As Vincenzo Salina strode up to the 18th tee on Tuesday, Head Coach Tommy Hunter walked with his senior co-captain, keeping with a Georgetown golf tradition. The discussion was as it always goes: a coach and a player reflecting on the past four years. But this time the prize at the end of the walk was a Big East title that had not been attained by the Georgetown men’s golf team in 12 long years.
“We have a tradition in the program where our seniors, the minute they come to their final hole, that person and myself are going to walk,” Hunter said. “We’re going to enjoy that walk because it’s a special walk. [We talk about] how important their contribution has been to our program, and the kind of person they are. It’s the one intimate moment between player and coach.”
Though everyone in the gallery knew that the Hoyas’ title hopes rested squarely on Salina’s shoulders, he wasn’t completely aware that he and his teammates were about to step right into Georgetown history.
“I didn’t really know where we were standing at that point,” Salina said of his mindset before the 18th hole. “The only hint [Hunter] gave me was that I had to make four shots. For me, that could mean that we were in the hunt for runner-up, because I knew that I’d been playing bad on the back nine. I didn’t really know it was to win. I was focusing on making those four shots.”
Once junior Brandon Ellis parred his last hole, Hunter knew exactly what had to be done and he knew that the right man was in the tee box for the Blue and Gray.
“At that point in time [after Ellis’ par putt] everything came off,” Hunter reflected. “The dream came off from me, the miracle came off from me, these guys deserved to get that. Vincenzo deserved to get four because he had worked so hard.”
The hole started inauspiciously, with the ball coming off Salina’s driver fairly well, only to come to rest in a bunker near the fairway. But Salina – whom Hunter lauds as an excellent bunker player – stayed calm and found the green with his 8-iron. From there it was only two putts that stood between Salina and victory, but those putts were anything but simple.
“On the first putt, my mind was completely out of it, and I jammed a putt 10 feet by [the hole],” Salina recounted. “On the second one, knowing Tommy told me I had to make four shots to finish my career I said [to myself], `OK, now, you have eight feet . put the best stroke in and hope it goes in,’ and the ball went in.”
Salina knew that he had just done something great based on the reaction of the crowd, but it was his teammate and senior co-captain Trevor Matese — who had not made the trip and was watching the results roll in on his computer with his teammates on the Hilltop — who summed up the team’s feelings perfectly.
“Once we saw how it turned out, there hasn’t been a prouder moment on or off the golf course for any of us,” Matese said. “It was a very special [moment].”
Hunter was also extremely moved by the moment.
“These two [captains] are the backbone of what we do,” Hunter said. “To watch all this unfold and have them get a moment like this is really something to behold. For these two guys, seniors, it’s even more special.”
For Salina, though, his day was not quite done. Not only had his birdie on 18 catapulted the Hoyas to the title, it thrust him into a playoff for the individual title, a possibility that he had written off after struggling a little bit on the back nine.
“I wasn’t really set on [winning the individual title] – I was already so happy that we’d won the team event that I didn’t really care,” Salina said. “My mind was still on our team victory, I was not [mentally] in the individual playoff when I hit the first tee. It was only when I arrived next to the green that I started realizing that I had a chance of winning . I completely put aside the individual championship [on the back nine], because I knew I had no chance.”
Despite the impressiveness of Salina’s individual title, which he won with a birdie on the first playoff hole, he was far more interested in talking about the team’s achievement, which was completely unsurprising to both his co-captain and coach, who praised both Salina’s unselfishness as well as the morale and togetherness of the team throughout an often frustrating regular season that saw the Hoyas seeded 11th out of 12 teams at the Big East championships.
“The season had not been as successful as we’d wanted coming up to [the] Big Easts,” Matese said. “We hadn’t been playing that poorly. We’d had a couple of bad rounds in each tournament that had kind of kept us from being exactly where we wanted to be.”
Hunter also knew that his team’s regular-season finish was not representative of its abilities and attributed much of the team’s postseason success to the team’s unselfishness.
“[Matese] wasn’t there, but he was there [at the Big Easts]. The team is always with us,” Hunter said. “That’s the strength of this team – they’re very, very close. When we have to make a decision about who goes on the road, there’s seven guys back home that have a little disappointment, but they [overcome] that and move out of an immature mentality into a mature mentality that supports what these five guys are doing.”
Left unsaid by Hunter is the motivation that his team got from playing for a championship during Hunter’s 25th year at Georgetown and 19th as head coach of the men’s golf team.
“He’s a great guy, a great coach,” Matese said. “It’s nice for us to be able to give something back to Tommy. We’re here for four years, but Tommy’s been here for 25 years and he deserves more than we do to get a championship.”
“It’s amazing for Tommy – I’m so proud that [we] could do that for [Hunter’s] 25th anniversary,” Salina added. “It was something really amazing . I don’t have the words to describe it right now; I still don’t think I’ve realized it.”
While Hunter is doubtlessly glad to provide all the extra motivation he can, he is quick to deflect any personal praise back to his players and emphasize that he was not among those out there hitting the shots that earned Georgetown the title.
“Pressure brings out the best in an athlete, and it brings out the worst in an athlete,” Hunter said. “To watch our young guys match up to it and match up to it in a very classy way – those are the things that matter. It’s not about winning a golf tournament, it’s about watching young guys come here as freshmen and leave as men.”
Not only does Georgetown’s conference title bring them serious hardware, it has also earned them a spot in the NCAA tournament and a chance to show that it belongs among the country’s elite and on the national stage. Regardless of how the Hoyas do in that tournament, though, Hunter is thrilled that his players have already earned a spot in Georgetown golf history.
“[This victory] convinces the outside world that Georgetown can play – there’s no guesswork anymore,” Hunter said. “That’s why we do what we do . Now they can look at each other at reunions down the road and say, `You know what? We did something. We did something that not a lot of Georgetown golf teams did.'”