“This has been one of the best summers my brother and I have ever had.”
For David and Ronald DeNunzio, identical twins from Jeannette, Pa., this will definitely be a summer unlike any other.
It started with the lowest of lows on May 26, the day after the twins had won the prestigious Fred Brand Foursomes Championship at Longue Vue Club in suburban Pittsburgh. Their mother, Denise, lost her five-year battle with brain cancer, but not before she could hold the trophy her twin sons had won.
“We were the first group to finish in the Brand and had to wait until everybody was finished,” Ronald said. “Once we had won, we called home and told our dad, I completely broke down. It was the most emotional I have ever been for a golf tournament. She was with us every step. We knew she was. It's the only place she wanted to be. Now, for the rest of our lives, it will be tough to beat us. It will be like playing two against one."
As their mom’s condition worsened, the easiest thing would have been for the twins withdraw or not register for tournaments. But for a couple of reasons, they played the Brand, and obviously played very well.
“We knew she wanted us to play and really, it kept our minds right,” Ronald said.
Added David: “She wanted us to succeed and the fact that we’ve had success after she passed away, says that we were playing our hardest for my mom and that we’ll always be playing to make her proud of us.”
While their mother couldn’t tell them, their dad, Ron Sr., knew she would want them to play and encouraged them to do so.
"I told them, nothing is going to happen today," Ron Sr. said. "Every day we thought she would pass. I said, just go. You can't sit here all day, every day.”
And while she was no longer with them physically, her spirit as the “ultimate golf mom,” as her husband called her, lives on. All doubt about that is erased by taking a look at what the twins have accomplished since.
Less than three weeks after losing his mom, Ronald qualified for the elite Sunnehanna Amateur for the first time. While he didn’t contend – he actually finished last – he fought the entire way, something he learned from his mom on a daily basis.
Just over a month later, David and his dad won the West Penn Golf Association’s Father & Son Championship at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort’s Mystic Rock course.
On Aug. 4, the twins won the West Penn’s Brothers Championship, shooting a 64 at Shannopin Country Club in suburban Pittsburgh.
Most recently, David fired a 68 at a U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier. He shared medalist honors with two others, but a three-putt bogey on the second playoff hole left him as the first alternate to play at Erin Hills. Good news came for David on Aug. 15 when the USGA contacted him that he had been awarded a spot in the field.
“Things have just clicked for us,” David said. “In the Brand, we beat [2009 and 2011 USA Walker Cup Team member and three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion] Nathan Smith and Sean Knapp, two of the best amateurs in the country. It was hard at first to play when she was sick, but there was no doubt she was with us and will continue to be with us any time we play golf.”
And while the spectacular golf they’ve played is a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit, there is also some historical perspective to what the twins have accomplished.
The Brothers and the Fred Brand Championships began in the 1950s and the DeNunzios became the first team to win both titles in the same year. David DeNunzio scored an impressive hat trick this summer, becoming the first player to be on teams that won the Brand, Father/Son and Brothers in the same year.
“For the last 10 or 15 years, as we’ve worked to get better and better, Mom was always there,” Ronald said. “She loved riding around the course with us, watching us. I know she’s been with us and always will be.”
Ron Sr., who owns three Italian-themed restaurants in western Pennsylvania, agrees with the twins.
“She never missed a tournament. It got to the point where she was like a West Penn (Golf Association) official because she was at every event. Everyone knew her name. She never golfed in her life, but she knew everything about it."
What will the future bring for the DeNunzio family, which also includes younger brother Michael?
They say they haven’t made up their minds about giving professional golf a shot, especially in light of losing their mother.
“We’re going to help my dad with the restaurants (something Denise did a great deal of) and we’ll continue to play amateur golf,” David said. “How bad can that be, right?”
Not too bad at all. Especially when they know how important both of those things were to their mom.
Mike Dudurich is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.