Mottolo second at SCT golf

MHS junior battles tough conditions for best-ever finish

By: Bob Nuse
   The conditions were far from ideal for a county golf championship. But Steve Mottola certainly made the best of it.
   Mottola, a junior at Montgomery High, shot a 77 on Monday at Raritan Valley Country Club. That score was good enough to finish second in the Somerset County Tournament, just one shot behind defending champion Brian Hart of Immaculata.
   "They were real difficult conditions on Monday," said Montgomery coach Charlie Olenick, whose team finished third, just three strokes behind four-time champion Immaculata. "It’s a real long golf course to begin with, and then with the rains we had the day before the greens were difficult and there was no roll at all.
   "There were only two players in the tournament who broke 80, and Steve was one of them. So he had a real good day in some tough conditions."
   After finishing in the top 10 at the SCT as a freshman, Mottola had a day he’d like to forget at Raritan Valley last year, shooting an 88. This year he rebounded and continued his solid play this year with a 5-over par score that included back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes.
   "I was pretty happy with the way I played," said Mottola, whose play has helped the Cougars to a 7-1 start as a team. "It’s the lowest score I’ve had there in the three years I’ve played the course. I was just making the shots I needed to make at the time. Everything just seemed to come together for me.
   "I had been playing pretty well coming into the tournament, so that gave me some confidence."
   Being confident in his own game is something Olenick thinks will help Mottola become an even better golfer as he gains experience. He has the physical tools, now he just needs to improve his mental approach.
   "He’s not an overly confident player," Olenick said. "Sometimes he seems to have that little bit of doubt, which he needs to get over. I think once he realizes he has the skills, he’ll start to shoot scores that will support his skills level.
   "He’s never one to brag about how he’s playing. Even (Monday), he thought after he put up that score that someone was going to beat him. He didn’t expect to win."
   But he sure came close. The performance came on the heels of two of his best 9-hole rounds of the season, as he shot 36 at Cherry Valley in a 185-224 win over North Warren, then shot 38 against South Hunterdon.
   "We set a school record with that 185 against North Warren," Mottola said. "So we were real happy with that. I think you always feel like you could have done better and maybe won it, but I don’t think we’re disappointed.
   "We lost by three strokes, so we were right there with a chance to win."
   In addition to the 77 from Mottola, Ryan Garofalo finished seventh with an 83. Steve Fischer’s 88 was good enough to finish in 18th place.
   "I’ve said all along that this is a good team," Olenick said. "They set the record for lowest stroke average last year and we lost our No. 3 player, Adam Day. But everyone else is back and has improved. It’s really starting to show.
   "We lost to Immaculata by 15 at the Cherry Valley tournament, and that was with just three scores counting in the team score. (Monday) with four scores counting, we lost to them by three. So we keep getting better and better."
   Eventually, the Cougars may even overtake Immaculata.
   "They graduate four seniors who have been on four straight county championship teams," Olenick said. "We haven’t reached their level yet, but we’re improving to the point where we’ll be a strong team going into the state tournament and (Skyland) conference tournament.
   "I think we’re improving all the time with this team."
   And on Monday, Mottola showed he’s already improved to the point where he’s one of the best golfers in Somerset County.