Doug DeBettencourt, coach of the regional high school golf team, is not shy about offering high praise for his star golfer Tony Grillo.
"He's arguably the best golfer in the whole state of Massachusetts, hands down. He plays with a consistency you never see in a player his age," Mr. DeBettencourt said.
That's no small compliment from a man who has coached some talented golfers, both during his 15 years as the golf pro at Farm Neck and nine years as the high school coach.
But at age 17, and still only a junior, Tony Grillo's record already speaks for itself.
He dominated the Massachusetts Junior Championships earlier this year with an eye-popping ten-stroke victory, he placed third in an American Junior Golf Association tournament in Pennsylvania, and finished 11th at the Optimus International Junior Championships at the PGA National in Palm Beach, Fla.
On Monday, Grillo added another trophy to his collection with a two-stroke victory in the 47th annual Cape and Islands High School Championships, earning him the distinction of the best schoolboy golfer on the Cape and Islands for 2006.
Grillo didn't play his best long game, usually his strength, but made up for it with his short game, sinking three birdies in the morning round of eighteen and one more in the afternoon round of nine helping him to secure the win. He shot 71 in the morning and 36 in the afternoon for a total of 107.
Cape Cod Academy's Nick Clarke finished second, with a morning score of 72 and an afternoon score of 37 for a total of 109.
Grillo hit only 10 greens in the morning round on Monday, an uncommonly low number for him, although he repeatedly saved par. He birdied on both the second and third holes of the morning round to jump out to an early lead, and although he bogeyed holes eight and nine, he still had a large enough lead to coast to victory.
"It wasn't my best game. I wasn't hitting the ball up and down very well. But I made my putts when I needed to," he said.
Grillo is not shy about discussing his individual championships, but he prefers to talk about his high school team and teammates. For someone who expects to play individual golf for most of his adult life - which pits him alone against the course and the rest of the field - he fully appreciates the opportunity to play as part of a team.
"It's exciting to be part of something, to know that every hole is important to the rest of the team. I feel lucky to have this opportunity," he said.
Grillo's success comes as little surprise to those familiar with his work ethic and love of the game. His father, Joe Grillo, started bringing him to Farm Neck when he was only a young boy, and he has been playing there ever since. He loves playing Farm Neck, calling it his home course, but said he also loves the challenge that comes with playing any course.
Grillo plans to play golf in college after he graduates from high school; but the question that he, his family and even his coach have grappled with is whether he should go to a larger school with a top golf program, where he would likely be just another player on the team, or to a top academic school, where he likely will be an immediate standout.
"He's smart enough to go to an Ivy League school, and a good enough golfer to play for a top program, like Duke or [the University] of Miami. He could go either way," Mr. DeBettencourt said.
It will come down to whether he wants to be a little fish in a big pond or vice versa, but Grillo says he will be happy as long as can still play golf.
"I just really love playing the game. I've played since I was young, and I hope I can play all my life," he said.
Coach DeBettencourt said Grillo has played a big part in turning the team around from a disapointing 2-16 mark last year to a 10-8 record this year, earning the team a spot in the state playoffs at the Hyannis Golf Club this Tuesday.
He said Grillo carried the team in huge wins against Apponequent, Seekonk and Old Rochester, and is poised to be the centerpiece of what could be a very talented high school team next year as a senior.
Coach DeBettencourt said this year's team is talented, but conceded it is hard not look ahead to next year when most of the team, led by Grillo, will really be hitting their stride. In addition to Grillo, the team will be returning Albion Alley, Tad Gold, Luke Pisano, Josh Crowther, Henry Smith and Gregg Leonard.
"I think we have an opportunity to fare very well in the state tourament next week. But it's clear we will be an even stronger team next year. We may be looking at one of the best teams from the Vineyard in the last 20 years," the coach said.