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Husky Pride- Zach Zaback of Zach Zaback of TPC River Highlands was a rising star in Connecticut heading into the 2014 season. After winning the 2014 Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year Race, Zaback proved that he’s here to stay.
A Job Well Done- Dave Szewczul wrapped up his sixth Dick Siderowf Senior Player of the Year title in record-breaking fashion. Surprised? No t at all.
At just twenty-one years of age, a realistic expectation for Zach Zaback heading into the 2014 season would have been a top-ten finish in the Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year race. There’s no question that Zaback was one of the rising stars in Connecticut golf, having finished third in last year’s New England Amateur and eighth in the Connecticut Open championship.
But as a rising junior on the University of Connecticut Huskies Division I golf team, Zaback isn’t eligible for many of the top points events, including the Connecticut Mid-Amateur Championship, Public Links Championship, and Tournament of Champions. Accumulating enough points to outlast the likes of players like Dave Szewczul is a rare feat. In fact, since 2000, only three players have been able win the Player of the Year title while still in college.
Zaback was certainly aware of the challenges with winning the season-long points, but his goals heading into the season were much more focused on improving his game and playing steady golf throughout the year.
“I didn’t really have any expectations of winning Player of the Year or anything like that,” said Zaback. “I really just wanted to go into the year and play well in every tournament I was in and play more consistently over the year.”
After a fourth place finish at the Rutherford Intercollegiate to end his Spring season with the Huskies, Zaback began his 2014 CSGA campaign at the Russell C. Palmer Cup. An opening round of even--par 69 landed him in the final group heading into the second day, and after shooting 72 in the morning round, Zaback was right in the mix. But a closing round of 74 left him tied for sixth. Disappointing, perhaps, but a good start to the season nonetheless. Next up,? The 112th Connecticut Amateur at Lake of Isles.”
The North and South Courses at Lake of Isles demand precision off the tee and a tremendous short game to navigate the difficult green complexes. After shooting rounds of 76-75--151 to grab the #18 seed, Zaback made his way through the bracket of Connecticut’s best amateur golfers, knocking off the likes of Dave Szewczul, Monte Mullen, and Branden Chirorka en-route to the finals. He faced Kevin Josephson of the Country Club of Farmington, the only player who stood between him and his first CSGA major championship title.
“I tried to not think about what it would mean to win because I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, but I ‘ll admit did think about it a bit. It was a cool feeling to know you are so close, but you still have to stay focused and take it one hole at a time. I felt like if I kept doing what I was doing throughout the whole tournament, I would have a great shot at winning.”
Indeed, Josephson tested Zaback all the way to the final hole of the 36-hole final match, but it was Zaback’s remarkable recovery shots and putting prowess that left him holding the state’s oldest championship trophy.
Zaback took advantage of every opportunity he had to garner Player of the Year points, including a third place finish at the New England Amateur, an eleventh place finish at the Connecticut Open, and successfully qualifying for the 114th U.S. Amateur Championship, a moment that Zaback will cherish forever.
“Winning the Connecticut Amateur was certainly the highlight of the year, but qualifying for the U.S. Amateur was really special for me. When you qualify for a USGA event, it means playing on the next level with some of the best players in the country, and it was an awesome experience. In the second round of the qualifier, I knew I needed a great round to have a chance at qualifying. I went out and shot two under-par, and it just confirmed my belief that I belonged there.”
Zaback needed everything just to edge Dave Szewczul, who almost overtook Zaback by advancing to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Senior Amateur and finishing Runner-Up at the Connecticut Public Links. But it was Zaback who came out on top, a deserving honor for a young man who put together a season he won’t soon forget.
“This was by far the best season for me. I played really consistently and I felt like I was giving myself opportunities to be in contention every tournament I played in.”
Along with Zaback, it was an incredible year for the Huskies, who placed three teammates in the top-10 of the Player of the Year race. John Flaherty of TPC River Highlands and Chris Wiatr of the Country Club of Waterbury finished fourth and sixth in the standings, respectively. Flaherty nearly won the Russell C. Palmer Cup, losing in a playoff to eventual champion Blake Morris, while Wiatr finished eleventh in the Connecticut Open and advanced through local qualifying for the 114th U.S. Open Championship.
“We have a really strong team, and I think we have all gotten better each year,” said Zaback. “We all put in a lot of work this summer and I think as we have gotten older and have gained a lot more experience, everyone just became a lot more comfortable with their own games and it showed with a lot of the guys having a lot of great finishes this year.
Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.”
Wise words from Jim Rohn, known worldwide for his motivational public speaking, and words that no doubt apply to golf in a multitude of ways. Winning any golf tournament, let alone a season-long points race, requires remarkable consistency throughout each hole, round, tournament and season. Mention the word “consistent” to any CSGA tournament player, and there isn’t much doubt that the name “Dave Szewczul” will come to mind.
It should come as little surprise that Dave Szewczul of Tunxis Plantation Country Club wrapped up his sixth-consecutive Dick Siderowf Senior Player of the Year. After all, since entering the senior ranks in 2009, he has won his Senior Player of the Year titles by a combined 5,244 points - that’s an average winning margin of 874 points!
But what is even more amazing is the consistent record of success he has produced in that span of time. Since 2009, Szewczul has captured seven CSGA major championships, two New England Senior Amateur championships, and qualified for six USGA national championships. Not to mention he also won the 2012 Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year title and finished runner-up in the Player of the Year standings this year, edging out the likes of Pastore, Flaherty and Morris, all of whom are nearly forty years his junior.
To be consistent means virtual perfection - hardly a bad round or tournament - and 2014 was a perfect example of that for Szewczul. Coming into the season, Szewczul set personal goals for himself that he intended to accomplish through the year. However, unlike most players, his goals are never based around winning a particular tournament or event. Instead, Szewczul focuses on the things that he can control, which is his own game.
“I do want to win every tournament that I enter, I think everybody does, but my main goal is just to play the best that I can and whatever happens from that will put me in my place. I don’t set out saying I want to be the best; that is just the result of good play,” said Szewczul.
He began his season with an eleventh place finish at the Russell C. Palmer Cup, shooting a final round score of 70 to move up the leaderboard and claim low senior player honors. The following week, Szewczul began his title defense at the 8th Senior Match Play Championship, a tournament he had won three times before (2010, 12 and 13). After claiming medalist honors by two strokes with a round of 71, he went on to knock off Gary Mattesen, Craig Dubois and three-time Connecticut Amateur Champion William Lee on his way to the finals. While the final match against Jon Groveman of Connecticut Golf Club proved to be his toughest test, Szewczul made the putts when it mattered most, including an eagle putt on the par-5 12th that all but sealed the deal. Another Senior Match Play was in the books, and Szewczul was once again the Champion.
Being competitive at the state and regional level is impressive in and of itself, but to consistently compete on the national level is a whole different animal. In 2013, Szewczul made national headlines by advancing to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Senior Amateur. By virtue of that tremendous finish, he was exempt for 2014, and made the trek to Newport Beach, California to compete in his twenty-fifth USGA national championship.
After shooting rounds of 72-72--144 to claim the #17 seed, he went on to knock off Don Marsh of Alpharetta, Georgia and Don Reycroft of Norfolk, Massachusetts to advance to his second consecutive “Sweet 16”. Although he eventually fell to to Rick Cloninger of Fort Mill, South Carolina, who went on to the semifinals before losing to the eventual champion, Patrick Tallet of Vienna, Virginia, it was yet another amazing display for Szewczul.
“It is a great feeling knowing you can compete with the best players in the country; it just takes your game to another level,” said Szewczul. “To know you have the game and mental capacity to compete on such a high level is a really great feeling. Now, any tournament that I enter, I know that I belong there.”
Szewczul competed in virtually every CSGA major championship in 2014, teeing it up against players both young and old, and accumulated points at every single event he played in. He finished runner-up at the Connecticut Senior Amateur and Public Links, finished 19th at the Connecticut Open, and 10th at the Connecticut Mid-Amateur. And of course, a host of other great finishes, like 2nd at the Tournament of Champions and 4th at the Connecticut Senior Open. But for Szewczul, the highlight of the year wasn’t winning a championship, it was the unique opportunity to compete with his son, David Leigh, who qualified for both the Connecticut Amateur and Connecticut Open.
“No doubt, the best moment of the year for me was being able to compete with David,” said Szewczul. “I can’t tell you how much love I have for my son and how proud I am of him and to see him out there competing. And I don’t even see it as competing against him, we are competing together, and to me that is the greatest thing. To be able to warm up together, then after the rounds have lunch and talk about how things went, those were the best moments for me.”
The 2014 Senior Player of Year title marked Szewczul’s biggest margin of victory in any of his previous six victories, but for Szewczul, it’s all about being, you guessed it, consistent.
“Each year, I just try to play consistently as best I can, and if I happen to play well, the points will reflect that,” said Szewczul. “Every year it gets tougher - the competition gets younger and I get older - so every year I am able to be near the top of the points list is a little more gratifying than the previous one.”