RANCHO SANTA FE — Last year was a big year for golfer Anthony Paolucci. The senior at La Jolla Country Day was named the Rolex Junior Player of the Year and captured the 2010 Thunderbird International Junior and the Rolex Tournament of Champions. He also finished in the top five in four other tournaments, including the U.S. Junior Championship.
It’s only February and Anthony Paolucci’s already off to an impressive start.
In January he played in his first professional tournament, the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Even though Anthony Paolucci’s an amateur, the PGA granted him a sponsor exemption because, he says, he’s a local golfer who plays well.
“It was one of the strongest fields with Tiger (Woods) and Phil (Mickelson),” he remembers. “Then there was me. I went out with no expectations.”
Anthony Paolucci played well and, out of 156 players, was among 80 to make the cut after two days. He finished in a tie for 29th place. Woods finished in 45th place. When it was all over, he finished the four-day competition with two fewer strokes than Woods.
“Everybody said, ‘You beat Tiger!’” Anthony Paolucci remembers. “I said, ‘That doesn’t change anything. I’m still a high school kid, I’m still playing junior amateur and I’m still going to school tomorrow. Tiger’s still ranked three in the world and is one of the greatest golfers ever to play.”
Anthony Paolucci doesn’t mind being a high school kid. In fact, after a week away to play in the tournament he looked forward to returning to school and seeing the students, faculty and administrators who supported him.
In 2009 Anthony Paolucci moved to Rancho Santa Fe with his family from Dallas. He said he was 18 months old when he got plastic golf clubs that he played with around the house. When he was 3 his dad, Mike Paolucci, cut down standard clubs for him. He was 6 or 7 when he started taking lessons.
“At a very young age I recognized Anthony’s golf shots were more solid, straighter and longer than other kids,” Mike Paolucci said. “I tried not to push him too hard but he needed some encouragement.”
The first tournament he won was the Future Masters in Dothan, Ala. He was 12.
Being a runner up at 14 in the U.S. Junior Amateur was a big step for him because it was the first time he played with the top juniors in the country.
“I made it to the finals and along the way I defeated the no. 1 and no. 2 ranked juniors in the country,” he said. “I was 14 and they were 17. If I had won the tournament, I would have been the youngest winner and would have beaten Tiger’s record.”
Another thrill was playing on the Junior Ryder Team at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland in 2008 and Celtic Manor in Cardiff, Wales in 2010.
“I was one of six boys and six girls from the U.S.,” he said. “To be with my friends was awesome. We played on the same course with the Ryder team. While Tiger, Phil and all the guys from the U.S. were playing a practice game, I was playing a friendship match with my team.”
With all his success, Anthony Paolucci is able to put his fame into perspective.
“One of my goals is to have professional golf career,” he said. “Especially after Torrey Pines, I’m taking it one day at a time. There are a lot of things I need to improve on. It’s a long journey and I want to play golf forever. If I get there, it’ll be awesome.”
Meanwhile, he’s looking forward to being a freshman at USC in the fall.
“I know all of the guys from the USC golf team and it will be fun hanging out with them,” he said. “I’ll have to start doing things by myself — simple things. You have to feed yourself, look after yourself, do your own laundry, manage your own game and go on trips. There are a lot of benefits in that I’m staying close to home.”
Anthony Paolucci’s next tournament is the Azalea Invitational at the Country Club of Charleston, Charleston, S.C. from March 24 to March 27.