Some things change, and some things stay the same. Each year brings a new set of champions, new faces on the Challenge Cup and Tri-State teams, and a plethora of new stories of success and triumph. But over the last forty years, there is one constant that has remained the same, one name that continues to be heard year in and year out. At sixty-three years of age and among a sea of junior and collegiate stars, Dave Szewczul has continued to prove that he is still the man to beat.
After a stellar end to the 2016 season which saw him capture the Connecticut Senior Amateur and Connecticut Mid-Amateur in consecutive weeks, Szewczul picked up right where he left off. He finished third at the Russell C. Palmer Cup, branded as the state’s stroke play amateur championship, and advanced to the Round of 16 at the Connecticut Amateur Championship. But a missed cut at the Connecticut Open Championship in late July, coupled with an amazing performance by amateur Max Theodorakis, left Szewczul with a mountain to climb if he was going to capture his second Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year honor.
The missed cut served as motivation for Szewczul, who rebounded like a true champion just two weeks later at Norwich Golf Course. He made history capturing his fifth Connecticut Public Links title, becoming one of just three players to win the same CSGA championship five times.
“It’s hard to pick just one high point from the year, but the Public Links victory was special not just because it was my fifth, but because of the timing in the season,” said Szewczul. “It was definitely a catalyst for me to finish out the year on a positive note. There were a few tournaments early in the season that I let slip, but I tried to not let that get me down. Especially coming from behind to win, that tournament was certainly a springboard for me to finish out the season.”
Szewczul would go on to win the Tournament of Champions, finish fifteenth in the Mid-Amateur, fifth in the Senior Amateur and qualify for the U.S. Four-Ball Championship. But what makes Szewczul’s season even more impressive was the battle he fought with his back throughout the year. The injury had gotten so painful that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to finish out the season.
“After winning the Public Links and at that point in the season, I definitely wasn’t 100%, but that win gave me a lot of motivation to finish the season and grind it out despite the pain,” said Szewczul. “The injury definitely weighed on me mentally the whole year and it was a daily battle. I woke up every day wondering if I would be able to play, but I really tried to stay positive through the whole thing.”
While the Player of the Year race came down to the final stretch, the Dick Siderowf race was all but decided after his victories at the Public Links and Tournament of Champions. Szewczul clinched the title by advancing to match play at the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, a tournament he reached the quarterfinals in back in 2013.
“It is very special and very rewarding to finish on top given the level of talent we have in Connecticut,” said Szewczul. “We have some tremendous players in both divisions, as each year goes by, it feels like the competition is getting younger and younger, which makes this achievement that much more gratifying.”
Since Szewczul was eligible to compete in senior events in 2009, he has won the Senior Player of the Year award eight of the last nine years. In that stretch, he has won the award by a combined 6,407 points, and is also the only player to win both the Tettelbach and Siderowf Player of the Year awards in the same season (2012 and 2017).
“It was really special to win both awards back in 2012 and to be the only person to accomplish that, but to do it five years later is proof that the planning and preparation I put into the game each year and the game plan I have is effective.”
Indeed, Szewczul’s resume of golf accomplishments could fill this book. The 2010 Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame Inductee has won five Connecticut Public Links Championships, four Senior Match Play Championships, three Connecticut Senior Amateur Championships, two New England Senior Amateur Championships, two Connecticut Mid-Amateur Championships, and one Connecticut Amateur Championship, just to name a few.
“For me, there isn’t necessarily one key to success, but having support from your family is probably the most important,” said Szewczul, who has a son David that also competes in CSGA tournaments throughout the year. “You have to balance life along with golf and have a clear head and mind when you go to the golf course. I’ve been fortunate to have so much support from my family. They’ve allowed me to have quality practice time and do things I have to do to be ready to compete. I’m in my fifth decade of playing and there are a lot of things that have come together for me to be able to play well.”
As almost every competitive golfer will tell you, every season is filled with both highs and lows. But perhaps part of what has made Szewczul so dominant for so long is his way of keeping the lows in perspective.
“I don’t really think I had any lows in my season. I had some disappointments and let some tournaments slip, but just to be able to play the game and compete at this level, for me is a gift”, said Szewczul. “I truly enjoy the tournaments and the competition. Of course I want to win, but if I don’t, I’m still happy to be out there competing. My philosophy has always been whether I win or lose a tournament, it’s not going to change my life.”
Szewczul is already looking ahead to 2018, which will begin with a trip to Jupiter Hills Club in Tequesta, Florida for the U.S. Four-Ball Championship. Playing alongside longtime friend Bill Hermanson of Black Hall Club, the pair earned medalist honors this past October at Wampanoag Country Club with a blistering round of 66. While the 2018 U.S. Four-Ball will mark Szewczul’s 29th USGA championship, it will be the first one as a team member with Hermanson.
“That’s going to be great to play with Bill, and it will be really special because 2018 will be our fortieth year playing together,” said Szewczul. “We’ve played virtually every major four-ball event around the country over the years, but to play for a national championship with him will be amazing. It comes early in the season so it’s definitely extra motivation to get yourself ready over the winter. We’ve had a great run together and I know we’re both really looking forward to it.”
Aside from the U.S. Four-Ball next spring, Szewczul plans to play a full schedule of CSGA events coupled with national amateur championships.
“My number one goal is to be healthy, and to play a full season pain-free would be great,” said Szewczul. “I’m going to try to play a smart schedule to keep me fresh. I still believe I have enough game to finish really high in a national championship. Aside from being healthy, I always try to play the best and most competitive golf I can each and every time I tee it up, and above all, to play with respect. It might sound simplistic, but it’s still a game. I just try to go out and enjoy it, and as an amateur, that’s the way it should be played.”