By Phil Dailey
It's not every day that an elite-level athlete just falls in your lap. La Jolla Country Day coach Bill Cahoone says that's pretty much the gist of how Anthony Paolucci arrived on his golf team.
Paolucci is one of the top high school golfers in the country and it just so happened that his father took a job in San Diego last fall, moving the family nearly 1,400 miles from Dallas, the only home Paolucci previously knew.
Paolucci, who now calls Del Mar home, said choosing Country Day was easy. It was much like the school he went to — St. Marks School of Texas — prior to transferring.
"The transition to school wasn't that hard 'cause I went to a small private school in Dallas," Paolucci said.
The transition to golf hasn't been hard, either. So far this season, the 17-year-old has been an individual match medalist five times. That may sound impressive, but it's even more so when you realize Paolucci is a newcomer to the style of high school play in California.
If there is one criticism of his game, it's that he's not necessarily a fast starter, something that is needed with the 9-hole matches teams play here. In Texas, Paolucci was used to playing match-play and 18-hole one-day tournaments.
"I'm the type of player where the first five holes I just kinda gotta feel how the course is, and then you turn it on and then you have 14 holes to shoot a good score," Paolucci said. "Here, you play five holes, then you have four holes to make something happen. That's why my 9-hole scores haven't been so slow.
"(With match-play) you're always going off the player you're playing against and you didn't have to worry about what your score is," he added. "You're just trying to beat the player you're playing against. Here it doesn't even matter ... you still have to shoot a 9-hole score. It's a little different mind-set."
But his scores have been low enough, but not as low as his 18-hole tournament scores. Last month, Paolucci won the St. Augustine Big 9 Tournament by seven strokes, which included a slew of birdies and two eagles during the two-day tournament.
There's good reason Paolucci is ranked the No. 6 high school junior in the nation by Golf News magazine.
"He hits the ball a ton, he's got a great short game, but far and away what stands out is his emotional maturity on the golf course and how he understands the game of golf," Cahoone said. "He doesn't really get nervous on the golf course; you don't see him get upset. He's definitely learned those lessons along the way."
Paolucci has already verbally committed to play collegiately at USC, a good fit for him now that his family lives in Southern California. Some of Paolucci's other accolades include winning the 2008 Junior PGA Championship as well as coming in second at the 2007 USGA Junior Amateur. Had he won that, he would have bested Tiger Woods as the youngest ever to do so. He was also a member of the 2008 Junior Ryder Cup team.
This weekend, Paolucci will play at the Terra Cotta Invitational in Naples, Fla., a tournament that boasts some of the top amateur players on the East Coast.
As for the long term, earning a PGA card is the top goal.
"That's an aspiration I have, and obviously most junior golfers have the same dreams," he said. "I realize the chance of getting there is slim, even for good-quality players. I just want to give myself an opportunity, and that's what my goal is."
Torreys golf team turnaround
It's not just Paolucci who is having a good season for the Torreys. Several other members of the Country Day golf team are doing well, too.
"We are much better than we were last year," said Cahoone, whose team has shot a season low of 194.
Counting Paolucci, the team's squad of two juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen consists of Alejandro Amescua, Forrest Kim, Nick Tubis, Jake Hershfield and Alex Rapeport.