Gruss enjoying first leading role

A hectic work schedule prevented Andrew Gruss from playing in the 79th Connecticut Open this week.

Gruss is still adjusting to his relatively new job as head professional at Greenwich Country Club, so he's fine with sitting out one of the state's premier golf events.

He has fond memories of last year's Connecticut Open, which was held at Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, where he worked as the first assistant pro before moving on to Greenwich in February.

"It's the first time in quite a while I haven't played in it," Gruss said Tuesday. "I always loved playing in it. It's a lot of fun and a great event. I've always said outside of winning it that there couldn't be a much more enjoyable Open for me than last year.

"After last year, to take a year off is okay. Between playing well and playing in front of my home membership at Wee Burn made it pretty darn special."

Gruss, a 2001 Waterford High School graduate, has gradually climbed the ladder in the business. During his high school days, he worked in the bag room at New London Country Club.

Since graduating from Florida State with a bachelor's degree in Business and Hospitality Administration with a focus in Professional Golf Management, Gruss has worked at Fox Hopyard Golf Club in East Haddam, The Carnegie Abbey Club in Portsmouth, R.I., Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Kensington and Wee Burn.

He gained valuable experience at every stop.

When the opportunity came up at Greenwich last winter, he gladly accepted the offer.

It's his first job as a head pro. And he's just 30 years old.

"It's been great," Gruss said. "There's just more things to juggle at once, so that always makes it interesting. It's not really very different from Wee Burn.

"It's a big club, a busy active place."

His family - wife, Kerri, and 11-month old daughter Taylor - keeps him busy, too. Taylor is learning how to walk.

It may not be long before dad buys Taylor her first golf club.

"We could do that at any point," Gruss said. "That could probably come up in near future. I'll let her figure out if she wants to do it or not."

Gruss will continue to limit his playing time while he grows into his new job. He may play a few tournaments this fall.

He's an accomplished golfer, having played in the Travelers Championship, the PGA of America's Professional National Championship and Assistants' Championship. He also was named the Connecticut Section PGA's 2008 Assistant Professional of the Year.

"I would have loved to have been a better player and played but that didn't come to fruition," Gruss said.

He's happy with his career path. "I think it's always hard to say what will happen down the road," Gruss said. "Certainly, this is the career path or direction that suits me best and keeps me happy, which is important. It creates a nice opportunity for me and my family."

Short putts

Kevin Shea, the pro at Great Neck, and Brad Lusenhop of Fox Hopyard made the cut at the 79th Connecticut Open at Torrington Country Club. Shea advanced to today's final round with a two-round total of 1-over 145 (70-75) and Lusenhop fired an even par 144 (71-73).

George Thurrott holds a four-stroke lead through two rounds of Pequot men's club championship play. He shot a 75 and 71 last weekend for a total of 6-over 146.

Two-time champion Chris Trisciuzzi (78-72-150) and Rick Simonds (75-75-150) are both chasing Thurrott, who's seeking his first club title. They will play a final round on Sunday morning. Trisciuzzi last won the title in 2004.

• The pairings are set for match play in the Shennecossett Golf Course men's club championship. Steve Chevalier earned medalist honors in qualifying round action last weekend, firing a two-round total of 142 (69-73). He won the title in 2011.

Defending champion Ken Wetmore is the second seed. He is shooting for his club-record fifth title. He also captured titles in 1993, 1995 and 2005.

"He's better now than he was in the 90's," said John Aspinwall, a long-time member.

Play begins this weekend. Semifinals are set for Aug. 10 and finals on Aug. 11.

• After running the top men's club champion winners from the area last week, here's a few from the women's side:

Fran Comstock is the record holder at Old Lyme Country Club, winning eight (1969-72, 1975, 1977, 1981 and 1982.

Amy Stone has six titles at Stonington Country Club, holding the trophy in 1995, 1997, 2000-03.

• Numerous local golfers will be competing in the Connecticut Mid-Amateur qualifier on Wednesday at the Mohegan Sun Country Club at Pautipaug in Baltic.

James Lathrop (Pequot Golf Club), Michael Hawley (Stonington CC), Ron Soccoli Jr. (Black Hall) and Dave Jones (Pautipaug) all have won club championships at their respective clubs. Frank Villazante III (Mohegan Sun), Erik Williams (Lake of Isles), Ed Hilario (Norwich), Chevalier and Tony Susi (Mohegan Sun) also are in the field.

Those making the cut will play in the 26th Connecticut Mid-Amateur Aug. 20-21 at Fairview Farms Country Club in Harwinton.

Jeff Hedden, formerly of Black Hall and New London Country Club, is the last southeastern Connecticut golfer to win the state mid-amateur, accomplishing the feat in 2009.

• In just its second year under new ownership, Great Neck in Waterford (formerly NLCC) is one of the true gems in the area. Golfers are flocking to the course. The waiting list to join stands at about 150, according to Shea.

"This place is on fire," Shea said. "Within six months (of opening), we had a waiting list."

• Saturday, July 20, was a lucky day for two Black Hall golfers. Michael Shapiro had a hole-in-one on No. 17 and Mark Stack aced No. 9.

• The Black Hall men's club championship will be a 54-hole stroke play event this year. Competition starts on Aug. 17 with first round action and the second round tees off the next day. The final round takes place on Aug. 24. Soccoli is the defending champion.

• As of July 20, Dave Award was the Elmridge men's club points leader with 70. He won the senior club championship.

• Stonington's championship weekend is Aug. 9-11. Hawley is the two-time defending men's champion and Jeanne Tingo will defend her women's title. Registration deadline for both events is Aug. 7.

Upcoming events

• The Connecticut Senior Four Ball tees off Aug. 13 at the Farms Country Club in Wallingford. Locals expected to compete include: Jim O'Neill and James O'Reilly of Great Neck, Bob Baker and Frank Villazante of Mohegan Sun, Bob Nilsen, Carl Stockwell and Richard Wilczewski of Shennecossett, and Bill Hermanson of Black Hall.

• Norwich Golf Course will host the CSGA's 77th Father & Son Championship on Aug. 15.

• Black Hall is hosting the Connecticut Section PGA 51st Assistants Championship on Sept. 3.

Gavin Keefe covers local golf for The Day.

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