by Tom Utescher
In the regular-season Inter-Ac League golf outings this fall, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy showed real signs of progress. In addition to finishing ahead of its rivals from this side of the Schuylkill, Germantown Academy and Penn Charter, the Blue Devils outscored Episcopal Academy several times and even recorded a victory against longtime league power Haverford School.
The local school closed out the season on October 19 with an unprecedented accomplishment, as senior captain Jack Grasso became the first player from SCH (or its all-male predecessor Chestnut Hill Academy) ever to win the league’s individual tournament, the Bert Linton Inter-Ac Championships.
At the storied East Course of the Merion Golf Club, Grasso shot a two-over score of 72 to win the event, finishing up by chipping in for birdie on the 18th. His score put him two strokes ahead of Mike Davis, a senior playing for Inter-Ac team champion Malvern Prep.
The strong field of competitors included Haverford School senior and Georgetown recruit Cole Berman, the two-time defending champion at the Bert Linton tourney and the recipient of the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Junior Player of the Year in 2012 and 2013. Berman carded a 77 to finish in a tie for third with his teammate Jake Van Arkel, while fifth place went to another Haverford player, Jay Losty, with a 78.
SCH’s Chris Dalglish, still only a freshman, shot an 80 to finish sixth and receive All-Inter-Ac recognition along with Grasso. Penn Charter junior Owen Davis was one stroke behind, with an 81.
Two other SCH players qualified for the tournament at Merion. Junior Matt Giegerich scored an 86 and his brother Brian, a senior, shot an 88.
Speaking of Grasso’s victory, SCH head coach Francis Vaughn said, “He’s a very talented athlete, so it didn’t surprise me. He tied for first at one of our league events early in the season, and he was first team All-Inter-Ac last year.
“He’s about 6’4”, so he hits the ball pretty far,” Vaughn went on, “and he’s got great eye-hand coordination. He chipped and putted very well at the championships.”
Grasso played a number of junior tournaments last summer and, by his own admission, he didn’t have an easy time of it.
“I had an inconsistent swing, and that sort of fed into a lack of confidence,” he related. “This fall I was able to pull things together, especially at the end.”
At the league championships, the senior said, “It was a question of getting myself into the right mindset. I needed to remain calm throughout the round and maintain my confidence, and I was able to do that.”
An excellent student, the senior has narrowed down his college choices to Penn and Yale, and he’s making an early-decision application to Penn’s Wharton School of Business.
His parents play golf chiefly on the recreational level, but his grandfather, Jay Cullen, was a high-level collegiate player.
“He played for Duke, and they came in second in the ACC while he was there,” Grasso noted. “Over the years he’s won all sorts of club tournaments, and he’s had a really positive influence on my golf career.”
On the morning of the day that he would win the Bert Linton tournament, though, Grasso didn’t feel quite right.
“I play by feel, and I felt uncomfortable with my swing and how the clubs felt in my hands,” he explained. “Our coach, Francis Vaughn, had me work on making sure that my backswing wasn’t too short – that I was turning the entire way and shifting my weight back.”
Vaughn, a longtime coach at Penn before coming to SCH, also had some advice for Grasso regarding his follow-through.
“He had me make sure my eyes stayed down all the way through the hitting zone, and make sure that the club didn’t turn over too soon after making contact,” the senior said. “He’s really helped me a lot the whole time I’ve been on varsity.”
Now refocused and feeling confident at the beginning of the competition, Grasso birdied the first two holes at the tournament and never looked back.
“There were some very tricky pins at Merion,” he pointed out. “It’s not that long a course, but the difficulties come from the intricacies of the way it’s laid out, and the tactics needed.”
The SCH standout kept going strong right to the end, finishing up with a birdie. Looking back on the season, he was proud not only of his individual success, but also the advancements made by the Blue Devils’ program as a whole.
“Our team took a big step forward this year,” he said. “There was a lot of progress all the way around. We had a significantly better record in the league tournaments than last season. We beat Episcopal a couple times, and we beat Haverford once, which was a big deal for us since they’re always a very strong team.”
He feels that Springside Chestnut Hill will be able to build on the success it enjoyed this year.
“There are a lot of young kids on the team, so the future looks bright,” he said. “I felt that for most of the day at Merion, Chris Dalglish played just as well as I did. I know his main sport is squash, but if he keeps on playing golf there’s no reason he couldn’t be the best golfer ever at our school.”
Whatever accomplishments the Blue Devils achieve in the future, Grasso will always be remembered as their first Inter-Ac champion.