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By Ryan Buck
Anyone that tuned in to the Ryder Cup this past weekend can attest to the importance group chemistry plays in a team golf event.
Phil Mickelson and partner Keegan Bradley looked like they wanted to elope after their match victories. The winless duo of Tiger Woods and partner Steve Stricker were a lesson in awkward in the Americans’ collapse at Medinah Country Club.
While high school golf matches are decided on the aggregate best four scores of each team, the way teammates of different personalities and skills interact is a huge factor in wins and losses.
Cue the Poland High boys’ golf team.
The Bulldogs, under 12th year coach Dave Digiacomo, are All-American Conference American Division winners, undefeated in dual matches and in the midst of their best season in years thanks to a unique group of players.
“It’s a really close-knit group this year,” Digiacomo said. “The guys were saying that they all get along really well and team chemistry is always a concern when you’re starting with a new group.”
The Bulldogs ended a six-year conference title drought last week.
“They always like to compare their success to other teams that we’ve had in the past,” Digiacomo said. “We try and keep everything in perspective and focus on what the big picture is.”
Digiacomo feels his team strength is at the top of the roster in Jason McQuown and Mark Passarello.
“We have really solid number-one and number-two men. If you put players the quality of Jason and Mark out there every day, you know you’re going to be in every match.”
McQuown lives and breathes the game. The junior is one of the area’s top players, with big aspirations.
“I went down to Pinehurst [N.C.] for a week for a golf academy,” McQuown said of his recent summer trip to the American golf resort which hosts U.S. Opens and PGA Championships. “They taught me a lot of stuff down there and I carried it back here.”
McQuown played the hallowed grounds with some of the country’s best players in his age group.
“The course is awesome,” McQuown said. “Pinehurst Number Two, Payne Stewart won [the 1999 U.S. Open] there. It was fun to play that course, once in a lifetime.”
Passarello, a sophomore, is a multi-sport athlete. He’s played basketball and broke into Poland’s starting pitching rotation as a freshman.
“I played seven sports at one time when I was little, with flag football and recreational things,” said Passarello, who won the AAC tournament division medalist honors. “I’ve spent more time lately on golf. Sometime in December I’ll start throwing again.
“I like golf because you can play it for the longest time, but I’m just a pitcher so it’s not difficult to keep up,” Passarello said.
Despite his invaluable contributions and higher seed, the sophomore is fair game for elder teammates David Shoffstall and Alex Vari.
“We make fun of him a lot,” Shoffstall said, pointing to Passarello. “Just look at him.”
Vari weighed in.
“Bright red hair on Mark Passarello.”
Seniors Shoffstall and Vari provide the lighter commentary for the group, which is as relaxed and easy-going as any.
“These kids [McQuown and Passarello], we really just bank on them,” joked Shoffstall, whose conference tournament round of 78 likely clinched their title at Candywood Golf Course last week.
Vari also defers to his younger teammates, in good-natured fashion.
“If we play badly, we can just say, ‘Alright, we didn’t play up to par today. Another bad day, but I’m sure Q and Marky are playing pretty good.’”
Poland and its cast of characters will have a chance to build on their long-awaited success. Along with several other area teams, the Bulldogs will look to earn a Division II district title today at Windmill Lakes Golf Club and qualify for the state tournament.