Though it was only the first hole in his U.S. Junior Amateur match-play contest against China’s Wenyi Ding, things were quickly going well for Central Catholic High School product Rocco Salvitti.
He buried a 12-foot birdie putt, only to have a six-footer knocked in on top of him.
That sequence of events would foreshadow the remainder of Wednesday afternoon’s round of 64 match, as Ding, ranked 16th in the match play and 20th in the amateur ranks, would win 5-and-4, despite Salvitti shooting even par over 14 holes at difficult Bandon Dunes.
“I’m happy with myself and how I played,” Salvitti said. “I could’ve had a couple of putts fall today but overall, I’m happy with how I played this week and how I’ve played all summer. One match won’t make me think otherwise. I definitely learned a lot today.
“He gave himself more chances but at the end of the day, I missed one fairway and one green, so not very upset with how I played, but I got a tough draw. I’m happy with myself and how I did this week and am looking at my next couple of events with a lot of confidence.”
Assessing the match, Salvitti noted Ding consistently outdrove him, but Ding’s approach shots also frequently set him up with birdies from inside of 15 feet, which certainly can be tough to keep up.
Though Salvitti was able to stick to his gameplan of fairways and greens, he confidently admitted that he was beat and expects Ding to be on the weekend Golf Channel broadcasts.
Salvitti’s biggest decision may have come after Tuesday’s final stroke-play round, after completing play that saw him finish a stroke outside of a playoff.
With his spot secured, Salvitti opted to change caddies mid-event, replacing local caddie Hunter Newlin with friend Nick Ciocca, who is a year younger and has also committed to Notre Dame. Ciocca competed in the stroke-play portion of this event and missed the cut at 7 over.
Ciocca was at the dinner table Tuesday night, when Salvitti’s father Ron officially informed his son that he had successfully advanced to the match play portion of the tournament, one of the lasting memories this week provided.
“A caddie change isn’t what I wanted this week, unfortunately things didn’t work out with my caddie and I,” said Salvitti. “He didn’t offer what I was looking for, so I felt that I was much better off without him. I decided to switch caddies after the round yesterday.
“(Ciocca) helped me a lot with club choices and green reading. It was definitely better for me. I had a lot more fun today than the last two days even though I’ve been playing pretty good golf.”
Salvitti expressed positivity going into this round of 64 affair, feeling great upon waking up and warming up well, before heading to the first hole, where both competitors made birdies.
Ding would pull away in the aftermath, while Salvitti was left dissatisfied with his performance but not disappointed.
Salvitti will look to carry this momentum over into what is another couple of busy weeks as he first plays at next week’s Junior PGA Championship at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club and will then take to Texas the following week as he plays in the AJGA’s Jack Burke Jr. Invitational.
Nearly 90 minutes after his week ended and his lunch complete, Salvitti expressed how hard he can be on himself.
In the past he had coaches and family members remind him how much success he has found in golf, but Salvitti himself never really allowed himself to think in that way.
This week, Salvitti achieved his goal of achieving match play in a USGA event and it has enhanced his perspective, which he believes will only help him move forward.
“Being out here this week with the best, playing with the best, it gave me a very positive mindset that no matter where I am or who I’m playing against, I can compete,” he said. “I’ve always known I can compete with the best players, but I don’t let that get to my mind.
“Seeing all of these players out here and making it through to the match play is a very good feeling.”