November 24. When folks look back at the list of CSGA senior players of the year, it won’t surprise them to see Dave Szewczul’s name there at 2019. After all, Szewczul has won the award 9 of the eleven years he’s been eligible in addition to nearly every CSGA major multiple times. But perhaps an asterisk, and a bit more information, is in order this year.
From the fall of 2017 through 2018, this year’s Dick Siderowf Player of the Year underwent the following:
—back surgery: a laminectomy that failed to achieve desired results
—another back surgery: this time a fusion
—replacement of his right hip
And, to top it off, the processing of a few kidney stones.
Szewczul’s return to golf this season, after prolonged and intense rehab, much less his return to competitive form, is a minor miracle.
“Hey, don’t make it sound like I’m moaning or anything,” says the good-natured Szewczul, of Tunxis Country Club. “It is what it is. But honestly, while the golf is great, I’m just happy to be healthy, to have my quality of life back. I feel really blessed.”
A year ago, the Hall of Famer from Farmington was “in a walker,” needing help to get dressed, much less make it to a doctor’s appointment. There was a great deal of pain. To take on the surgeries and then accomplish what he did this year, as his golfing friends have been quick to remind him, is an inspiration. Consider:
In May Szewczul, who’ll be 66 in December, contributed to the second consecutive (lopsided) CSGA amateur win over the PGA Connecticut Section professionals in the Julius Boros Challenge Cup. In early July he was co-medalist at Wampanoag Country Club in the stroke play qualifying of the Senior Match Player Championship. Later that month he tied 25th at the Open Championship at Torrington, where walking is required, in temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees. He was the oldest player by far to make Day 3. At the Mid-Amateur Championship later that month he also made the final day, finishing 11th, again the oldest player on the final leader board by 5 years. He played in the Father-Son at Rolling Hills C.C. with son David, finishing T15. In September he tied fourth at the New England Senior Amateur Championship in Maine, sharing the “top Connecticut player” honors with Rick Malafronte. He won the Super Senior Championship by a shot. Later that month he finished second to his longtime friend and partner, Bill Hermanson, at the Black Hall Club, shooting 74-72 to Hermanson’s 73-72 in the Connecticut Senior Amateur Championship. (Hermanson finished second in the Player of the Year race.)
None of it came without adjustments—to his routine, his tournament schedule or his swing. “It was a three-quarters year,” says Szewczul, the sales director for a packaging company. “I played a three-quarter schedule and swung with about three-quarters power. And honestly, I played timid early on. I had to be careful. The doctors tell me I’m not out of the woods yet.”
Szewczul’s swing has changed some. He and teacher John Nowobilski have worked on a more rotational motion to ease strain on the back. “The power isn’t there yet. And the ball won’t go left, because I really fight to square the club up. Because of the loss of power, the ball flight is a bit lower,” he says. “But honestly, the biggest thing was to get back into it mentally, to get into tournament mode, to evaluate shots, and all that goes into them, and to work your way around the golf course, all that has to come back, too. It took a while.”
Szewczul thanks his family, wife Lisa of almost 40 years and son David, for helping him through. “It couldn’t have happened without my family. And I mean everything. Helping me get dressed. Getting me to appointments. And there were lots of them. Driving me. Changing their schedules to accommodate mine. I’m very grateful.”
Rigorous rehab will continue as will the process of building strength. But Szewczul is pleased that things have gone as well as they have. “Someone asked me where these Player of the Year awards rank. Well the first was obviously great. But this year was particularly rewarding and gratifying. I thank God everyday to be healthy again, to be out of pain. Because at the beginning you wonder, can I do this? You’re doubtful, you’re skeptical. You know, I always appreciated life and valued every day. But now I really do.”
And Szewczul’s playing companions are just as grateful to have him back. “It’s great for Dave and it’s great for the rest of us,” says Ray Underwood, the 2018 Senior Amateur Champion. “Dave raises the bar. He challenges all of us to play at a higher level.”