Two years ago Depew resident Anthony Baccari, thinking he had untapped game in reserve, went to Clarence swing doctor Gary Battistoni and requested an assessment.
Battistoni told him, "Decent swing. But if I'm you, I change it."
"It was up to me," Baccari said. "Gary didn't push me. He told me that if I wanted to get more consistent, I'd have to change."
So Baccari granted permission, which takes a lot of initiative for someone who, at the time, was 43 years old and already, on his good days, shooting some mid-to-low 70s. Exactly how low was Baccari figuring he could go?
Undaunted, he anted up the total investment -- the time, the money, the infuriating frustration that often accompanies transition -- and here's where it's gotten him: He's 45. He's come out of oblivion to rank eighth in this year's Buffalo District Golf Association standings. He has a best round of 67. And he's thinking, with little reservation, about taking a crack at the Senior Tour when he becomes eligible at 50.
Not the BDGA Senior Tour.
The PGA Senior Tour, now known as the Champions Tour.
"Yes," Baccari says, "I definitely think I can."
Baccari was one of three new faces to crack the top 10 in the Buffalo District Golf Association's season-ending point standings. The others were former Niagara University hockey captain John Heffernan, who won the Springville invite, placed second in the District Individual and was fifth overall with 600 points, and Kyle Hess, the University of Richmond golfer out of Cherry Hill, who won the New York State Amateur and placed ninth with 540 points.
The top spot went, yet again, to Tim Hume of Cherry Hill, who was consistent start to finish and totaled 910.8 points. Hume has won all but one of the titles since the points system was instituted in 1998. Dr. Jim Smith of Crag Burn ranked first last year.
Rounding out this season's top 10 were:
Jay Stellrecht, Lancaster; Frank Broderick, East Aurora; Bob Rosen, Westwood; Heffernan, Niagara Falls; Tom Gantress, Sheridan; Jim Smith, Crag Burn; Baccari, Stafford; Hess, Cherry Hill; and Fred Silver, Niagara Falls.
Baccari started bearing down on his game two years ago at the urging of his father, Francis. They played together often near the father's winter residence in Palm Harbor, Fla. They were playing together when Anthony made his one career ace. When Francis died in August of 2000, Anthony put the ball in the casket and took his father's words to heart.
"I remember him telling me that I shouldn't settle, I could be a better player," Baccari said. "I knew deep down I could play better than what I was playing. Word around town was Gary was a very good teacher.
"For some reason, we hit it off together. Gary can relate to what he needs to teach you better than anyone around here, I think. I was spraying the ball all over the place. I would hit it right. I would hit it left. I had no idea why. Gary sits down and it's, 'This is why. This is what you need to do to make the ball go where you want it to be.' I changed from hands and arms to a body player. That, in a nutshell, is how I've gotten better. I've always hit it long but I was also in the trees. I'm hitting a lot more greens now, and my distance control is a lot better."
Baccari made the quarterfinals of this year's state amateur at Transit Valley. And it was during medal-play portion of the tournament that he felt his game, mentally and physically, had taken on a new dimension. He opened the first day double bogey-bogey-bogey, held tight to shoot 76, followed up with a 74 and advanced to match play.
"I'm 45 and I'm playing with all these kids, 36 holes a day," Baccari said. "That's when it struck me I was going to do well this year, that I was going to have a good year."
Baccari's son, Anthony, is in his final year at Depew High School. Once he graduates Baccari is thinking of retiring from his maintenance job at the Erie County Medical Center, heading south with his wife, Patricia, and pursuing the Allen Doyle route to the Senior Tour. He'd like to open up a driving range in the Tampa area, give lessons, hone his game and take a shot at the big time.
"I've probably thought about it the last couple years," Baccari said. "I've shot as low as 67 on a par-72 course. And in that atmosphere I need to shoot 2-, 3-under on a course I've never played before."
He's also aiming at climbing a few more rungs in the district.
"Eighth is wonderful," Baccari said. "I want more. I can't satisfy myself with eighth. Personally I think I can go higher. A lot of guys I hang around with think the same."
The BDGA Junior Scholarship Awards from last season went to Nick Barone of Brierwood Country Club, Amanda Gary of Lancaster Country Club, David Patronik of Holland Hills, Michael Slawatycki of Attica Golf Club and Matt Thomas of Springville.
Barone and Gary are at Canisius College, Patronik at Gannon, Slawatycki at Arizona State and Thomas at Miami of Ohio.
Near miss for O'Neill
Dan O'Neill of Jamestown fell five shots shy of regaining his Champions Tour card during the final round of qualifying that concluded in Florida on Friday. O'Neill shot rounds of 76-71-68-69 to finish tied for 25th. The top six and ties advance. Former major league pitcher Rick Rhoden, a staple on the celebrity tour featuring former athletes, was a well-placed seventh heading into the final round but shot 75 and finished tied for 20th.
O'Neill earned his card in last year's qualifying but failed to retain it. He finished 68th on the money list with earnings of $216,311. The top 31 in earnings kept their cards.
The top 30 finishers in the Buffalo District Golf Assocation standings:
1. Tim Hume (above), Cherry Hill, 910.8
2. Jay Stellrecht, Lancaster, 766
3. Frank Broderick, East Aurora, 718.1
4. Bob Rosen, Westwood, 660.8
5. John Heffernan, Niagara Falls, 600
6. Tom Gantress, Sheridan, 571.6
7. Jim Smith, Crag Burn, 560
8. Anthony Baccari, Stafford, 547.4
9. Kyle Hess, Cherry Hill, 540
10. Fred Silver, Niagara Falls, 490.6
11. John Gaffney, Brookfield, 446.6
12. Tony Hejna, Crag Burn, 444.3
13. Rod Lindstrom, East Aurora, 425.8
14. David Lindstrom, Springville, 346.6
15. Kyle Mauro, Springville, 305
16. Scott Dean, Attica, 302.6
17. Kevin Barnett, Park, 297.3
18. Nick Amigone III, Transit Valley, 288.6
19. Tom Johnson, Tan Tara, 270.3
20. Tony Starzynski, Springville, 266.6
21. Dave Patronik, Holland Hills, 251.6
22. Ray Neuman, Shelridge, 244
23. Bob Krajewski, Deerwood, 206.6
24. Mike Grace, Brookfield, 195
25. Brian Pavlock, Elkdale, 187.5
26. Chris Blocher, Bartlett, 185
27. Tim Smith, East Aurora, 180
28. Matt Thomas, Springville, 164.1
29. Billy Hanes, East Aurora, 162.8
30. Chris Drongosky, Audubon, 162.3