ORADELL, N.J. — Benjamin Smith is on the verge of making history in the New Jersey Open.
Smith took a major step toward becoming the first amateur to win the state’s biggest golf tournament in consecutive years on Wednesday, shooting his second straight 4-under 67 to grab a four-shot lead after two rounds of the 54-hole event at the Hackensack Golf Club.
The 26-old Voorhees resident had a two-shot lead going into the final round of last year’s event, and he recalled being confident the night before his first major win in the state.
“I was sitting in a friend’s house in Brick and I remember sleeping on the lead, and I was with him and his dad in the house and I’m saying: ‘I’m going to win tomorrow,”’ Smith recalled. “I was like I have gotten second a couple of times and tomorrow I’m winning. I guess my mindset should be I’m going to win tomorrow.”
Smith had six birdies, including three in a row on the back nine, in opening a big lead over Graham Dendler, a 41-year-old assistant pro at Trenton Country Club whose biggest win was the Philadelphia Open in 2005.
“It’s fun for me to compete,” said Smith, who has a 36-hole total of 8-under 134, just one 11 scores under par. “I have never had the goal of being a professional golfer and doing it as a living. I don’t know if I am good enough actually. Obviously if I play my best and Rory McIlroy plays his worst, I think I can beat him at his worst. But day in and day out, obviously, I don’t think i can do it.”
Dendler, who is playing in his first state Open after seven years at Trenton, had a second-round 68.