A Packer Park golfer teamed up with a Hall of Famer for a prestigious West Coast tournament.
Nervousness often manifests itself in trembling hands, definite hindrances to any golfer. Feeling a touch of anxiety during a July 4 practice round at Monterey, Calif.’s Del Monte Golf Course, Daniel Gentilucci rapidly regrouped and let talent trump worry.
The 17-year-old senior-to-be at Center City’s Roman Catholic High School competed at the ninth Nature Valley First Tee Open July 6 through 8, uniting with esteemed professional Tom Kite for 54 holes at the aforementioned site and the lauded Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif.
“There were early nerves but I knew I had to maximize the rare opportunity and produce,” Gentilucci said Tuesday from his home on the 3100 block of South 18th Street. “I just called on my composure to make it through.”
The teenager has honed much of his maturity through five years at The First Tee Philadelphia, 1954 Pattison Ave. Personnel from the eight-year-old initiative, which through golf and life skills programming enriches 6- to 18-year-olds, nominated him, with selection for the Packer Park resident coming in May. He had needed to complete an intricate application packet to become the local chapter’s fourth all-time participant in the West-Coast tournament, which pairs 81 juniors with Champions Tour players. Following a two-person best ball format that tallies success by letting each member play a hole then taking the lower score, the event allows ball strikers to receive trips from accomplished peers while gaining a sense of what it might take to succeed them as golf heroes.
While the other invitees needed to wait until July 5 to learn with whom they would wield their clubs, Gentilucci received a July 3 call from Tom Kite.
“It was a Texas number, so I wasn’t going to pick up, but I got it on the last ring,” the birdie seeker said of accepting greetings from Kite, whom he met at 2010’s ACE Group Classic in Naples, Fla., on his initial First Tee trip.
The 62-year-old Lone Star State native claimed the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, one of his 19 PGA victories and a huge stepping stone in achieving 2004 World Golf Hall of Fame enshrinement. The 1989 PGA Player of the Year has accumulated 10 Champions Tour wins and has also designed numerous courses.
“I was happy to learn I would be playing with Tom Kite,” Gentilucci said. “He is someone who has meant a ton to the game and a person who is all about promoting the sport.”
The duo debuted July 6 at Del Monte, which at 115 years old is the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River. The site of his anxious practice session, it failed to intimidate him again, as he relied on his growing confidence in his short game, which First Tee Philadelphia program director Sean Ketchum had recently improved, to court the bottom of cups.
“It was pretty much smooth sailing the first two rounds,” Gentilucci, also a member of the Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour and the owner of a United States Golf Association handicap of 3.6, said of the first 36 holes, which determined who would survive the cut and enjoy the chance to experience final-round pressure.
Their combined score of 66 put Gentilucci and Kite at 6-under-par and four shots off the lead after the first 18 holes. A second-round mark of 69 at Pebble Beach helped them to advance and anointed the younger swinger as the premier First Tee Philadelphia product to advance beyond the 36-hole test.
“That gave me pride,” Gentilucci, who shot a 78 and a 75 the first two days, said.
A 71, also registered at Pebble Beach, gave them a 54-hole mark of 206, 10 strokes behind the winners.
“It felt great to play on the last day,” he said. “Tom really helped to create a relaxed environment where it was easy to be light and stay loose.”
In addition to his California odyssey, which also afforded him occasions to relax, including an encounter with comedian Ron White, and his Florida experience, Gentilucci also has attacked greens in South Carolina and Virginia. Eager to better all facets of his game, he plies his trade at the local First Tee Philadelphia site and its Roxborough complement at Walnut Lane Golf Club, Roman Catholic’s home course.
He and his Cahillite mates enjoyed a fantastic season last year, accumulating a second-place-earning 14-1 Catholic League regular-season record. Third-place distinction in the postseason advanced them to the PIAA District 12 Championships, where they dropped the final in a playoff.
“We had a phenomenal year,” Gentilucci, poised to be this campaign’s captain, said. “Now comes the hard, yet possible, task of improving.”
He intends to be a fervent leader when his squad begins practices next month, desiring not only the district crown but also regional and state honors. He will look to blend ambition on the links with educational pursuits, as he is carefully considering colleges.
Dan Gentilucci and Pat McCann enjoy technology and history, but the youngsters are gaining ample knowledge of physics as successful golfers for Roman Catholic High School. Their dependable drivers and precise putters assisted their team’s climb to the Catholic League’s upper echelon and nearly secured postseason glory for the Cahillites.
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