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Mets' Jeff McNeil has deep love for the game of golf

Jeff McNeil had it all planned out, back before the Mets season started and before he led the National League in batting through the nominal first half. He was going to spend the All-Star break either on the familiar golf courses near his California home or on the Long Island fairways and greens that he is enthusiastically getting to know.

The plans were scuttled, of course, because he was unexpectedly such a smash that he got to play in the All-Star Game. That was the latest major change of pace in an interesting sporting life. The teenage Jeff McNeil never envisioned himself spending two days in July among baseball’s elite. He had pictured himself preparing for the British Open, among golf’s elite.

A former participant in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, he still is a golf aficionado and a scratch player. And he recently savored a couple tastes of Long Island’s best, Bethpage Black and Glen Oaks.

Because he does not play much golf during the season and never on game days (every Met knows the controversial links saga of Yoenis Cespedes) the new All-Star was a bit out of practice when he played the Black a few weeks after the PGA Championship. So, he was thrilled to have shot 74.

“It was awesome. Extremely long and tough and narrow. It was an amazing course,” McNeil said. “I played pretty well. The rough wasn’t as long as when they were playing it [in the PGA]. It was tough, though. The greens are small but they’re really fair, not too undulating. I enjoyed it.”

His highest praise, however, went to Glen Oaks, the club in Old Westbury that hosted the 2017 Northern Trust FedEx Cup playoff tournament. “That place was unbelievable. It had an Augusta feel,” he said. “A lot of the approach shots, you can see Augusta National in it — uphill, false fronts, the way the bunkering is. I loved it.

“It’s definitely in my top five favorite courses of all time,” he said, adding that he couldn’t resist taking on the same water hazard that Dustin Johnson boldly cleared to beat Jordan Spieth in a playoff. McNeil and his group — including hitting coach Chili Davis and pitcher Jason Vargas — played from forward tees, so his drive didn’t require a 300-yard carry, but he did put his shot near where Johnson’s landed.

McNeil later texted superintendent Craig Currier with compliments on the course. "I was blown away by that," Currier said. "He's from California and he's played some great ones. You could tell that guy can play golf. I saw him hit some shots on the range. He's pretty pure."

At Nipomo (Calif.) High School, McNeil played more for the golf team than for the baseball squad. He switched sports in his senior year after he saw that college golf scholarship offers were not forthcoming. He was good, but not quite in the same realm as Spieth, the champion of the 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J. McNeil still is proud of having been in the field that week.

The future Met had qualified by finishing fourth among 96 in a sectional at Stanford University.  He was so serious about his golf in those days that he persuaded his mom, Rebecca, to drive him at 3 a.m. so he could make his 8:20 tee time. Weeks later at Bedminster, he did not make it through stroke play into the match-play phase that featured Spieth and Smithtown’s Jim Liu. Not that there was any shame in missing the cut. McNeil finished only one shot behind Daniel Berger, who has since won twice on the PGA Tour.

If there were an All-Star team of Major League Baseball’s golfers, McNeil would be on that. He said his handicap in the offseason usually improves to a plus-2. He added that some of his teammates have game, noting that Vargas is a low-single-digit handicap.

McNeil would be perfectly happy spending every All-Star break playing baseball. But if other opportunities arise…“I want to go to Shinnecock,” he said, “if I have time to see it.”

Rosenberg raises game

Jennifer Rosenberg of Laurel Hollow and Glen Oaks Club, who reached the finals of the 2015 Drive, Chip and Putt competition at Augusta National and won the 2017 Nassau girls high school championship with a record score, took the next huge step in her burgeoning career Thursday. She won the New York State Women’s Amateur in Buffalo, defeating Chelsea Dantonio of Winthrop University on the second hole of a playoff.

Rosenberg, a Cold Spring Harbor graduate, rising junior at Tulane and member of the All-American Athletic Conference team this spring, shot 2 under par in the 54-hole event. She finished fourth last week among professionals and top amateurs in the Women’s Met Open.

Outing

Pete’s Golf in Mineola will celebrate its 40th anniversary by hosting a charity tournament for Donate Life on  July 29 at Wheatley Hills Golf Club in East Williston. Details are at petesgolf.com.

ACES

Alex Wagman, Old Westbury Bluegrass, third hole, 150 yards, 7-iron

Robin Brennan, Northport GC, seventh hole, 145 yards, 7-iron

Joe Irwin, Island’s End G&CC, 16th hole, 190 yards, 4-iron

Nick D’Auria, Pine Ridge GC, seventh hole, 120 yards, pitching wedge

Mark Roder, Garden City CC, second hole, 185 yards, 6-iron

Bob Gebbia, Spring Lake GC Sandpiper, sixth hole, 135 yards, 9-iron

Matthew Rich, Bethpage Green, 3rd hole, 160 yards, 8-iron

Kevin Kelly, Heatherwood GC, 15th hole, 125 yards, 9-iron

Jeff Burke, Sumpwams Creek GC, second hole, 124 yards, pitching wedge

Dennis Gargano, Sumpwams Creek GC, first hole, 90 yards, gap wedge

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