As Steven DiLisio works on his swing mechanics this fall, there is a different feel.
The St. John’s Prep sophomore, who placed third at the Division 1 state individual tournament last fall, grew 6 inches in the offseason — adding to his power, but altering his timing.
“When you grow that much, you lose a little bit of your coordination,” said the 6-foot DiLisio, who has added roughly 40 yards off the tee, and maxes out at around 290 yards. “Naturally, when you’re hitting it that much longer, your misses are going to be wider spread; you’re going to be missing by more than you would at 200 yards as opposed to 280.”
But it did not take him long to fine-tune his swing; the 15-year-old won his second consecutive Catholic Conference individual title on Sept. 28, carding a 1-under par, six strokes better than the runner-up.
“We’ve played 12 matches so far and he’s been either even par or under par in seven of the 12, which is pretty good,” said St. John’s coach Larry O’Neill, whose Eagles have won 12 state championships in his tenure. “And it’s not like we’re playing on Mickey Mouse golf courses here.”
According to his coach, DiLisio is a “total package,” and finding his distance was the last piece of the puzzle.
“He’s very straight off the tee, has good distance control with his irons, a very good short game, and he’s the best putter on the team,” said the 25-year head coach. “He’s a terrific putter; I think that gives him an edge over everyone else.”
But DiLisio’s success has not been much of a surprise to O’Neill, his Eagle teammates, or his opposition.
He entered high school with a record four straight Massachusetts Golf Association boys’/junior amateur state championships. In July, he won his fifth straight age-group title.
It is a game that runs in his blood; his family has been members at Salem Country Club for more than 50 years.
His 83-year-old grandfather, Vinnie DiLisio, started caddying at age 5 and now owns a public driving range in Salem. His father, Dana, also a lifelong golfer, operates Castle Creek Miniature Golf and Adventure Land across the street from the range.
But his biggest influence has been his 23-year-old brother Anthony, a two-time All-American at Skidmore College who turned pro in July.
“When Anthony was playing at 13 years old, Steven was 6 or 7,” Dana DiLisio recalled. “When his mother [Cheryl] would take his older brother to the tournament, he wasn’t going to just sit there and do nothing, he wanted to participate.”
“I followed my brother pretty much wherever he went,” confirmed Steven, who started playing competitively at about age 7. “There’s a lot of competition, but he’s definitely the reason for why I’m what I am today. He’s helped me a lot as far as putting me through the game, and I owe a lot of my success to him.”
Though a much younger brother tagging along and wanting to play would be a nuisance to some, Anthony said he loved it.
“It was great — he was hardly tagging along, though,” said Anthony, who attended Swampscott High before spending a postgraduate year at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. “He got very good, very quick. Even though he was that much younger, there was still very much competition, so we sort of made each other better because we always had somebody to play.”
Being on the prestigious Prep golf team, Steven now has the opportunity to compete with some of the best golfers in the state, including teammate James Turner, also a sophomore.
“We didn’t know as much about James coming in, but last year as a freshman he worked his way up in the lineup and in last year’s state tournament he finished sixth,” said O’Neill, whose squad holds an 11-2 record atop the Catholic Conference. “He did much better than we anticipated.”
Though Turner did not enter St. John's with a rack of awards and accolades like his teammate, he has accomplished something that DiLisio has not: a hole-in-one.
In fact, he recorded two, within a month of each other, when he was in eighth grade.
Both of the aces were recorded on the 17th hole — a 235-yard par 3 — at Bass Rocks Golf Club in Gloucester.
“That’s ridiculously tough,” said DiLisio. “I haven’t even made par on that hole the two times I’ve played it.”
Entering St. John’s Prep, Turner was not sure where he would find his place on the team, but DiLisio has played a big role lending advice.
“I’ve really learned a lot from Steve because he’s such a high-caliber player,” said Turner, whose 33 on a par 36 course is the top score of the year for the Eagles. “He’s helped me improve my game so much in all areas.
“He’s helped with my swing, we always help each other with our putting if we’re having trouble, so we really kind of work off each other,’’ Turner said. “He’s definitely been driving me to work harder.”
And DiLisio has reaped the benefits of having Turner as a teammate, as well.
“It definitely shows promise for the next few years. I enjoy playing with somebody who’s kind of going through the same thing as me with golf and as far as school goes,’’ DiLisio said of his fellow sophomore.
“We feed off each other, and the good competition makes us both play well.”