As the 111th champion of the Massachusetts Amateur, Steven DiLisio now stands in the select company of the state’s greatest players.
He may not yet rang among all-time greats such as Francis Ouimet, Fred Wright, Jesse Guilford, Ted Bishop, Bill Mallon, Jim Hallett, Frank Vana and James Driscoll, among others, but give DiLisio time.
How the Salem Country Club junior member and Swampscott resident will use that record-setting victory (shooting 21-under par golf spanning seven rounds) at The Country Club as a springboard to future accomplishment remains to be seen.
The 21-year-old Duke University senior and former St. John’s Prep ace has made it no secret that he wishes to pursue a career as a professional golfer. It’s a longshot at this stage, but based on his evolution as a champion golfer to this point, it could indeed become a reality.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound DiLisio has experienced the kind of sacrificing, considerate, loving upbringing from parents Dana and Cheryl that is crucial in the development of a potentially successful professional golfer. It is the first key ingredient in what makes one young man able to break through the logjam of hundreds of talented players like himself who annually seek their fortune in the game they love, usually post-college — and to which they have committed their lives.
Several years ago DiLisio, the third generation of a prominent North Shore golfing family, made the daunting commitment himself to make golf — after his blue-chip education (St. John’s Prep, Phillips Exeter, Duke) the top priority in his life. That has meant a great deal of sacrifice on his own part, when most of his contemporaries are enjoying a much more well-rounded entry into adulthood.
But that’s the life and career-goal choice he has made with his parents’ blessing and unwavering support. And this is where he stands as he competes this week in the Francis Ouimet Memorial locally, then moves on to his second straight United States Amateur at Pinehurst Aug. 12-18 at the famed Pinehurst resort, 77 miles from his Duke University campus in Durham.
Paul MacDonald has enjoyed a unique perspective into DiLisio’s evolution as a player of enormous potential and accomplishment. As a long-time friend, neighbor and golf chum of Dana DiLisio, he has observed that dynamic growth up close.
“His was a natural swing from the first time I saw him with a club in his hand, maybe when he was 6,” MacDonald, 56, a current member at Tedesco and a former member at Larry Gannon, recalled. “I thought he might go somewhere if he got interested in the game.”
How could DiLisio not? His dad is a single-digit handicap; grandfather Vinnie was a good player, as were Vinnie’s brother Al and Vinnie’s nephew Mike, all members at Salem CC.
Then there is Steven’s brother Anthony, a solid player at Swampscott High, Phillips Exeter and Skidmore College.
The positive influences all were there and DiLisio, not surprisingly, embraced the game and the opportunity to excel from a very young age.
“I thought Steven was making excellent progress when I caddied for him in his first Massachusetts Amateur at Belmont, when I think he was 13. He might have been the youngest player in the field,” said MacDonald. “He didn’t make match play but he finished in the top third of the 36-hole qualifier. He’d be back.”
Two years ago DiLisio was qualifying medalist at the Mass. Amateur at Charles River and became recipient of the inaugural Harry B. McCracken medal for topping the 150-player field. But that year, as in all past years, he had failed to reach the quarterfinal round of match play until he won the title two weeks ago.
Mr. MacDonald, as DiLisio’s caddy once again at The Country Club, marveled at the young man’s mastery of the game and his five match play opponents.
“I wasn’t the only person who thought Steven had the makings of a fine player down the road,” MacDonald remarked. “One of Steven’s playing partners at Belmont told me, ‘If you don’t want to caddy for him, I’ll take his bag any time.’”
That week at Belmont was a good sign of things to come.
“As a 13 year-old,” MacDonald recalled, “Steven most impressed with his demeanor, even more than his golf; his calmness. He played those two rounds at Belmont like they were a walk in the park. He was well beyond his years in mental approach.”
DiLisio never won a Massachusetts Junior title. He wanted to win at least one, especially the 2013 event at Essex, but Ferncroft’s Paul Lei stole the show and took top honors. I noted the disappointment in Steve’s face as he walked off the final green that shiny Wednesday afternoon when Lei triumphed.
But we all knew DiLisio’s time would come. He took a giant step this past spring, securing a slot on the powerhouse Duke team’s starting lineup, won his first individual event at Georgia Southern and helped the Blue Devils reach the NCAA Division 1 championship final.
What occurred at The Country Club was no surprise to MacDonald.
“Steven has the complete package and he showed it all off in winning the Massachusetts Amateur,” MacDonald, who holds a GHIN of five himself, noted. “The beautiful long, full swing with the smooth five-yard draw and tremendous distance. A solid iron game, a reliable short game and putter. He’s got a great head on his shoulders (aided in no small part by Duke coach Jamie Green and Salem CC Director of Instruction Kirk Hanefeld). He knows how to humble himself in competition. He knows himself and his game.”
Enough credit cannot be given to Dana and Cheryl DiLisio on the evolution of their son as a champion — and as a young man. They appear to have handled his development in both respects marvelously.
Now, at 21 as his senior year at Duke fast approaches, it’s DiLisio’s world to make what of it he can. We all await anxiously to see what heights he can attain as a champion golfer.
We mourn the passing of Dick Vaux and Pete Duncan ... Congrats to Mike Forgione and Ray McGuire and their guests for winning the two divisions of the 55th Salem Hullabaloo ... Rob Oppenheim slipped on the weekend and finished 71-74 for 281 and T-49 in last week’s Korn Ferry Tour tournament in Springfield, Mo ... Kernwood’s Christian Emmerich was low scorer among the locals at the New England Amateur at The Quechee Club in Vermont. Christian finished T-17 shooting 292. Ex-St.John’s Prepster Chris Francoeur shot 295, 16 shots off the winning score of Nashawtuc’s Xavier Marcoux, a newcomer in these parts.
Kudos to Chris Austin for winning The Meadow at Peabody club championship over defender Robbie Forti. Josh Syska won the second flight over Ardit Dervishi ... In the shamelessly Family Plug Dept., congrats to brother Mark Larrabee and Danny Kish of Atkinson Resort, one of Mark’s former assistants at Eastman Golf Links, after they won the NEPGA New Hampshire chapter Pro-Pro title at Derryfield with a six-birdie, no-bogey 66. Kish is on a roll. He won the NEPGA Pro-Lady at Kernwood last week ... Peabody favorite son Brian Hamilton will be honored by the Eastward Ho! membership on Sunday, Aug. 11 at the Chatham club for his 21-year tenure there as well as his 41 years as a head professional.
Reading the Greens is a weekly column on North Shore golf by Gary Larrabee. He has covered golf locally and beyond for the last 50 years.