As a sophomore at Sayreville War Memorial High School in 2017, Joe Phillips did not enter the boys’ golf season as a starter.
But as the season continued, Phillips worked harder and harder on his game, in team practices and on his own time. Later in the year, Sayreville coach Tommy McCloskey needed a new starter.
He tapped Phillips. The sophomore gave the Bombers a solid third or fourth score each time out. He even ended up helping Sayreville qualify for the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament.
Based on Phillips’ perseverance as a sophomore, McCloskey named him a captain as a junior in 2018. He again helped the Bombers reach the state sectional tournament.
Going into his senior campaign in 2019, Phillips wants to lead Sayreville back to the state sectional tournament. But the captain also hopes to accomplish something on his own.
Sayreville has not had an NJSIAA individual tournament qualifier since Joe Beselinoff in 2010. Phillips will try to end that drought this spring.
To make the state tournament, he needs to score 4-over par or lower six times by May 1.
The Bombers will open their season on April 1 in the Wall Invitational at Jumping Brook Country Club in Neptune City.
“I had one round at under 40 last year,” Phillips said. “I would like a few more this year.”
As a team, Sayreville won the Greater Middlesex Conference’s White Division last spring. Besides Phillips, two other starters, Nick Lugos and Tom Evans, are back from that team.
Lugos, Phillips’ co-captain, spent the summer living with his aunt on an Arizona golf course. He walked out his back door and played every day under the bright sunshine.
It made a huge difference.
“He got into a zone,” McCloskey said. “I expect him to be mentally tough and consistent for all nine holes.”
In 2019, the senior is shooting for a 39-40 average and a state tournament appearance of his own.
“I just have to minimize three putts,” he said.
Evans is an ice hockey player who plays golf with the same aggressive mentality. He can drive the ball almost 300 yards.
“It’s a great sound and sight, a low, screaming draw,” McCloskey said.
The senior also has a smooth touch on the greens. Even if he putts the ball a few feet past the hole, he can make a comeback shot.
“He’s like Happy Gilmore, to be honest,” said McCloskey, referencing Adam Sandler’s famous 1996 movie character.
Sayreville has a strong top three. It also has two other promising golfers in senior Scott Mish and sophomore Ben Herrick.
Mish is a three-sport athlete at Sayreville, in football, wrestling and golf. Even during the fall and winter seasons, he made time after practices to work on his golf swing. McCloskey is confident that the practice will pay off this spring.
“He would actually travel to our workouts a couple towns away from school,” the coach said. “Scott is dedicated.”
Herrick started some matches as a freshman last year and “probably sleeps with his clubs,” McCloskey said.
“He loves the game and has a promising future,” he added.
Sayreville’s team may have a bright future, too.
“If we can consistently shoot the scores we got last year, there’s no reason we can’t be competitive in every match,” McCloskey said. “The kids have high expectations.”