Chris Covelli came into the local golf season flying under the radar. He'd played most of his junior golf in regional and national events, competed in few Buffalo District Golf Association tournaments, barely teed it up competitively in Western New York outside of two appearances in the International Junior Masters at East Aurora (he made the championship flight at 16).
As a result, little had been known about the Nichols School grad who will be a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast, a university that will take its golf program Division I next year.
But Covelli, who plays out of Wanakah, no longer suffers from a local identity crisis. He opened eyes with a round of 67 at the Porter Cup qualifier, gaining entrance to the tournament. And his abilities were reaffirmed in last week's BDGA Men's Individual Championship, when he led a field of largely more seasoned players much of the way before finishing in a three-way tie for second at Niagara Falls Country Club.
Covelli agrees this was a bit of a breakthrough summer. He retooled his swing during the school year under the tutelage of university golf coach Dr. Jim Suttie, one of the most highly respected instructors in the nation. Suttie was the 2000 National PGA Teacher of the Year and was ranked No. 12 in Golf Digest's 2004 list of the country's top 50 teachers.
"I used to have a really long swing and I'd get past the line at the top," Covelli said. "Dr. Suttie made me set the club earlier."
Covelli returned to Western New York for the summer hoping his new swing would lead to new experiences, which it did. The Porter Cup qualifier gave him a boost of confidence. The tournament itself (he shot rounds of 79-74-74-77) introduced him to top-flight amateur golf and acclimated him to playing in front of galleries.
His second-round 71 in the district, following an opening 68, showed he was capable of maintaining a lead against a quality field. Even the final round, when he shot 79 and gave way to winner Jeff Wolniewicz, Covelli identified as a learning experience.
"The last day I told myself to go out and repeat what I had done the day before," Covelli said. "And the first nine I did that. After 12, when I made bogey and Jeff made birdie, I stopped playing the course and started playing Jeff. The lesson I learned is that you have to play the golf course at all times, not your playing partner."
The golf program at Florida Gulf Coast, a state university founded in 1997, will be taking a leap forward this school year. FGCU will play the following season at the Division II level, and make the transition to Division I and begin facing some of the top golf schools in the South. Covelli played in six of eight tournaments as a freshman.
"I had been looking at Richmond and some bigger schools where I wouldn't have played as a freshman," he said. "When I saw who was the coach at Florida Gulf Coast, that sold me."
Covelli aspires to turn pro at the end of his college career, as do many local players of the current generation. He'll see where the next three years lead him. What's certain is that when he returns home for the summers he won't be launching any more sneak attacks.
Article Courtesy of Buffalo News