Rocco Salvitti had high hopes as he teed it up at Grove City Country Club but in the Central Catholic senior’s third attempt to qualify for the U.S. Junior Amateur, he was at 2-over par after 15 holes and needed to make something happen fast to secure a ticket to Oregon.
Having two close misses in his previous qualifying attempts, Salvitti was able to see what was ahead of him in the final three holes.
“It shaped me into becoming a better player,” he said of the close misses. “Going through qualifiers, it teaches you resilience and never to put a number in your head. It’s super easy in these qualifiers to think that four under is going to qualify, but in reality, you have to play as well as you can and never give up. A qualifier is different from a stroke-play event. You have to make a lot of putts and it’s not always about going extremely low, especially in these junior qualifiers.
“Everyone is going to make mistakes; it’s just making your mistakes as small as possible.”
Salvitti was able to buckle down and secure a spot in the U.S. Junior Amateur, which tees off Monday after recording birdie on each of the final three holes to share medalist honors with Canada’s Felix Bouchard.
“That in itself was pretty cool and that night getting the medal for being a medalist and then getting the piece of paper telling me I was going to the U.S. Junior that was pretty cool,” said Salvitti. “It didn’t kick in until the next day when I said ‘wow I’m going out to Bandon Dunes in July to compete in my first USGA event.’ Now that I’m here, it’s more than I expected, we’re being treated so well, and the practice facilities are awesome. It’s just a really cool experience.”
Both the 16th and 18th holes were par 5s and the 17th hole was a short par 4, meaning the opportunity to score was present.
It started with a 12-foot birdie on 16 and then with the temptation to drive the ball next to the hole, Salvitti pulled an iron out of the bag and then a wedge on his approach hit the pin setting up a decision on the 18th hole.
He pulled driver on the 18 and hit driver over the threes, setting him up with the final birdie he needed. After a nearly two-hour wait, Salvitti, who was in the clubhouse lead, received official confirmation that the 1-under score earned him his first USGA appearance.
“He is a special player and kid here at Central and to see him reach these accomplishments is a credit to him,” Central Catholic coach Corey O’Connor said. “He is growing as a golfer a person going into his senior year. Playing a USGA event is something special. Going through this process getting mentally and physically prepared is something that will help him as he approaches the collegiate level.”
Salvitti played his first practice round Saturday afternoon at Bandon Dunes and will do the same Sunday afternoon at Bandon Trails. He had previously walked both courses with his tour yardage book and StrakaLine greens book, but now is adding to his general notes in his preparation.
The biggest adjustment has been contending with the wind which has influenced each putt whether cross or downwind. The ball itself has gone shorter, so he has also been working on his yardages on the range.
He has not been on the range alone as he has a local caddie on the bag in Hunter Newlin. In addition, the week will be a family affair with mother Renae, father Ron and sister Ryann making the trip.
As Salvitti has worked on his mental approach, he has had two peers who have USGA experience that have helped his cause.
Salvitti’s best friend is Carter Pitcairn, who at last year’s U.S. Amateur caddied for runner-up Austin Greaser.
“It’s one of those things where he was caddying, could feel the pressure and see what was going on but with Austin, he stays pretty even keeled out there,” said Salvitti. “He said you can feel the pressure out there, but he knows I stay pretty calm out there. You’re not going to be able to tell if I made a birdie or double bogey.”
In September, Salvitti announced his commitment to Notre Dame, which has Murrysville’s Palmer Jackson on the team. Jackson, who has had several USGA experiences and was selected to this year’s United States Palmer Cup team, met with Salvitti and his dad a week prior.
His advice was to have fun with the experience, enjoy it and do as well as he could.
Salvitti does not expect nerves to get the better of him given he has played in high-pressure events before and believes if he can come out, play his best and achieve his goals.
What exactly are his goals?
“My goal is just to take it one shot at a time, I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he said. “My second goals is to get as far as possible, but my aim is to make it to match play if not a little further. Being in the top 64 of 256 would be awesome.”
Salvitti is set to tee off at 1:20 p.m. local time Monday and Bandon Dunes with Velton Perry and Dennis Staykov and the trio will take to Bandon Trails Tuesday at 8:10 a.m.