CSGA (October 25, 2020) In an unprecedented season, one precedent reassuringly remained.
Dave Szewczul won again.
For the 10th time Szewczul earned Senior Player of the Year honors, and for the first time, because the award was in its inaugural year, he won Super Senior Player of the Year, as well.
Two years after multiple surgeries (back fusion, hip replacement, cataracts) that left him wondering, he says, if he’d ever walk a golf course again much less play it, Szewczul, 66, accomplished the following:
• Won the Senior Match Play, his fifth, over Mark Vassalotti at Innis Arden Golf Club
• Won the Senior Division of the Tournament of Champions at Bull’s Bridge in a playoff against Frank Geiger
• Won the Super Senior at Longshore by 2 over Mike Moraghan
• Won the Senior Four-Ball with partner Bill Hermanson
• Tied fourth with Hermanson in the Two Man Championship at Wallingford Country Club
• Tied fourth in the New England Senior Amateur, tied for low Connecticut player, and won the New England Super Senior title
• Finished T7 in the Senior Amateur at the Country Club of Farmington
• Finished T9 in the Mid-Amateur at Madison Country Club, against some competitors young enough to be his grandsons, the oldest player to make the final day
• Made the cut and finished eighth, low amateur, in the Connecticut Senior Open
• Made the Top 25 (T22) in the Russell C. Palmer Cup at the Country Club of Waterbury
• Played on the winning CSGA amateur side of the Julius Boros Challenge Cup
Because of the COVID-truncated season, Szewczul accomplished all of this in the space of a little over three months, from mid-July to early October. The 500 points he earned at the Senior Match Play helped him overtake Dick Stevens of Woodbury, who had a remarkable season himself, highlighted by his Senior Amateur victory at Farmington. Dave Jones was third.
In the end Szewczul won the senior title by just under 330 points over Stevens, whom he defeated in his first match at Innis Arden, in 19 holes. The Super Senior title, forget about it.
“It is a lot of golf in a short space of time for an old back,” Szewczul said at Innis Arden. But as the year went on the Hall of Famer seemed to get only sturdier. “I’m just happy to be out here. I feel blessed honestly to be playing,” he said, but the competitive fire clearly was healthy, too. In that final victory over Vassalotti, Szewczul came from two down with nine holes to play to win on the final hole. He’d overcome the same deficit after eight holes to defeat 2018 Champion Patrick McGuiness in their semi-final match.
“You really have to believe in yourself and your ability. Trust yourself. As long as you have holes to play, you’re in the match, so I told myself anything can happen.”
Szewczul is quick to say that the new, post-surgery Szewczul does not meet the standards set by the old Szewczul, who won every Amateur championship in Connecticut, most multiple times.
“I’m not as long as I used to be. I can’t create the same torque that I used to,” he said after the Tournament of Champions. But he is deadly straight, and he has worked, he said, with coach John Nowobilski, with whom he played at Central Connecticut State University, to create a swing that’s more rotational, easier on his back and hips. It was Szewczul’s patience and discipline, Nowobilski has said, that made that possible.
What surprises one about Szewczul is that his intense discipline and competitive fire don’t often show. Timothy Gallwey, author of the best-selling “Inner Game” books, famously argued that “relaxed concentration” is the key to sport mastery, a kind of East/West attitude toward competition. There is no player, Szewczul’s opponents seem to say, who embodies that quality more than Szewczul.
“He’s impressive,” says McGuiness. “You just can’t make a mistake against him. But that’s why he’s so much fun to compete against.” When Mike Moraghan turned in a 70 in the Super Senior, his first question was, “What did Dave shoot?” and wasn’t surprised when the answer was “68.” More than one player has made Szewczul his benchmark. “Hey, if I can beat Dave in a round, that’s a good day,” one said.
There is no posing or pouting, no gloating with Szewczul. He seems genuinely thrilled to be playing again, and playing this well. He’s quick to thank his wife Lisa and son David for their support through all of it. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”
The patience, discipline, gratitude, create an oddly indecipherable competitive demeanor. It’s impossible, for example, for a newcomer to determine whether Szewczul’s having a good round or bad. And when it’s over, he’s there to talk about it if you ask, win or lose, and to congratulate the champion if it’s not him.
Szewczul stayed to watch the finish of the Senior Amateur that Stevens won at Farmington. And when his match with Vassalotti ended on the final hole at Innis Arden, the two, having played 18 holes of stroke play and four matches, talked for the longest time about backs, hips, senior bodies and senior golf.
“Avoid surgery if you can,” he said finally to Vassalotti, who was contemplating it, and came over to talk to an interviewer.
“I knew that if I hung in there, anything could happen in golf, and I give myself credit for hanging in. [When you’re down] you play it one shot at a time. That’s all you can do.”
And the victory? “Well, it’s gratifying,” he said. “It means maybe I’m back.”