FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Isabella DiLisio grudgingly signed for a 6-over-par 78 in Monday's opening round of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. Afterward, she was grateful for her short game.
“Certainly not the kind of round I was planning for, but my short game was really, really good,” said DiLisio, 16, of Hatfield, Pa., who is making her USGA championship debut. “My round could have been way worse than it was. My ball striking was pretty bad today, so that's why you need a good short game – to make up for those days when you're not hitting the ball all that well.”
DiLisio’s short game has improved since receiving an impromptu clinic at last month’s U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia. DiLisio, who lives about 40 minutes from Merion, served as a standard-bearer twice that week. In Wednesday’s practice round, she walked with a group that included 2009 PGA champion Y.E. Yang; in Friday’s second round, she walked with the grouping of Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Matteo Manassero.
“I learned a lot watching the practice round, seeing what they do, seeing them hit the different shots from around the greens,” she said. “They spend most of their time around the greens, and I understand that because it’s probably the most important part. They hit a lot of chips from all over and putt from different spots to where they think the hole locations may be.
“So in the practice rounds I’ve played since then I have spent more time around the green.”
Evidently DiLisio, a junior at Mount Saint Joseph Academy in Flourtown, Pa., learns quickly.
Less than two weeks ago at the PGA Junior Series event in State College, Pa., DiLisio was the 36-hole co-leader. She began to unravel, though, in the final round and was 5 over par through 16 holes. Birdies at the 17th and 18th holes helped force a playoff that she won.
The victory was DiLisio’s third of 2013. Earlier this spring she won two International Junior Golf Tour events in a three-week span. DiLisio, who has five other junior wins prior to this year, is currently 1,507th in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and 132nd in Golfweek/Sagarin Girls’ Junior Ranking.
DiLisio also learned more than short-game techniques at the U.S. Open. She absorbed tales of Ben Hogan's stirring victory at Merion 63 years earlier. Carrying Hogan’s bag that week was Nick Ciocca, DiLisio’s great-grandfather.
Most golf observers know of Hogan’s memorable 1-iron approach shot on the 72nd hole to force a playoff that he would win. Less publicized is Hogan, who had been in a near-fatal car accident 16 months prior, wanting to quit after the 13th hole. Hogan told Ciocca to leave his bag at the bag drop. Ciocca reportedly said to Hogan: “I am sorry, Mr. Hogan, but I do not caddie for quitters. I will see you at the next tee box.”
From her grandmother, Connie DiLisio, and her father, Sam, the young DiLisio long knew that her great-grandfather had been Hogan's caddie at that championship. Not until around Thanksgiving of 2010, though, when family photos were matched with photos in Merion Golf Club’s archive was it determined that Ciocca was Hogan’s caddie that particular week.
“I knew there would be some attention,” said DiLisio of the connection to her great-grandfather, “but I didn't think it would be that big. But it was pretty exciting.”
DiLisio would like to create her own excitement this week, but will need to scramble in Tuesday’s second round if she is to qualify for the 64-player match-play bracket that begins on Wednesday.
“I know what I’m capable of and I know I’m capable of playing really, really well,” said DiLisio, who is just entering the collegiate recruiting process. “I just need to play well and get myself into match play and then we’ll go from there.”
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.