Jack Irons lives in Naples, Fla., but loves spending his summers up north to play golf at Little Mill Country Club in Medford Lakes, N.J., and compete in local tournaments.
The 19-year-old Irons is taking advantage of this year’s trip by quietly working his way through the bracket and reaching the final of the BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship with a 3-and-2 semifinal victory Wednesday over defending champion Zach Barbin at Cedarbrook Country Club.
In Saturday’s 36-hole championship match, Irons will take on Conor McGrath, 21, a senior-to-be at Temple who posted a 3-and-2 win over Morgan Lofland, a Conestoga High School graduate who will enter his freshman year at Penn State later this summer.
The soft-spoken Irons, who was born in Philadelphia before his family moved to Medford Lakes and then to Naples “10 or 15 years ago,” has had famed instructor Jim McLean as a swing coach since he was 13. But he also has taught himself how to tweak his own swing when needed.
“I’ve learned my swing on my own just coming up here because I don’t have a coach,” he said. “I don’t have anyone for six months. So I’ve learned about my golf swing and how to correct it on my own. I think that’s really helped me.”
Irons took the lead in his match against Barbin, 21, a graduate of Liberty University who plays out of Loch Nairn Golf Club, on the fourth hole and never relinquished it. A key moment came at the par-5 12th where Irons punched out for his second shot and then had to figure out how to get over a tree on his line for his third, with Barbin on in two.
Irons said he hit an “open-faced 8-iron” over the tree and on the green, 4 ½ feet away. The hole was halved with birdies and Irons retained a 2-up lead, and he closed the match out with a par at No. 16.
Barbin played 105 holes in three days on an injured ankle which he hurt about 10 days ago while dancing at a wedding reception.
“I wasn’t necessarily going to play at the beginning of the week because of it,” he said. “To come out and finish as a semifinalist, not too much more you can ask for. Jack closed the match out real well.”
McGrath, of Huntingdon Valley, won three straight holes — 8, 9 and 10 — to take control of his match against the 18-year-old Lofland, turning a 1-down deficit into a 2-up lead. Lofland cut the deficit to one hole at No. 12, but McGrath came back with wins at 13 and 15 and advanced with a par at 16.
“I definitely felt like I started to catch my groove a little bit,” McGrath said of the three-hole run, “and started playing well, building up my confidence a little bit. Once I got that lead, I just focused on trying to keep our foot down on the pedal.”