DeLucia has momentum and the home-course advantage for Norwich Invite

Chris DeLucia knows every blade of grass at Norwich Golf Course.

He's a member there, works in the pro shop and recently won his record-setting sixth straight men's club championship.

Now DeLucia is focusing on capturing his first Norwich Invitational, a three-day tournament that is teeing off for the 86th time next weekend.

"It's definitely one of my favorite tournaments of the year, being match play and at my home course," said DeLucia, a St. Bernard and UConn graduate. "It definitely would be nice to have that (championship) on my resume. It would be a pretty nice achievement."

It will take a special weekend of golf for DeLucia to cross it off his wish list.

The Norwich Invite always draws the best amateur golfers from the area. Recent winners include Matt Smith (2011), Dave Jones (2010), Kyle O'Connor (2009), Bret Siekierski (2008), Brian Bardier (2007) and Phil Perry who's won five championships, including four straight from 2003 to 2006.

Smith, a former All-Area golfer of the year at Tourtellotte High School and University of Hartford graduate, returns to defend his title. He recently won his first Connecticut Amateur title.

"It's going to be hard for anybody to beat him," DeLucia said.

DeLucia's never made it past the semifinals of the championship flight in his previous six or seven times playing the tournament. In 2008, he lost to Roger DeGray in the semifinals.

Last year, DeLucia was the medalist, firing a 67 in the qualifying round, then won his first-round match, but lost to Bardier for the second straight year.

"It would be nice to avoid him," DeLucia said.

Momentum is on DeLucia's side. He's played well on the summer circuit.

He captured the Norwich men's club championship on June 24, rallying from a four-shot deficit in the final round to beat Jim Sowders. He had a 1-over 72 in the final round and finished with a 297 overall.

Also in June, he turned in a sparkling performance at a qualifier for the U.S. Public Links at Fairview Farm Golf Course in Harwinton. He shot a two-round total of 3-over 147 to finish as the second alternate.

He also recently tied for ninth at a U.S. Open regional qualifier at Twin Hills Country Club in Longmeadow, Mass.

Now the trick is for DeLucia to continue his hot streak.

"I definitely feel like I'm playing well," DeLucia said. "I like the way I'm scoring. (The Invite) is such a tough tournament, with so many good players. You can't have too high expectations."

About 172 golfers are expected to be in the field, according to Norwich pro Mike Svab.

This will be Svab's first Norwich Invite as head pro after taking over the job late last year.

But he's no stranger to the tournament. He's a former pro at Pautipaug and lives about 15 minutes from the course.

"The tournament runs itself after 86 years," Svab said. "It's a fun weekend. You get to see a lot of old friends and all the great golfers in the area come to one spot."

Svab reports the course is in "fantastic condition." He praised the work of superintendent Bruce Morse.

He's hoping for good weather. The Invite has had a good run of favorable, dry weather in recent years.

We're looking forward to next weekend," Svab said.

Short putts

• Norwich Golf Course also crowned champions in other flights. Bill Mageski won the First Flight with a gross total of 329 while John DeLucia took the Second Flight with a gross total of 337. Leo Rail captured the third flight with a net total of 289.

• In a battle between two newcomers to the Elmridge Golf Course senior club championship, Pete Stefanski edged Anthony Kargul, 1-up, in the final. He also defeated Ralph Gibbs, Ian Mackay and Marty Osga on the road to the title. Kargul beat Duanne Vance Jr., Chet Stedman and Jim Doherty.

Ken Wilcox won the first flight title, beating Dave Robarge, 1-up.

• Peter Kalil had a hole-in-one playing the seventh hole on the Red Course at Elmridge. David Kalil, Pete Seymour and Bruce Borowski were witnesses.

John Hollis of Old Saybrook recorded an ace on the 149-yard, fifth hole on the Red Course. He used a six iron. Ken Wilcox and Duke Avery witnessed the event.

• Elmridge teaching pro Chuck Slenker is organizing the First Annual Charity Golf Tournament to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project. The event takes place on Aug. 24 at Shennecossett Golf Course. Shotgun tee time is noon. Entry fee is $100 per person and $400 per team. It is a four-person scramble format.

All proceeds go to the Wounded Warriors Project. Shennecossett pro Todd Goodhue also is working with Slenker.

"What we're trying to do is to get something where we can really give back to them," said Slenker, a war veteran.

To sponsor the event or register, contact Slenker at (860) 287-2043 or Goodhue at (860) 448-1867.

• Fifteen young golfers were fortunate to receive scholarships for the junior golf program at Lake of Isles in North Stonington.

Local scholarship winners include: Mitchell Allen, Gales Ferry; Roger Allen III, Ledyard; Andrew Berardi, Griswold; Justin Carter, Mashantucket; Trinity Payne, Ledyard; Emmanuel Perry, Mystic; Mia Perry, Mystic; Rachel Shaw, Mystic; and Jonathan Reid, Westerly.

The program runs through Sept. 30 and offers weekly practice and training sessions with a Troon Golf Academy instructor, unlimited use of the practice facility, Lake of Isles golf bag, polo shirt, wind shirt, cap and balls and complimentary standby playing privileges on the North Course.

• The Fourth of July holiday week was a busy one for area golf courses, especially Pequot Golf Club in Stonington.

"This is the highest week we've had play-wise," Pequot pro Joe Brucas said. "It seems like a lot of people took the week off."

• Frank Englund and Tom Thomson won the Firecracker Open Wednesday at Birch Plains Golf Course in Groton. They combined for a 134 (64-70). Brandon Clarke and Bob Gironimi took second with a 142 (71-71).

• Matti Fuller of Old Lyme had his best high school season last spring. Now the senior-to-be is off to a good start on the summer circuit. He tied for 11th with a two-round total of 156 (77-79) at the Junior Connecticut PGA Championship last week.

Fuller was a member of the 2012 All-Area first team, as was Waterford's Nick Hedden and Griswold's Joey Barile who both finished in the top 30. Hedden tied for 13th with a 157 and Barile tied for 27th at 162.

Upcoming events

• Qualifying stroke play for the Elmridge men's club championship started Saturday and runs through July 15. First-round action tees off on July 21. The final round will be on July 29.

• The Caddy Reunion/Remembrance golf tournament is still going strong. The event will be held for the 14th time on Thursday at Shennecossett Golf Course.

• Dave Jones and Tony Susi of the Mohegan Sun Country Club at Pautipaug will compete in the 83rd New England Amateur Championship starting on July 17 at Falmouth Country Club in Maine. Nick Torrance of Lake of Isles also plans to play.

• The 78th Connecticut Open will run July 30 through Aug. 1 at Wee Burn Country Club in Darien.

Gavin Keefe is The Day's golf columnist.

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