With all of Georgetown’s marquee teams turning in surprisingly disappointing ends to their postseasons – or in the case of the men’s lacrosse team, no postseason at all – senior Vincenzo Salina and the men’s golf team surprised everyone in a much different way.
When the Swiss sensation lined up an 8-foot par putt on the 18th hole of the last round of the Big East championship in Tampa, Fla., he thought he was just putting a bow on his collegiate career. As his coach, Tommy Hunter, looked on, little did Salina know that he was about to seal an improbable tournament win for the 11th-seeded Hoyas, the program’s first since 1998.
“When my coach joined me on 18, he didn’t tell me where we were in the standings, so I had no idea,” Salina said from the campus of Texas A&M, where the Hoyas are playing in the NCAA tournament. “He just told me, `This is the last hole of your collegiate career. Just try to make a good par and finish on a good note,’ and I said, `OK why not?’ . I aimed it two balls left and I had a perfect putt. From the reaction of my partners, I knew something good happened, but I had no idea that putt was to win, which was good I think. I would have had more pressure.”
One playoff hole and a smooth 25-foot birdie putt later, Salina added an exclamation point on top of an historic day of golf: the Big East individual title.
“Coming after that putt on 18 and finding out we won by one shot, . it was such a great emotion going through my body and my mind that I didn’t really think, and I wasn’t really prepared when the umpires told me to come back for a playoff,” said Salina, who shot a 2-over, 215 for the tournament. “I really wasn’t in the playoff mentally – I was still thinking about that putt and how we won the whole tournament. . I had to aim [the birdie putt] probably a foot and a half left. It was a downhill slider and it just went in. I don’t know if it was meant to be or not, but it was a great putt.
“For me the biggest victory was the team victory. The individual victory – that was just a bonus for me.”
Salina and the Hoyas may have caught the Big East off guard on their way to the first conference title for any Georgetown men’s team since 2008 – when the men’s cross country team brought one home – but the Geneva-born senior saw portents of things to come a week earlier, in New Jersey of all places.
“One thing that went our way before Big East was the last two rounds at [the] Princeton [Invitational],” Salina said. “We managed to get together two rounds of golf, everybody played well, and that kind of gave us a bit of momentum going into Big East’s. But to be honest, we had no idea and we didn’t really believe that we could do [what we did] at Big East’s. It’s not that we played unbelievable golf, it’s just that everybody played to their potential.”
It was a circuitous route that brought Salina to the Hoyas’ moment of triumph on the 18th green and to his own individual championship moments later. From the shadow of the Swiss Alps to the banks of the Potomac, golf has been a constant for him.
“I started playing golf when I was I think 11 – before that I did ski racing and tennis,” said Salina, who is set to start a full-time auditing job in D.C. on Aug. 2. “Ski racing wasn’t the best sport to play during the summer. So my parents were members at a country club and I went there once and decided to pick [golf] up, and I liked it a lot, so I said, `Why not?’ In Europe and Switzerland we don’t have any high school or college sports, so it was basically on my own with my buddies from the country club and we would travel around Switzerland and Europe to play some tournaments.
“After that I decided I wanted to keep playing competitive golf after high school,” he added. “Tommy [Hunter] gave me that shot – I’ve got to be thankful for that. . The U.S. offered great academics and on top of that, the opportunity to play golf. I think Georgetown definitely gave me the best balance between an academic degree and the golf team, [which] gave me a spot after I walked on.”
Starting his career as a walk-on, Salina emerged as the Hoyas’ best golfer by the end of his senior campaign, but before his performance at the Big East championships, he had not finished higher than 12th in any tournament throughout his college career. Indeed, what makes him stand out from this year’s picture of Georgetown athletics is his notably clutch performance during what could have been his last round of college golf. In the kind of moment when others had fallen short, Salina stands out for rising above the occasion.
Without a doubt, Salina and the Hoyas emerged from mediocrity to become one of the best stories in recent sports memory on the Hilltop. Taking a look at their current challenge – the NCAA tournament – the potential is there for another chapter.
“The week before [the NCAA] tournament, coach told us, `Well, whatever happens from now is gravy. It’s bonus.’ We did a great thing at Big East’s and now we’re honored to play here with some of the best teams in the country,” Salina said. “We’re going to play our best, going to play shot after shot and we’ll see. . You never know, we thought we couldn’t do it at Big East’s and we did it, which is why we’re still doing it here.”
In the same way, if people were asked two months ago, no one would have put Vincenzo Salina in the conversation for postseason accolades. Thanks to a season and a career now defined by two of the most memorable putts in Georgetown golf history, Salina is definitively THE HOYA’s 2009-2010 Male Athlete of the Year.
– Hoya Staff Writer A.J. Betts contributed to this report.