qualifying with a 74, Campanelli fired back-to-back 81s for a 162 total.
“It was a blast and the experience was great for the team,” Rizzo said. “The courses were fantastic. We got to meet a whole bunch of new players from all over the country. And we did really well considering the tournament had 39 other top-notch teams. Two years ago when we were there, it was just to touch our toes in the water. This time, we wanted to show how well a New Jersey school can do.”
Also in the Ocean County Tournament, Pinelands Regional finished eighth as a team with a score of 380. Connor Carney, Austin Carney and Kayla Gutierrez each carded 94s, while Chris McGrotty finished with a 98. Barnegat, which finished 15th with a 463, was led by Maxwell Lares with a 108, while Kyle Smith and Garrett Majewski finished with scores of 116 and 117, respectively.
In the girls’ county tourney, played at Eagle Ridge Golf Club in Lakewood on April 17, Southern finished second with a team score of 440. Senior Haley Sprague tied for seventh with a 102, junior Mia Roslin carded a 109 to place 14th and senior Subah Soni recorded a 112 to tie for 15th with Barnegat’s Grace Rochette.