St. Mary golfers look to end championship drought

Bob DiFrancesco marked the celebration of a silver anniversary this week by watching golf.

Twenty-five years ago, the St. Mary Catholic Secondary School teacher/coach launched the Hamilton High School Golf Tour. It has proven to be a popular concept and, on Thursday (Oct. 3) he was overseeing play again as the 2013 four-event competition concluded with a stop at King’s Forest.

Coach Bob DiFrancesco (right) has led his St. Mary team to the GHAC final. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

Coach Bob DiFrancesco has led his St. Mary team to the GHAC final. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

The St. Mary Crusaders accumulated the most points during this year’s tour to capture the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association’s overall team championship. And by doing, so they’ll advance to the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference final on Monday at Beverly Golf and Country Club. Two individuals with the lowest scoring averages not represented on the first-place team – Zach Moore of Bishop Tonnos and Matt Wood of Bishop Ryan – also get to play against the Halton representatives.

“It’s been 13 years since St. Mary last went to GHAC,” said Crusader David Silvestro, whose teammates are Ben Enright, Nick Hill, Nick Chong and Patrick Chong. “It feels great. We came close a few times. Now, to be a senior in my last year at St. Mary, it’s pretty cool to get a championship under my belt.

“It’s been the same team for us basically since Grade 9. We all practise together in the mornings at Dundas Valley. We have memberships there. So before school, we play a round of golf. We all know each other really well.”

Halton, because its association is comprised of 22 schools compared to just seven in the HWCAA, is allowed three team qualifiers and four individuals for GHAC. It’s Monday’s regional tournament at Beverly that determines who advances to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship tournament Oct. 15-17 at the Essex Golf and Country Club.

Said Enright: “We worked as hard as we could for this to make it to GHAC.”

Moore’s scoring average over the four events was 74.33. Wood came in with a 75.66.

The Bishop Ryan Celtics finished second in the team standings.

“It started in the spring of 1989,” DiFrancesco said of the tour’s history. “It was just an idea that I had to change from a one-day tournament to kind of a league format.”

King’s Forest (twice), Chedoke and Copetown Woods were the sites for this year’s tour. Players accumulated points from various types of competitions – 9 holes better ball, 9 holes medal play, 3-ball aggregate, 2-3-4 progressive best ball and 3-score quota point.

“It’s only been a board sport for the last three years,” DiFrancesco said. “Up to that point, in its grass roots beginnings, the kids were funding it. If you were playing, you were paying.”

DiFrancesco was a CPGA professional at Millcroft in Burlington when he came up with the idea for a Hamilton high school golf tour. In the early years, schools from Burlington, Caledonia, Wentworth County along with both the Hamilton Catholic and public boards took part.

“Alena Sharp (the LPGA veteran with $948,980 in career earnings) played on our tour,” DiFrancesco said. “How good is that? She played for St. Thomas More.”

Zach Moore of Bishop Tonnos and Matt Wood of Bishop Ryan also advance to the GHAC tournament.  (Photo: Gerry Graham)

Zach Moore of Bishop Tonnos and Matt Wood of Bishop Ryan also advance to the GHAC tournament. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

One other well-known name in professional golf – Tiger Woods’ swing coach, Sean Foley — was an up-and-coming player at Burlington Notre Dame when DiFrancesco was co-ordinator of the Millcroft Junior Golf Program. Foley went on to play university golf for Tennessee State but his aim was always to be recognized as an instructor.

“He hit pure irons,” DiFrancesco recalled of Foley’s junior skills.

In Halton, a successful high school golf tour was organized following the lead set by DiFrancesco. It continues to be run by Carl Van Landschoot, who currently teaches at Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School.

“We run the GHAC final together every year,” DiFrancesco said of Van Landschoot. “We’re co-ordinators.”

DiFrancesco, at present, is also chair of the advisory committee to OFSAA golf.

“That committee,” he said, “brought boys’ golf from festival status to championship status. So it was pretty neat to be involved in that whole process. We switched OFSAA to the fall from the spring. It’s a better fit coming out of summer golf. I think we’re playing better golf now.”

DiFrancesco estimates at least 12-15 players from Hamilton have received golf scholarships to U.S. schools over the past 25 years.