PITTSFORD — From Dominic Bozzelli’s perspective, nothing special happened in his first-ever golf tournament some 10 years ago. His self-assessment for finishing in the middle of the pack among 60 entrants? "Not too good."
Then he conceded that perhaps the performance did warrant some merit — he was only 8 years old and playing in an event for boys at least three years older.
Bozzelli obviously sets the bar high for himself, and lately his dedication toward grabbing it has paid big dividends.
"If you work harder than anyone else, you should reach your goals," said Bozzelli, a Mendon resident and parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena.
This past spring Bozzelli, a recent graduate of McQuaid Jesuit High School, won his second consecutive state high-school championship. He is the first golfer from Section 5 ever to have earned that distinction. The 18-year-old did so convincingly, earning a five-shot victory with a 4-under-par total of 140 (71-69) on May 31-June 1 at Cornell University’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Course.
Bozzelli finished the tournament in style, making birdie at No. 18 while family, friends and fellow competitors looked on.
"It’s nice to be walking up the 18th hole with a four-shot lead, in your final high-school tournament," he said. "That was pretty cool."
In addition to his state titles, Bozzelli has recorded a number of strong finishes at both the junior and adult levels in local, state and national tournaments. He also enjoyed a great high-school season as part of a highly talented McQuaid team, which lost just one head-to-head match all season and finished second in the Section 5 tournament.
More successes likely lie ahead for Bozzelli, who was one of the nation’s top college recruits. This spring he committed to a full ride at Division I University of Central Florida, although he has since petitioned to be released from that scholarship so he can instead attend Auburn University in Alabama. He wishes to stay aligned with Nick Clinard, the head coach who recruited Bozzelli to Central Florida but in June took the head job at Auburn.
One way or another, Bozzelli is looking forward to a warm-weather climate 12 months a year as he climbs toward his ultimate goal of someday turning professional.
"I really think I’ll be able to reach my full potential," he said, adding that due to the long Rochester winters "you spend a good part of the spring to get back to where you were." Until now, a makeshift practice range in his grandfather’s basement — consisting of a net and small putting green — has had to suffice during the cold months.
Prior to beginning college, Bozzelli has spent much of the summer playing amateur tournaments and dedicating himself to practice at Locust Hill Country Club, where he is a member.
"I hate taking a day off," he said.
Bozzelli stands 6 feet tall and can drive a ball up to 300 yards. However, in order to reach higher competitive levels, he’s faithful to the "drive for show, putt for dough" adage and thus spends 60 percent of his practice time on chipping and putting.
"The cup is pretty small," is how he sums up the value of finesse over raw power.
Bozzelli also appreciates the need to keep his thoughts organized, whether it be play or practice.
"It comes down to the mental game," he said. "You can spend eight hours on the range, but that doesn’t mean you benefit from it."
Bozzelli is pleased with his cerebral maturity, especially when faced with difficult situations. He said that earlier in life, a poor hole would have meant that "I’d be done (mentally) with the rest of the round."
He has discovered that keeping his emotions in check plays a big part in maintaining that mental edge: "Some guys pump their fist, but I try to stay on an even keel. I play my best golf when I’m relaxed," he explained.
To help navigate the mental and emotional storms that golfers know all too well, Bozzelli turns to a source from above.
"My mom (Susan) always tells me to say a prayer before I tee off," he said.