WEB.COM TOUR INSIDER
Bozzelli reaches Final Stage with renewed focus
The Auburn grad is one of over 150 players who will fight for Tour status at Q-School next week
December 05, 2014
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- Dominic Bozzelli was a two-time All-American while at Auburn University. (Courtesy of Auburn University)
Twenty-three-year-old Dominic Bozzelli completed his collegiate career in spring 2013 with a flourish; the former Auburn University player finished runner-up at the NCAA individual championship.
Bozzelli turned professional that spring, but he wasn’t yet ready to commit to life as a full-time professional golfer. The reason: he still had 15 credits remaining to complete his college degree in business and psychology.
That fall, Bozzelli attempted to prepare for the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament to the best of his ability, but his focus was justifiably torn between school and golf. He advanced to Second Stage of Q-School, but he fired disappointing opening rounds of 78 and 75 at TPC Craig Ranch, and he fell nine strokes shy of advancing to Final Stage.
Bozzelli completed his degree in December, and he entered 2014 with a renewed focus on sharpening his game in preparation for Q-School. It has paid off, as the Rochester, New York, native advanced through First and Second-Stage sites in Pine Mountain, Georgia, and Kingwood, Texas, to earn a spot at next week’s Final Stage, Dec. 11-16 at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
It’s an exciting opportunity for Bozzelli, who is attempting to accomplish something that not many golfers from Western New York have managed over the years: holding status at one of the highest levels of professional golf.
With a nice performance next week at PGA National, he can secure strong status on the Web.com Tour for the 2015 season.
“I definitely knew where my game was at, and I felt like if I executed the way I know I can, I should be able to make it through,” Bozzelli said of his mentality heading into this year’s Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament. “But nothing’s ever guaranteed. It’s definitely something I can draw confidence from; it’s satisfying to be moving on to Final Stage, and it’s just that much closer to achieving another goal here. It would be awesome to do the same here at Final Stage.”
If past results are indicative of future performance, Bozzelli can be expected to perform well at PGA National. Similar to many players before him who proceeded to have strong professional careers, he has succeeded at every level.
It goes back to the high school level, when Bozzelli qualified for the McQuaid Jesuit High School team as an eighth grader in 2004. Beginning his freshman year, he was the unquestioned No. 1 player on the team, said his high school coach Dan Gorton.
That freshman year, Bozzelli got off to a good start in the New York State Section V tournament, with the intent of qualifying for the state championship. On the 14th hole, however, things started to go sour, and he failed to advance.
Undeterred, Bozzelli advanced to the state championship his sophomore year. Then in 2008 and 2009, his junior and senior years, he won back-to-back state titles – becoming the first player in New York state to accomplish the feat since Tom Scherrer in 1988 and 1989.
“He just got better and better as he became more comfortable in competition,” Gorton said. “How determined he was to win, it was really second-to-none. He got to the state tournament, and he had one goal. It wasn’t to finish in the top five; it was to win. And he accomplished it twice.”
Bozzelli’s success both at the high school and national junior golf levels – he reached the U.S. Junior semifinals in 2008 – impressed Nick Clinard, who recruited him to the University of Central Florida before taking the head job at Auburn.
Bozzelli followed Clinard to Auburn, where he became one of the most decorated players in the program’s history. As a junior, he became the first-ever Auburn men’s golfer to win back-to-back collegiate tournaments (U.S. Collegiate; Gator Invitational), and he was a two-time All-American.
Dominic Bozzelli has played in seven Web.com Tour events so far in his career. (Courtesy of Auburn University)
Bozzelli arrived at Auburn with plenty of talent, but it was raw talent. By the time he left, his game was honed to the point where he was ready to attack the professional level.
“I think the biggest thing that struck me was that he was very raw, when it came to his technique and things like that,” Clinard said of his initial impressions of Bozzelli while on the recruiting trail. “All that stuff needed to be cleaned up and polished up. But as far as his personality and the way he played the game, his aggressive nature, he had all that stuff. He’s a winner, and he just kept on winning.”
Indeed, once he committed full time to professional golf in spring 2014, Bozzelli continued to win. He won three consecutive starts on the NGA Tour in March, and he won again at the Southern Ontario Open in late July.
With his focus turned to golf, his talent rose to the top.
“Last year was kind of a weird year,” Bozzelli said. “I had to go back and finish classes; I was kind of doing it during Q-School last year, and I think I had a lot on my plate. Once the end of the year hit, it was a little bit taken off my plate there, and I just felt a little more refreshed. I could just focus on golf and what I needed to do to get better on that end.
“I had a good start to the year; everything just seemed a little more prepared this time around. I kind of knew what to expect, and I think the preparation has gone well at both First and Second Stage so far, and that’s been pretty key for me.”
A four-win season anywhere in professional golf is mighty impressive, and Bozzelli carried the momentum into Q-School.
At his First-Stage site -- Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia -- Bozzelli played each of his first three rounds in under par but was hovering around the number needed to advance (he was 5 under; the eventual cut line was 6 under).
But Bozzelli came through in the final round, firing a smooth 4-under 68 that allowed him to advance by three strokes.
In second stage at Deerwood GC in Kingwood, Texas, Bozzelli entered the final round at 4 over in a week of wind, cold and overall demanding conditions (the eventual cut was 7 over).
He handled the last day with ease, again shooting 4-under 68, and again advancing comfortably.
“First and Second Stage both felt pretty similar for me,” Bozzelli said. “I was hitting the ball well at both; just couldn’t seem to get that putter hot. But at both Callaway (Gardens) and Texas, I was able to play well in the final round, shot 68 at both. Just to be able to go out and shoot a nice round when you need it, giving me some confidence to build on from there, I like where everything’s at heading into Final Stage.”
If Bozzelli can carry his fine form into Final Stage and secure strong Web.com Tour status for 2015, he won’t be out of his comfort zone.
He has played seven Web.com Tour events over the past two seasons, through a combination of exemptions via his NGA Tour wins, Monday qualifiers and top-25 finishes. The highlight has been a pair of T9 finishes, at this year’s BMW Charity Pro-Am Presented by SYNNEX Corporation and Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper.
Those who know Bozzelli fully believe in his ability to succeed on the big stage. Just ask his college teammate Blayne Barber, who holds PGA TOUR status this season after finishing comfortably inside the top 25 on the 2014 Web.com Tour money list.
“I think Dominic is going to be really successful,” said Barber, who recorded back-to-back top-10 finishes to close the fall season on TOUR. “He hits it a long ways, hits it good and is a great putter. He’s really good in clutch situations when he needs to make a putt. He’s one of those guys that need to stay patient and grab the reins once his time finally comes, and he’ll do that. It’s just a matter of time for him.
“He’s already played a few Web.com Tour events and had some great success already, so I think that once he gets out and has a full season ahead of him, he’ll graduate and be on the PGA TOUR.”
And if Bozzelli can get there – to the Web.com Tour and, eventually, to the TOUR -- it will mark the fulfillment of a childhood dream, where he practiced at Locust Hill Country Club outside Rochester in hopes of defying the odds and playing an outdoor game for a living, even though he could only play it for seven or eight months a year as a kid.
“The odds are kind of stacked against you when the weather gets so bad up there,” said Bozzelli, who currently resides in Auburn, Alabama, and works on his game with coach Clinard. “That’s a big reason why I came down here to go to school, just to get out of that and have the ability to play all year round.
“There are some good players from back there – Jeff Sluman and Joey Sindelar, people like that. To be up there with some of those names from back home is always something that I practiced for, when I was a junior growing up back in Rochester. I always thought that would be pretty cool.”
It certainly would be.