A prodigy for more than a decade, hailing from a popular North Shore golfing clan, Steven DiLisio Friday reached a second summit of what is turning into a spectacular competitive year.
Tearing apart the famed The Country Club course with a six-under 65 in the morning and playing four-under-par golf for the necessary 16 holes after lunch, Swampscott resident DiLisio never trailed in defeating Hopkinton’s Jim Horval, 3 and 2, to win the 111th Massachusetts Amateur championship.
“I’m playing just about the best I possibly could these days,” DiLisio said in a humbling tone. ”I seemed to have good starts in every round, especially all my matches. I seemed to be hitting the right release buttons on every swing, every pitch, every chip and on a lot of putts.
“I’m just going out and playing, maybe a little more aggressively these days, and it’s paying off.”
To say the least.
Salem Country Club junior member DiLisio, 21, a rising senior on the powerhouse Duke University team, continued to fulfill his promise which has been evident the past several years while also playing for St. John’s Prep and Exeter Academy.
After finishing T-8 in the 36-hole on-site qualifier earlier in the week, then scoring a cumulative — and astounding — 21-under par in his five matches, DiLisio became the first Salem member to win the coveted title, though many recall the remarkable run 62-year-old Salem member Jack McNiff had in the ’80 Amateur at Salem, the cancer-stricken attorney sharing medalist honors with Paul Cortese (146) and winning three matches before falling in the semifinals, 3 and 2, to eventual champion Jim McDermott of Fall River
He's also the first North Shore resident and local club member to win the Massachusetts Amateur in 52 years, since Barrie Bruce of Colonial and Wenham also won the title at The Country Club in 1967; the eighth North Shore-based player to capture the crown since the competition began in 1903 and was first won by Andrew Carnegie of Essex at Essex in 1904; The second St. John ‘s Prep product to gain the title in four years following victory in 2015 by Nick McLaughlin, playing out of Far Corner but residing in New Hampshire. (Note that Salem-born Rob Oppenheim won the 2002 title out of Indian Ridge while residing in Andover).
DiLisio joins, in addition to Carnegie and Bruce as a local Massachusetts Amateur champion, Bobby Knowles of Myopia (1949), Tom Mahan Jr. of United Shoe (1952), Charles Volpone of Ould Newbury (1956), Pat Granese of United Shoe (1960) and Ted Carangelo of Tedesco (1965).
The inaugural winner of the Harry B. McCracken Award two years ago when he was qualifying medalist at Charles River, DiLisio had not been able to get past the quarterfinal round of match play. But that was not a problem this time around as he brought the hallowed Brookline course to its knees with five successive sub-par rounds after playing even-par golf in his first round match.
“I’ve grown mentally and physically since Charles River,” DiLisio noted. “I’ve developed a stronger appreciation for practice, spending more time with my short game. I’ve improved in most every area the last couple years, and especially this year. I’ve kept in the right mind set. I feel good with most every aspect of my game.”
How can he not?
After that first round match he was five under par, two under, four under, then six under and four under Friday. All those birdies.
Against Hervol, DiLisio made par on the testy par-three seventh in the morning for a 1-up lead and led the rest of the way; 2 up after 18, 3 up after parring the third hole after lunch, 4 up on the 26th hole, 5 up with six to go and easing in.
DiLisio credited three people with his surging success in 2019, topped by this week – caddy Paul MacDonald, a neighbor and Tedesco member; Georgia-based swing coach Scott Hamilton and Kirk Hanefeld, the Director of Instruction at Salem CC.
“Paul seems the perfect caddy for me,” DiLisio said, “and we have a lot of fun out there competing. Scott keeps making my swing better and better and Kirk has talked with me about the mental side of the game.”
This is a super high moment in his 2019 golf year, following his earning the fifth and final starting position on the Duke golf team this spring and winning his first individual collegiate title before the team’s disappointing performance at the NCAA Division 1 championship in Arkansas.
DiLisio also recently qualified for his second consecutive U.S. Amateur, set for Pinehurst in mid-August after he made it to last year’s edition at Pebble Beach. This time he wants to make the 64-player match play field among the 312 players who will be competing.
No North Shore player had ever qualified sectionally in back-to-back years since the format was instituted until now.
Next up for DiLisio is the Porter Cup July 24-27 at Niagara Falls Country Club, followed by the Ouimet Memorial locally then it’s off to Pinehurst for the U.S. Am.
But for the moment, it’s “Hail to the Champion.”