Dan Antonucci is one of the great supporters of tournament golf in western New York. He and his membership at Niagara Frontier country club have stepped forward on countless occasions to host Buffalo District events when unforeseen circumstances have arisen. Dan is one of those individuals who possess an awareness of the events and people that shaped his life, and he emulates those role models for a new generation of golf learners. His club is the northernmost one in western New York, located two drivers from the shore of Lake Ontario. It is our pleasure to present an interview with the Niagara Frontier country club golf professional, Dan Antonucci.
- Tell us your name and how you got interested/involved in golf as a youth.
My name is Dan Antonucci, PGA Golf Professional at the Niagara Frontier G.C. in Youngstown, NY.
I grew up in West Seneca, NY on the border of South Buffalo. There is a city golf course about ½ mile from where I lived named Cazenovia G.C. When I was 10 years old, I went to Cazenovia to play golf with some friends. This was my first round of golf ever, and I remember picking up my ball and throwing it to keep up with my friends.
As I continued to play, I asked my parents if they would purchase a Junior Golf Badge from the City of Buffalo, which would allow me to play pretty much anytime. The Badge cost only $35.00! I also joined the Cazenovia Junior Golf Program, which was an exceptional program run by Cazenovia greats, Al Biro, Bob Schenk, Ray Ethridge, George Falkenback and many other adults. We had a lot of kids in this program, and many very good players have come through Caz and the Junior Program.
On Wednesday Nights for about 8 weeks, a local PGA Golf Professional would be invited to stage a clinic for the Caz Junior Program.
We had Professionals like Ed Pfister, Dean Jewart, Hal Carlson, Dan Graney and Chuck Hart come and teach us some aspect of the game. I looked forward to every Wednesday for these really cool clinics!
- Tell us a bit about your competitive golf experience in your younger days.
I competed on the Cazenovia BDGA Junior Travel Team, both as a Sub-junior and Junior Player. We had great teams because we had so many Junior Kids. There had to be a weekly qualifier just to set the team for the week. That in itself was hard enough competition on making the team each week.
This led me to compete in the BDGA Junior Tournaments, such as the stroke and match-play events. I was fortunate to qualify for the International Junior Masters and the Williamson Cup Matches as a Junior Player.
As a junior in High School, with my parents suggesting that I should turn my sights towards golf, so I switched from playing varsity football to varsity golf. It was a good choice, for I was playing with many of the kids I played golf with at Cazenovia. Our High School teams ended up with a 15-1 record over two years.
- What epiphany did you have that led you to the PGA of America and a club professional position?
It goes back to my Caz days. I was now too old for Junior Golf, so I joined the Caz Men’s Club. Every year we held a Pro-Am golf Tournament and invited many of the best local WNYPGA Golf Professionals to compete. Each Pro would play with 3 amateurs from the Men’s Club.
I had just graduated from Erie Community College with a degree in Computer Technology, but could not find any work in WNY in that field. To make ends meet and pay for my bills, I was working night shift, at a very dead end job.
My epiphany came while competing in the Caz Pro-Am as an amateur. I was playing with a young Assistant Pro from the Bethlehem Management Club, (now Brierwood C.C.), he was dressed nice, looked good, acted professional, was having fun and I said to myself,
“THAT LOOKS LIKE A GREAT WAY TO MAKE A LIVING!”
So I proceeded to spend the rest of the round asking him how to get involved as a Professional in golf. He helped me get in contact with the right people and I was hired as an Assistant Professional, the following spring, at Lancaster C.C. by PGA Golf Professional, Vince Puglia in 1985.
As I look back on this, I know this was a gift from God. I have a profession that I fully enjoy going to work every day!
- Give us bit of history on the clubs you have represented as an assistant or head professional.
As I stated above, my first position was at the Lancaster C.C. in Lancaster, NY. I worked for Vince Puglia from 1985 – 1987. Vince taught me how to work hard and run great tournaments for our members.
I also started with my Apprenticeship with the PGA of America in 1985. This is the program that you must complete to gain membership in the PGA of America. It can take anywhere from 3 to 6 years to complete. It’s like going through Golf College.
In 1988, I was hired by PGA Professional, Lonnie Nielsen at the Crag Burn Club in East Aurora, NY. I worked for Lonnie from 1988 – 1990. He is by far the best golfer that I have ever played with. When I worked for him, he was awarded as the National PGA Club Professional Player of the Year. A remarkable accomplishment, being that there are 28,000 PGA Professionals in the country. Lonnie trained me to play and teach far better, and how to treat people properly. I also completed my apprenticeship with the PGA of America and became a member in 1989.\
Vince and Lonnie are still my good friends, and I respect them as my supervisors and now my colleagues. It’s been many years since I worked for them, but I will always remember that they gave me my start in the Golf Business.
Now that I had my “Class A” Card with the PGA, it was time to go out and find my own Head Professional position. I interviewed and was hired at the Niagara Frontier C.C. in Youngstown, NY in 1991. I have been Head Professional at Frontier now for 25 years. It is truly a great place, with very special members and one of the best and most challenging golf courses in WNY.
- Run down the responsibilities of a club professional, including the tasks that might not be apparent to members and guests.
My job is like the Activities Director on a Cruise Ship. I oversee the entire golf operation, from running tournaments, giving lessons and clinics, to being the starter on the 1st tee. My main responsibility is to make sure that every member and guest has a great time at Niagara Frontier. I want this place to be their get away from work and the stresses of life. This should be their second home.
One thing that people might not realize is that the Pro Shop is my personal business. Under my contract with the Club, I have to provide a fully stocked Pro Shop with state of the art golf clubs and merchandise. So not only am I supervising the golf operation for the Club, but I am also running my own personal business. This is a delicate balancing act, but the Club always comes first. If the Club succeeds, my Pro Shop will succeed.
Another item at Frontier is that we have the only Chapter of the WNY First Tee Junior Golf Program that is based at a private Country Club in WNY. My Board of Directors gave me the blessing to partner with the First Tee and we will begin our 3rd year with them in 2017. This has helped grow our Junior Golf Program and institute the life lessons and ideas of First Tee. It has made our Junior Golf Program so much better!
- As a teaching professional, what are the most important tenets of your teaching philosophy?
Number one is that you have to work with the individual student’s natural ability. Everyone has a distinct height and body type, so we all swing a little different. Through the first 5 to 10 minutes of a lesson, I have to determine where the player is in their golf game and have an understanding of what they can physically accomplish.
Number two, it is important that you ask questions of the player. This helps in two parts, first is that I get a better understanding of what the person thinks about their game and where they would like to go. Second, it helps the student relax and enables them to swing uninhibited.
Number three, is that together with the player, we will set up a game plan to help them achieve their golf goals. This will involve swing drills, exercise thoughts, actual playing and a certain amount of lesson time.
For my teaching philosophy, I use the simple 4 part approach.
Before the shot:
#1 The Player needs a good, solid grip that is the first thing that I look at. It doesn’t matter how long the person has been playing, adjustments to the grip sometimes are needed.
#2 The Player needs to have an athletic address position. Feet spread shoulder width apart, proper flex in their knees, tilting their upper body from the hips and their arms hanging loosely down from their shoulders.
#3 In the Backswing, the player needs to start the club back with a turn of their upper body. The club, arms and shoulders should start back together with the hands kicking in for feel. The student needs to rotate their upper body against a flexed back leg, bringing the club up and over their back shoulder. I try to get the player to rotate to a position where their forward shoulder moves under their chin, while keeping their head level. Usually this means they have rotated correctly.
#4 The follow through, being that a swing at the ball happens so quickly, the student can use the simple thought of swinging to a full follow thru position. This gets them thinking of the whole body movement and not the individual parts. It enables them to swing more freely.
- At the conclusion of any lesson, the player will be given only one key to work on until we get together again. They will also have some swing drills to practice the proper feeling of that key. I ask that the player has at least two practice sessions, on their own, before we continue to the next session.
- Give us an idea of your recent competitive history. Also, what do you work on to stay sharp
I have been competing in the WNYPGA Professional Events for almost 30 years. I average playing in approximately 8 events per year, which would include individual Pro-Ams, Pro-Scratch, Pro-Pro Teams and just some fun events where I take my members to play. Over the years, I have had some success, but the reason I compete is for the fun of putting your game to the test of tournament golf. This is also one of the few times during the golf season where I can see and network with my fellow WNYPGA Professionals.
For staying sharp, I have been on an exercise program that is strictly golf related. It provides me with exercises that help me with strength, flexibility and mobility all at once. It is been a very different way for me to exercise, it gets me motivated to get to my local gym, and the whole program I can get done in 45 minutes. If I cannot get to the gym, I can do this program at my home.
For my actual golf game, I am working on more club head speed. As I get older, I can see my drives not flying as far as they used to! I have two practice aids that I have been swinging in my garage during the winter, which will help me with club head speed in the spring. I have been told that 1 MPH = 2.8 Yards on your drive. I’m hoping to improve by 4 to 5 MPH.
- In competition, on what do you focus to achieve your greatest success? We know that golf and competitive golf are dissimilar, so what does a professional rely on (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically) to compete his best?
This would be a great question for a PGA Tour Player!
Because of my responsibilities at Niagara Frontier, sometimes my playing and practice time get placed on the back burners. So when I have a competitive event coming up within a week, I will get out to the range and practice a bit. I make my practice session as if I was on the golf course I’ll be competing at hole by hole. I’ll hit a driver and picture where it may land on the course I’ll be playing. Then I’ll hit an iron approach shot that I think I would have on that course. I continue this process through the full 18 hole imaginary round. The practice session is quick and is only a small bucket of range balls, and then I will head to the chipping/putting green for about 15 minutes of short game practice.
This procedure helps me set a game plan on how I’d like to play the course I will be competing on. If it is a course I’ve never played before, I try to make sure that I play a practice round there before the event.
- What question haven’t we asked, that you wish we would? Ask it and answer it, please.
What would you tell someone looking to become a PGA Golf Professional?
I would tell them if you really love golf, the outdoors, meeting all different types of people, then this is the right business for you. This profession is not a job, but a passion and you will love going to work every day. That is priceless! The golf courses you will be able to play, being in the know of all the latest golf equipment/technology and helping people who love the game just as much as you are major benefits of this occupation.
The relationships that you will make will be the most rewarding of your career. You will meet so many different people, which will become your friends for years to come. This will be your greatest accomplishment, because if it wasn’t for golf, you would never have the opportunity to meet these people and become friends.
It is really a very satisfying and fulfilling way to make a living!