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The Perfect Summer- Cody Paladino of Wethersfield Country Club won everything under the sun en-route to his second CSGA Player of the Year title.
Dynasty Practice- With another record-setting season, Dave Szewczul of Tunxis Plantation Country Club notched his fifth straight Senior Player of the Year title.
When Cody Paladino won his first CSGA Player of the Year title in 2006 at the age of seventeen, it was by the slimmest of margins. His season was highlighted by a pair of major accomplishments, capturing the Connecticut Public Links Championship at Lyman Orchards and advancing to the finals of the Connecticut Amateur at Torrington. It took a win at the season-ending One Day Championship to edge Jeff Hedden by a mere twenty points.
Fast forward to 2013, where it seemed like Paladino won virtually every amateur championship he played in. Among his many highlights were winning both the Connecticut Amateur Championship and Russell C. Palmer Cup in the same year, a feat that had yet to have been accomplished. He tacked on wins at the Tournament of Champions, Four-Ball Championship, and a host of One Day tournaments. He won the Wethersfield Country Club Championship by a record thirteen strokes, shooting 69-65-66. Not to mention, Paladino flew out to California to play in the California State Fair Men’s Amateur Championship. And, you guessed it, he won that too.
But even more amazing than the vast hardware he collected over his 2013 campaign are the struggles that spanned between his two Player of the Year titles.
During his time at Baylor University from 2007 to 2012, Paladino had parted ways with longtime coach and friend Chuck Lasher, who had coached him since the age of six. During that time, he went through a change designed to make his swing look more conventional. But one of the great appeals of golf is that there are no pictures on the scorecard, and as his swing seemed to get better and better, his scores got worse and worse. Make no mistake about it, those were hard days for someone who had made it to the finals of the U.S. Public Links just a few short years ago.
“When you’re struggling, you’re convinced the whole world is watching and wondering why you aren’t playing well. For me, I think it was harder to cope with the fact that people had sort of forgot about me,” said Paladino. He finally hit a breaking point in 2011 and decided to start working with his old coach, a decision that he will never regret.
“When I started working with Chuck again in 2012, I was really struggling mentally and I just had way too much information floating around inside my head,” said Paladino. “We agreed to ignore the short term results for a while and focused on developing a plan for the future.” “He was beginning to hit the ball well but it had been so, so long since he had posted a low score that I did not know if he could do it,” said Lasher.
And then came the 2013 Russell C. Palmer Cup. After an opening round of 67, Paladino held the lead by two heading into the final day, a 36-hole marathon that would truly test both his physical and mental toughness.
Paladino played flawless golf, shooting rounds of 70-71 to match his opening 67, good enough for a three shot victory and his first CSGA win in nearly seven years. “The Palmer Cup this year reminded me why I put in all the time and make all the sacrifices, because that feeling of winning, no matter how long you have to wait, is worth it,” said Paladino.
Through countless hours of practice and dedication, he came full circle and is once again at the top of the Player of the Year standings. No doubt that Paladino’s season was a highlight reel filled with pictures of fist-pumps and trophy presentations. But for him, the best moment of the season occurred on the 27th hole of the final match at the Connecticut Amateur.
“Being 3 up after the morning 18 holes, and then being all square through 26 holes, it was eerily similar to the situation I faced in 2006 when I eventually lost to Tommy McDonagh in 39 holes,” said Paladino. “When I got to the par 3 9th hole, I looked at my caddie Keith Kwasnik and told him we weren’t going to go into the final nine holes without the lead. I hit probably one of the best shots of my life, a 7 iron to within a few feet of the hole. That split second walking off of the 9th tee with Keith after I had just hit that shot was something I’ll never forget.”
“When I think about my 2006 season compared to my 2013 season, the thing that jumps out at me the most is how much stronger and more competitive the CSGA has become in the past seven years,” said Paladino. “The tournaments also continue to improve each year aside from just stronger fields, from the Live Scoring technology to the website overhaul, and I’m very proud and thankful I got to experience so much of it this summer and be at the forefront of the CSGA.”
Dynasty is a word rarely used in golf. It is not a team sport, and there isn’t a single year-end championship or Super Bowl that determines the success or failure of an entire season. For golf, the Player of the Year title is the best measurement of a player’s entire season. It takes into account every event played, and requires a player to be consistent over the entire season. Such a title cannot be guaranteed based on a single outstanding performance.
Consider the “Tiger-era.” From 1999 to 2003, Tiger Woods made a total of 96 career starts. In that time, he won a total of thirty-two times, including seven major championships. In that time, he never missed a cut. For his remarkable consistency, Tiger Woods captured five straight PGA Tour Player of the Year titles, a feat that had yet to be accomplished in the eighty-five year history of the PGA Tour. In similar fashion, Dave Szewczul captured his record-setting fifth consecutive Senior Player of the Year title. His 2013 season was undoubtedly marked by historic accomplishments: a third-straight Senior Match Play title; medalist honors in qualifying for the U.S. Amateur, where he was the oldest competitor in the field; and an appearance in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Senior Amateur.
In the span of his five Senior Player of the Year titles from 2009 to 2013, Szewczul has captured six CSGA major championships, two New England Senior Amateur championships, and qualified for five USGA national championships. Even more staggering, Szewczul has won his five Senior Player of the Year titles by a combined 4,070 points. If there was ever a time to refer to an individual golfer as a “dynasty”, this would be it.
Szewczul began his 2013 campaign with a ninth place finish at the opening Russell C. Palmer Cup, recording rounds of 69-75-77 for a 220 (+13) total and low senior player honors Shortly thereafter, Szewczul traveled to Connecticut Golf Club and recorded a decisive victory at the 7th Senior Match Play Championship.
After claiming medalist honors, he handily made his way to the finals where he knocked off 2007 Champion Bill Torza by a score of 2 and 1. Until the finals, he had won every match by at least a 5-up margin, and even then, he only needed 17 holes to knock off Torza.
Throughout the year, Szewczul accumulated points with high finishes at both the Connecticut Amateur championship and New England Senior Amateur championship, and a win at the Tournament of Champions.
But no doubt the highlight of Szewczul’s season came from qualifying for a pair of USGA national championships. In late July, Szewczul claimed medalist honors at the 113th U.S. Amateur qualifier at Crestview Country Club, shooting rounds of 71-68 for a 139 (-5) total and a two-shot victory. Upon his arrival at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, Szewczul shared two distinct honors. At age 59, he was the oldest player in the field by nearly four years (the average age was 22.7 years old). He was also the only player in the field of 312 players who had also played in the U.S. Amateur the last time it was held at The Country Club, 31 years ago in 1982. By definition, that is longevity.
“To be able to go there 31 years later and compete at that level, with my son there was really special,” said Szewczul. That to me is probably the most memorable tournament experience I’ve ever had.”
Just a few weeks later, Szewczul began his quest for the 58th U.S. Senior Amateur championship. He punched his ticket to his twenty-fourth USGA championship with medalist honors at River Oaks after an even-par round of 71. The championship, played at Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, North Carolina, proved to be a memorable one. After shooting 73-73 to claim the 6th seed in stroke play qualifying, Szewczul advanced all the way to the quarterfinals, the farthest he had ever gone in a USGA event.
“I felt great the entire tournament and I played with a lot of confidence and calmness,” said Szewczul. “I was playing as well as anybody there, and I felt like I could have gone all the way.”
Although he would eventually fall to Pat O’Donnell, the run to the quarterfinals was the farthest by any Connecticut-born player in recent memory. Not to mention it secured his fifth straight Senior Player of the Year title.
“I think the main thing is longevity, and the fact that I’ve been able to maintain this level for so long,” said Szewczul. “When I became eligible for Senior events, I just hoped I could maintain a level of competitiveness. To be Player of the Year five years in a row is beyond anything I ever thought of. It’s really a true honor.”