Anthony Delisanti learned at an early age that golf is a game to be cherished but never conquered. On his bookshelf at home, he has the definite text on the subject — Bob Rotella’s “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect.”
Delisanti, who became the youngest-ever Buffalo District Golf Association champ two years ago at 17, says that while he knows it’s unattainable, he’s on a constant quest to play the perfect round.
On Tuesday, he came pretty close. Competing in the third and final round of the Missouri Valley Conference championships, Delisanti fired a 30 on the back nine to shoot 67 and capture the MVC individual crown at the par-72 Country Club of Paducah course in Paducah, Ky.
Delisanti, who plays for Valparaiso University, was five shots off the lead when the final round began on Tuesday. But after going 1-over on the front, he had six birdies — including the last four holes — to beat MVC golfer of the year Matthis Besard of Southern Illinois by one stroke.
It was a stunning performance, especially so for an 18-year-old freshman who was one of the youngest competitors in the field.
“It was obviously very special,” said Valpo head coach David Gring. “That back nine is something any player just dreams about. I’ve never seen anything like it. That’s as clutch as it gets.”
Delisanti said he wasn’t dwellign on his score or becoming medalist. He was more concerned with the team competition. The coaches had told the players not to worry about scores and to avoid looking at Golfstat —which keeps running scores of college tourneys — on their cell phones.
At the start of the final round, Delisanti handed his phone to Ron Gring, David’s cousin and assistant coach. Valpo (which finished second) was 17 behind in the team competition. But the five players felt they had a chance to catch Southern Illinois if they stayed in the moment and made birdies.
“It was one of the first tournaments where I didn’t look at the leaderboard one time,” said Delisanti, a four-time NFL champ at Niagara-Wheatfield High. “It can be a bad habit when you start to think about results in the middle of a tournament. I committed to not looking at it.
“I didn’t know where I stood until 16 tee. Coach Ron said I needed to beat the guy in my group (Besard). I still didn’t really know where I was at with him. It was just a super fun grind. I didn’t even think about it. I kind of got caught up in the moment.”
Going into the 16th hole, Delisanti was tied with Besard, a senior from Belgium. Delisanti birdied to take a one-shot lead. At 17, Beard stuck his approach to 2 feet, a sure birdie. Delisanti sank a 20-foot birdie putt to remain 1-up.
On 18, with a crowd of MVC players, parents and officials gathered around the green, Delisanti knocked his approach to 5 feet. Besard left his 20 feet from the pin, then rolled in a birdie putt. Delisanti needed to make his 5-footer to win medalist honors.
“I was watching from the fairway,” said David Gring, who had one Valpo player in the final twosome behind Delisanti. “You could hear the big cheers when Matthis made his putt. It was like ‘Oh, my goodness.’”
Gring said the winning putt must have seemed like a 30-footer to Anthony. But Delisanti, a notoriously hard worker, has been putting very well since spending hours on the flat stick over the winter.
“He worked on his speed and his ball position, with a more open stance,” Gring said. “He made some adjustments. He was able to see the line a little bit better. You could see the difference this spring.”
Delisanti calmly sank his birdie putt to cap off his back-nine 30, giving him medalist’s honors and an automatic berth in the NCAA championships next month. He gave credit to his Valpo teammates, not surprising for a kid who was known as a great golf and hockey teammate in his high school days.
“College golf is much different than high school,” said Delisanti, who defended his Buffalo district title last summer. “Everyone’s a good player here. It’s really good to play with your teammates every day and have them push you every day.
“They’ve done it before,” he said. “They’ve been great to me and been great leaders for our team. That’s why we’ve been so successful this year.”
Jim Furlong, the head pro at Willowbrook Golf Course in Lockport, has coached Delisanti for more than a decade and wasn’t surprised by his breakthrough performance at the MVC championships.
“I was kind of expecting it at some point,” Furlong said. “I didn’t know if it would happen this year. He’s had several opportunities this year and didn’t quite put it all together until three weeks ago, when he was co-medalist at Butler. I thought maybe he had got it to click.
“He has a great mind for playing this game and learned an awful lot this year,” Furlong said. “College golf is quite a grind, with the travel and the fact that these rounds are compressed in such a short time frame. He handled it really well, because he’s very level-headed, very even keel.”
The Valpo guys are impressed. On the ride back from Kentucky, the players were asking their fabulous freshman, the youngest guy on the team, how he was feeling during his dramatic final round.
“They’ve kind of figured out who I am,” Delisanti said. “I’m always looking for better. They asked me, ‘Is that your definition of a good round?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that was OK. I can give myself that one.’”
His coaches and teammates would probably tell you it was just about perfect.