By Matt Jenkins
---- — MANCHESTER — Swampscott’s Steven DiLisio had a somewhat frustrating first day at the 2013 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship yesterday at Essex County Club.
Yet he’s still very much in the hunt to keep his title streak alive.
DiLisio, who captured the Mass. Junior Boys Division championship from 2009-2011 and the Pre-Junior title last year, struggled over the final nine holes yesterday but still ended up shooting a 3-over par 73, only five shots off the leaders.
Paul Lei of Middleton and Ferncroft Country Club is tied with Nashawtuc Country Club’s Jackson Lang for the first-round lead, each having shot a 2-under par 68.
Lei and DiLisio are quite comfortable being near the top of the leaderboard at the Mass. Junior Amateur. Lei finished third in the Boys Division in both 2009 and 2010 and tied for 19th overall last year. They were in the same group yesterday (starting on the back nine) and will be again today when they tee off at 12:51 p.m.
DiLisio played well through the first nine holes before slipping a bit, while Lei started slow and got hot on the final nine holes.
“I didn’t feel like I played any different,” DiLisio, a St. John’s Prep sophomore-to-be, said. “I got a tough break when I doubled that par five and didn’t feel like I hit it that far off-line. That was tough because I was looking to make birdie there.
“Holes eight and nine are tough holes to finish on. I wasn’t hitting it quite as well as I would have liked, so finishing on eight and nine is tough, but you just gotta get ready for (today).”
DiLisio was 1-under par through the first eight holes, narrowly missed a birdie put on No. 18 and ended up taking a penalty stroke before the tap-in, when he grounded his putter a few inches behind the ball and it moved slightly. Instead of making the turn at 1-under (or possibly 2-under if his birdie putt had fallen), he headed into the final nine holes at even par.
DiLisio made par on the first four holes after making the turn, but hit a tee ball left that struck a tree on the par-5 fifth hole. He couldn’t find his ball and had to play his provisional, eventually carding a double bogey. He also finished by bogeying the eighth and ninth holes.
Lei, meanwhile, was 2-over par through the first nine holes, then birdied four out of five holes to make his charge.
“I think the back nine, which is the front nine on the course, really helped me. My approach shots were a lot better, I hit more greens, hit it closer to the hole, and I made all the opportunities I had,” the 16-year-old Lei said. “(My confidence) was pretty high. I knew I was rolling it and just kept focusing on making a good stroke and keeping the momentum going.”
Even though DiLisio’s penalty on 18 was frustrating, he felt it had no carryover affect on the last nine holes.
“I just put it out of my mind,” said DiLisio, who is still eligible to win the Pre-Junior Division this year and currently is in a tie for the lead in that division. “Even with the double, I always try to bounce back with a good score. I birdied the next hole (after the double), so that’s always a good feeling. But (frustration) doesn’t carry over for me. I just kind of leave it where it happened and move on from there.”
DiLisio and seven other players finished 3-over par in a tie for seventh place. Essex County Club’s Jon Seward is among that group. Seward had back-to-back birdies on the fifth and sixth holes to highlight his round.
Ferncroft’s John Perkins is also in the hunt after shooting a 5-over par 75.
A pair of DiLisio’s St. John’s Prep teammates also played well as Matt Bullock of Kernwood shot an 80 and James Turner of Bass Rocks shot an 81. Ferncroft’s Tommy Cothern (82), Shawn MacBurnie (82), Owen Picariello (84), and Colin Natale (88) each came in under 90. Danvers’ Mike Plansky shot an 86.
The leaderboard is bound to change considerably after today’s round, but Lei and DiLisio are planning on keeping it simple and remaining focused.
“I don’t want to think about it too much,” said Lei, who is going into his junior year at Phillips Exeter Academy. “I just want to play my best and focus on each stroke, treat every stroke independently.”
DiLisio, meanwhile, doesn’t put any extra pressure on himself to keep his personal streak alive.
“I just want to post a good number really. This golf course is not easy. You just want to post a solid number and see from there. You can’t put a real number (to aim for) on a round. It’s tough to play like that,” DiLisio said. “I’ve played in some national tournaments this year and I try to play this tournament just like a national tournament that I’ve never won or I’ve never played in. I prepared the same way and I try to give myself the best chance to win.”