Three Years On, O’Malley Still Recovering From Sandy September 27, 2015 | Egg Harbor Township, N.J. By Tom Mackin

John O'Malley's struggles in his USGA championship debut pale in comparison to the challenges he faced after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Senior Amateur Home

John O’Malley wasn’t happy missing the cut on Sunday after rounds of 81-76 in his first-ever USGA championship. But the only Jersey Shore resident in the U.S. Senior Amateur field has a different perspective on golf after surviving Hurricane Sandy three years ago.

The 63-year-old is a longtime resident of Mantoloking, a small town located on a barrier island in Monmouth County, 70 miles south of New York City.

As the storm began to hit with full force on that Sunday in late October 2012, O’Malley was still at his condominium in The Ocean Club, a 110-unit complex less than 50 yards from the Atlantic Ocean.

“I live on the second floor, and I looked out at the bay to the west and it was kind of high, but not too bad,” he recalled. “But as the day went on, waves started coming down the sides of the building. Then I saw a telephone pole go by. It was a like a surfboard riding the wave.”

Why did he stay so long? “We had a bunch of storms before and they just blew over,” said O’Malley. “But this was pretty bad. Around 4:30 p.m., the police gave me 15 minutes to get out, and I left with just the clothes on my back and a cellphone.”

O’Malley didn’t comprehend the extent of the damage until he saw televised helicopter coverage over the following days. “It was mind-boggling. A client of mine lived across the bay. He had a telescope pointed right at our complex and it looked like it was all on fire. Then we saw it on television the next day and it hadn’t actually burned down.”

Access to the island was severely limited in the weeks following the storm.

School buses transported residents back to retrieve what they could. “I made six trips in one day with some friends to get my stuff because you were only allowed to bring out what you could carry,” said O’Malley. “We got everything out, including three sets of golf clubs.”

Every unit on the first floor of his complex was wiped out and 68 homes in the nearby Camp Osborn neighborhood burned down. “Once the wind shifted we had five days of that blowing into our complex, and some stuff melted from the heat.”

There wasn’t much golf after that. “I just had to get reorganized,” said O’Malley, who lived with his father in nearby Lakewood until early 2014. “I didn’t have anything. You had to start all over again. That took a good 16 months out of my life.”

O’Malley, who grew up in Old Bridge and East Brunswick, came to competitive golf late in life, eventually winning club championships at Battleground Country Club in Manalapan Township. Currently a member of Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township, he is on the board of directors for the Society of Seniors, a nationwide organization for golfers 55 and older with handicap of 3 or better. The 900-member group includes every U.S. Senior Amateur champion.

O’Malley qualified for this championship at White Manor Country Club in Malvern, Pa. “I shot 74 in the morning and felt pretty good that I made the cut. I took a shower, ate lunch and figured I would drive home and go back to work. Then a Golf Association of Philadelphia official came by and suggested I hang around.  Seven-and-a-half hours later I was in a playoff with six guys for four spots. I got in on the first hole.”

O’Malley, who worked as ironworker for 35 years and has run Ocean View Title Agency in nearby Brielle for the past 11 years, says the affected areas will never be the same.

“There are a lot of people who are second, third and fourth generation and had the big houses that got washed away. They’re not coming back. They’re all trying to sell the lots, and many have been sold.” 

Plans call for a new dune system to be built along the beach, and O’Malley’s complex now has a steel sea wall fronting the ocean. But the wrangling with insurance companies over claims continues, as does the rebuilding process.

“Everything had to be ripped out in my apartment due to mold,” said O’Malley. “Thank God my building was so big. Each floor was made of concrete but the walls were all sheet rock. And all the wiring had to be redone.”

One silver lining from Sandy is that it makes missed putts seem less important. “When you have nothing and feel like a vagabond, well I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” he said. “Let’s just say I enjoy golf a lot more after that.”

Despite the storm, O’Malley isn’t going anywhere.

“I’m a Jersey Shore guy; I like looking out at the ocean and having the doors open and hearing it at night,” said O’Malley. “That’s what I do. It’s home. I don’t think if I lived in the woods that I would do too good.” 

New Jersey native Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.

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