In just a few months, Island golf phenomenon Tony Grillo will be lighting up the Ivy League when he enters his freshman year at Harvard University and plays on the school’s storied golf team. But this summer he is busy proving once again he is one of the top amateur players in the state — if not the nation.
On Thursday, Grillo lost by one stroke in the quarterfinals of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship at the Kittansett Golf Club in Marion to Matt Larziale, ending an impressive week in which he missed qualifying for the championship round by the slimmest of margins.
Grillo, who graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School after a stellar four-year career on the high school golf team, is no stranger to Massachusetts amateur play.
Last summer he overcame a seven-stroke deficit in the early going and sank a dramatic birdie putt on the final hole of the final day to capture his second consecutive Massachusetts Junior Golf Championship title. Grillo automatically won a berth into the Massachusetts Amateur Championship — which includes the top players in Massachusetts of all age ranges — but last year failed to make the early cut.
This year he was strong from the start of the mixed-format golf tournament. He made the early cut during the first two rounds that feature traditional stroke play, and was 13th on the leader board when the tournament switched to match play and the field was whittled down to 32 players.
In the first round Grillo won a close match by a single stroke over John McNeil, a member of the Boston Amateur Golf Society. In the round of 16, he then defeated Phil Miceli of Sagamore Spring Golf Club by a breezier margin of four strokes with three holes to play.
Grillo, whose home course is Farm Neck in Oak Bluffs, faced a tough opponent in the quarterfinals on Thursday in Parziale, who hails from Thorny Lea Golf Club. Grillo held a two-stroke lead with four holes to play against Parziale, but he missed a birdie putt on the 14th that would have given him a lead of three strokes with four holes to play.
“Everyone likes to have a three or four-stroke lead late [in the round], especially in match play, because it puts all the pressure on the other guy,” Grillo said, speaking to the Gazette by cell phone yesterday while driving to play in the New England Amateur Championship at the Charles River Country Club.
He continued: “But even with the two-stroke lead, I figured all I had to do was par the last four holes and I would be in good shape.”
The four remaining holes were all par fours. Parziale made a birdie putt on the 15th, while Grillo missed his birdie putt to see his lead cut in half. Parziale then won the 16th with a long birdie putt to even the match. The two players then halved the 17th hole with pars to keep the match tied.
Both players had strong drives on the 18th hole, a 460-yard par four into the wind. Grillo used a three wood for his second shot, which looked good off the club but then sailed deep into a bunker in front of the green. While Grillo was in the bunker in two, Parziale was on the green in two.
Grillo did lift the ball onto the green on his third shot, but was left with a 40-foot putt for birdie while Parziale had only a short putt for birdie.
When Grillo missed his long putt, he conceded the hole and Parziale won the match to advance to the semi-finals. Once there, Parziale defeated Kevin Quinn of Charles River Golf Club by four strokes (with three holes to play) before advancing to the championship round, where he lost by a single stroke on the final hole to John Hadges of Thorny Lea Golf Club.
Grillo said yesterday he takes some comfort that he lost by one stroke to the player who went on to lose the entire championship by one stroke. He also said he felt he played well.
“If somebody told me earlier in the week that I would be up to strokes with four holes to play, and that I would go par, par, par bogey, I would have taken that in a second. I don’t think I played badly, I just think [Parziale] played great.”