By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
MERCER COUNTY —
When you consider that only 156 golfers from around the world qualify for the United States Senior Open each year, that’s puts any player at a pretty lofty level.
Sharon’s Denny Dolci has reached that status!
“My goal right now is to make it to the weekend,” said Dolci with a laugh concerning the USGA-sponsored Senior Open to be held July 8-14 at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club.
Dolci fired a 4-under-par 68 during a recent qualifier at Valley Brook Country Club in McMurray, Pa., to beat out 41 other players for the lone qualifying spot from that location. He finished ahead of a couple of former Senior Open qualifiers Roy Vucinich (71) and Bob Ford (72).
“I’ve very excited,” said Dolci as he took a break from practice on a rainy Thursday morning at Tam O’Shanter Golf Course driving range. “It’s a humbling experience. It’s something as a golfer we all dream about.
“The superintendent does a great job at Valley Brook and the course was set up very difficult. The greens were reading over 14s (considered fast on the Stimpmeter that measures the speed of greens). I was fortunate enough to have the right speed for the day.
“When you are in an 18-hole tournament it is basically a shootout and there is no room for error. I hit a lot of fairways, hit 17 greens (in regulation) and putted extremely well.
“My only bogey was on a par-3, when I had about an 8-footer, I thought I made it, but when it finally stopped it was a little father than when I started.”
Dolci, 52, begain his golf career as a stellar young player, twice winning the prestigious Herald-Tam O’Shanter Junior Tournament. He was a standout golfer and basketball player at Sharon High School, graduating in 1979.
He earned a golf scholarship at the University of Louisville, where he had an outstanding collegiate career before graduating in 1983.
He returned to the area as golf professional at Sharon Country Club for many years, before it was bought out by Avalon Golf and Country Club group. He served as pro at some other country clubs and now plays out of Tam O’Shanter, while teaching lessons at Tamie and Avalon at Buhl Park courses.
He is one of the top players each year in Tri-State PGA Section events. While he has played in national tournaments in the past (3 times as an amateur in the Public Links and 5 times in the National Club Pro Tournament) the Senior Open — which requires players to be age 50 or older — is by far his greatest accomplishment.
“It should be a lot of fun,” said Dolci. “As I said, my goal is to try to make the weekend. But what ever happens, I’m going to take it all in and enjoy it.”
Dolci’s wife Michelle will be making the trip with him, so it will be almost like a vacation. “We were going to fly, but now I think we’ll drive and enjoy the trip,” he said. “And Sean Knapp out of Pittsburgh (an amateur who qualified in a Maryland tourney) just turned 50 and he made it too, who I’ll probably hang with him.”
What does Dolci think about the Omaha course?
“I really haven’t looked at it yet,” said Dolci. “But my friend John Zebroski (out of Brookfield who once qualifed for, and played in the U.S. Open) charted it out and said it fits my game. I’m just glad it’s not 7200 yards; it’s about 6800. But It’s a USGA tournament, so you know the course will be set up tough. They don’t want anybody shooting 12- or 15-under.
“I’m sure the pin placements will be tough and the greens will be fast. It will be optimal to hit the fairways.”
One of the things that Dolci looks forward to is rubbing shoulders with some of the greats from the pro game. “Guys like V.J. Singh and Rocco Mediate will be there. John Cook (whose mom Lyda hails from Sharpsville and aunt Carole Barker runs The First Tee of Sharon program at Buhl Park) is still playing great in major tournaments.”
Many locals will be hoping to get a few glimpses of Dolci on television. “I imagine it will be on The Golf Channel in the early part of the rounds,” said Dolci. “But I’m not exactly one of the name players so I won’t have a premier time. But that’s OK. I’m just looking forward to being there.”