Feature by Kurt Svoboda
The Harvard men's golf team started its 2009 fall season with an impressive fifth-place performance at The McLaughlin, hosted by St. John's University at the Bethpage Red Course.
Vineyard Haven, Mass. native Tony Grillo helped the Crimson in its showing by logging at 18th-place finish in the 93-player field. Grillo, a sophomore, prepped for the season by competing over the summer and qualifying for the USGA National Amateur Championships at the Southern Hills Country Club and Cedar Ridge Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
"Qualifying for a USGA event is one of my goals every summer," said Grillo. "Playing in state and regional events are fun and competitive, but a USGA field is the toughest of the year as an amateur golfer. Just being able to stack up your scores against the best in the country is a huge confidence builder."
Grillo, citing hard work last spring and throughout the summer, will look for improved results in future events after logging a day one score of 77 and a second day finish of 81 in stroke play.
Playing in a field of 311 competitors, Grillo did not have far to look for friendly faces on the course - his father served as his caddie.
"Whenever he told me to just play (or if I told him to put the yardage guide away) I started to play with more confidence," said Grillo. "I learned that my game isn't far from allowing me to play at that stage more often."
Grillo recalls three memories from the event: A rocky start put him 3-over par through just two holes on the first day and a bad approach shot put him seemingly in trouble on the third as it bounced towards some water.
"I looked up at my dad who had one of the most worried faces I've ever seen," joked Grillo. "I smiled at him, told him to laugh and talk. I got a lucky break as my ball bounced over a creek and ended up going on my best run of the tournament."
When Mr. Grillo wasn't caddying for his son, the younger Grillo found a caddie for his practice rounds in former Crimson teammate John Christensen '09.
Grillo's second memory was even more uplifting even as he realized his tournament was over.
"I came off the 18th green on day two about as disappointed as I could've been," conceded Grillo. "After I came out of the scorer's tent a little boy named Mason came up to me and asked me for my autograph. I laughed as I looked up at his dad who said, ‘You may not be on tour, but I have a feeling we'll be hearing about you down the road.' I don't think there could have been a better way to put a smile on my face."
The other 18th hole at the tournament - at Southern Hills - was the one Grillo tabbed as his course favorite. "Tiger (Woods) hit an amazing shot here in the 2007 PGA Championship that was very fun to try and reenact.
Hi most memorable shot? It was a put that signified an impressive short game that Grillo has brought to Harvard and its fabled The Country Club. "My best shot was a putt on 15 at Southern Hills to save par. It was across the green down a huge hill, and barely trickled in the hole."
Grillo was joined on the USGA National Amateur Championship circuit by Claire Sheldon - who will be featured next week.
"It means a lot to Harvard golf to have players playing in the event, but the truth is we are very capable of having multiple teammates play in it," said Grillo. "Last year Louis (Amira) qualified, and we easily could have had two or three this year. Hopefully we'll see it in years to come."