The first full day of fall shined in its splendor. The sun was out, the air was crisp, it wasn’t too cold or too hot. It was one of those great weather days, and what better place for a golfer to be than out on a golf course?
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Alex Poliwoda, a senior on the Greenport/Southold high school boys golf team, said while standing on the driving range at Island’s End Golf & Country Club in Greenport.
Life was good for the Clippers on Tuesday, pretty much as it has been for them this season. Since a season-opening loss to Eastport/South Manor, considered by some to be the favorite for the Suffolk County League VII championship, the Clippers have won four straight matches, defeating Hampton Bays, Shelter Island, Riverhead and Bishop McGann-Mercy by an aggregate score of 30 1/2-5 1/2.
“It’s been going good so far,” said sophomore Bobby Van Mater.
Three Clippers shot their lowest scores of the season Tuesday in an 8 1/2-1/2 defeat of McGann-Mercy. Van Mater (41), senior Liam Walker (43) and sophomore Jack Webster (45) all posted season-best scores on the par-35 front nine at Island’s End.
“I want them to expect this of themselves,” said coach Dave Fujita.
Perhaps inspired by the beautiful weather, the Clippers’ top player, Tom Messana, was hopeful of a big day for himself. “Not to put pressure on myself, but I’m going to try to go out and play my best round of the year today,” he said before heading onto the course.
Messana didn’t do that, but he didn’t do badly, either, firing a 42. (He shot a 37 earlier this season at Island’s End). Poliwoda had a 45 as the top five Clippers totaled a 216 medal score.
Golf is known for being a sport that produces sportsmen and gentlemen, and the Clippers are led by a player who “embodies both of those characteristics,” said Fujita.
He was referring to Messana, a senior in his fourth varsity season who was an all-league player last year. Messana has a passion for the sport. Golf has been a part of his life since he was 8 years old and he said he loves it as much as ever, playing year-round.
“I can stay on the green all day and putt,” he said. “I love it.”
The individuality of golf is something that appeals to Messana. “I’m kind of an independent person,” he said. “I like the pressure being on myself. If I win, it’s on me. If I lose, it’s on me, there’s no one else to blame.”
Messana said his short game is his strength and he feels really comfortable once he is within 75 yards of the hole.
Messana has a different approach this season. He said he is not trying to blast the cover off the ball any more. Rather, he has lightened his swing and “focused on course management as opposed to just trying to hit the ball as hard as I can. It’s just maturing, I think.”
Messana evidently has something else in his bag besides drivers, irons and putters that is essential for a winning golfer: mental toughness.
“You could work with any swing to get yourself to shoot in the high 80s, low 90s, but I mean it really takes a mental game to get to the low 80s, high 70s,” he said. “To be there that consistently, it’s all mental.”
Van Mater said he has learned from older players how to mentally prepare for matches. “If you don’t think you’re going to do good, you’re not going to do good,” he said. “You have to think positive. Of course, hitting good shots is important but I feel like being mentally prepared is key, for me at least.”
As well as the Clippers have done, Fujita said there is room for improvement. He said his team needs to develop a killer instinct, and not allow its play to drop against weaker competition.
“In order to beat one of the elite teams, Mattituck or Eastport, they’re going to need to be at the top of their game,” he said. “If you’re up by 10, you have to be able to try to go up by 12 or 14, and that’s the hard part that they have to learn, learning how to step on the accelerator when the natural tendency is to back off.”
Fujita said he wants his players to get the most out of themselves and savor the remainder of the season.
“We got a month left,” he said. “I want them, for themselves, not me, I want them to go out and play the best golf that they’re capable of.”