By Dan Karpuc
Special to GoHolyCross.com
"It was a lot of fun playing something you wouldn't even imagine playing." These were the words Holy Cross sophomore golfer Steve Zychowski (Mendham, N.J.) used to reflect on his experience participating in the United States Amateur Championship, which was held at the Chambers Bay Golf Course at University Place, Wash., and the Home Course in Dupont, Wash., in late August.
Zychowski qualified with a strong performance at a U.S. Amateur Qualifier at Trump National Golf Club in Colts Neck, N.J. Zychowski's focus going into the qualifier was to make the cut and to play consistent golf. It was a one-day, 36-hole event with a cut after the first round of 18 holes. In the first round, Zychowski finished red-hot, birdying three out of the last four holes to put him at even par, which allowed him to advance.
Zychowski showed a flash of brilliance in the second round, setting a course record of 6-under-par, which included five birdies and an eagle. This spectacular play earned him one of the four spots in the U.S. Amateur field of 312. At first, Zychowski was unsure of how he fared compared to the rest of the field. "When I got off the last green, I had no idea if I was good enough to go on, but when I saw the leader board, it was like nothing I'd ever felt before and I had no idea how to react," he said.
Despite all of the difficult shots and big putts he had to make, Zychowski doesn't give himself all the credit for his play. "I had my older brother Brian caddying for me," he said. "He and I played a lot of golf this summer so we played each hole like it was a casual practice round. On the 36th hole, which was a really difficult par five that I had [double bogeyed] the round before, he had me laughing about God knows what, so I completely forgot I had a chance to qualify for the biggest amateur tournament in the world. It was that level of comfort that helped me block out all pressure and play as best as I could."
The U.S. Amateur consisted of the top 312 non-professional golfers in the United States, including players at the nation's top college golf programs. But, despite the pedigree of these top players, every golfer was haunted by a course that was the furthest thing from typical. "The way the course was set up, it had a lot on angulations, it was like playing on concrete," said Zychowski. "It was so hard. The way you played the shot was to not aim at the hole because it would never hold the green. You could have a wedge in your hand and it would just bounce over the greens." Something worked for him however, as Zychowski finished in the top half of the field (155th overall).
To add to the challenging course layout, there were 20-30 mile-per-hour winds gusting from Puget Sound. To deal with these winds Zychowski explained, "You had to get real creative and sometimes you would have to aim 20 yards to the right of the stick just to hit the green and it ended up being an awesome shot." Despite these terrible golf conditions, it was an experience Zychowski will hold dear to him the rest of his life.
Zychowski began playing golf in the summer before he started eighth grade, when his family joined the Mendham Golf and Tennis Club in New Jersey. At first, he began playing recreationally, but quickly realized that he was picking up the sport quickly. At the beginning of that summer, he struggled to break 100 on the 18-hole course, but by the end of the summer, he was routinely shooting in the low 80s. Since then, Zychowski has been using the summer to refine and practice his game and has acknowledged that he has improved every summer.
Being a baseball player also created a tough situation for Zychowski when he entered high school at Oratory Prep in Summit, N.J. As a freshman, he split time playing for both the junior varsity baseball team and the varsity golf team. At the end of the season, he hurt his leg in a baseball practice and went out the next day to finish third in a golf tournament. This made the decision to choose golf over baseball easier. Focusing on golf gave Zychowski a passion to improve and develop a solid game. In 2009, Zychowski was named Athlete of the Year at Oratory for his contributions to his golf and basketball teams. He was a two-time captain for his basketball team and three-time MVP of the golf team.
In his freshman year at Holy Cross, Zychowski earned first team All-Patriot-League recognition. He tied for the most number of rounds played (20) and led the Crusaders by posting the team's lowest score twice. He finished the year with an average of 77.2 strokes per round, with a low round of 70.
So far in his sophomore season at Holy Cross, Zychowski has continued to lead the Crusaders, posting the lowest score in all four of the team's matches and currently holds the best stroke average on the team, at 75 strokes per round. With his results, it seems as though there is a very bright future for this up-and-coming Crusader standout.
When asked about his future, Zychowski responded, "Absolutely I will try to qualify again. It was the best experiences of my life and I would be fortunate to return next year. There are so many good golfers that try to qualify that it will not be easy but I look forward to the challenge. My golf plans for the future are a very nearsighted view. Golf is such an unpredictable sport that I can only look to the next tournament we have here at Holy Cross and play it day by day."
There is no question that Zychowski has profound respect and determination for playing the game. "I love golf and everything about it which makes practicing and playing every day fun, no matter what," he finished.