MT. HOLLY, N.J.–Joe Russo of Running Deer GC carded an even-par 70 to take medalist honors in the first of two Middle-Amateur Championship qualifiers on Thursday at Burlington CC (par 70, 6,555 yards).
A field of 80 competed for the 33 available qualifying positions and eight alternate spots.
Russo, a 46-year-old police officer from Turnersville, N.J., carded a pair of even-par 35s on the front and back nines with two birdies (one on each side), two bogeys (one on each side) and 14 pars. His two under-par efforts came on No. 8 (par 4, 417 yards) and No. 10 (par 3, 137 yards).
“I played Burlington with a couple guys last week and the course played hard. I shot a 75,” said Russo, a corporal in the Washington Township police department. “I wanted to avoid the big numbers and maybe make a couple of birdies and get in the field. I usually play a lot more aggressive than I did today.”
It will be Russo’s first Golf Association of Philadelphia Middle-Amateur Championship.
A member of Wedgwood CC before moving to Running Deer GC this year, Russo never competed in GAP events before this spring. But that wasn’t a result of his game. He was a multiple-time club champion at Wedgwood CC and qualified for the U.S. Pub Links Championship last summer.
He credits a switch to the belly-putter for his early season success.
“My hands were in a different spot and I was upright [before] and … ,” said Russo, who holds a +1.5 Handicap Index, of his last conventional putter. “The belly-putter has given so much more confidence.”
He carded just 28 putts on Thursday.
The second and final Mid-Am Qualifier is set for next Thursday, May 13, at Doylestown CC.
The 21st Middle-Amateur Championship, the first Major of the season, is set for May 26-27 at Gulph Mills GC. The Mid-Am is for players 25 years of age and older.
A total of 132 players will play 18 holes on the first day. The field will then be cut to the low 70 players and ties for day two.
Rob Savarese, Jr. of Philadelphia Cricket Club is the defending champion.