Mike Vettese blasts his ball out of the bunker at the Royal Niagara Golf Club. Pictures created by Capture Scratch and provided by the GTA AM tour.

Local golfer overcomes fear of competing

Mike Vettese has risen to the top ranks of GTA AM Tour's Order of Merit

Mike Vettese thought he would never win a golf tournament — let alone two.

The 24-year-old has played his best golf ever this summer, winning two events on the GTA Amateur Tour’s ‘B Flight’.

The Toronto-native — who is atop his field in accumulative player points for the Tour’s season-long Net Score Order of Merit — has a good chance of winning a 2015 golf trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., awarded to the top-three players in each tier, if recent trends continue.

“I just want to continue playing well,” says Vettese. “It would be nice to win the trip. But I can only control what happens on the course.”

Vettese will be the first to admit that he used to struggle mightily in tournament play.

I was becoming known as a reverse-sandbagger,” says Vettese with a smile. “But I knew that I could do better than that. There was something psychologically preventing me from playing well.

—Mike Vettese

“I would get so scared to just hit the ball,” says Vettese, on his first few attempts at competitive golf. “It would be like I couldn’t remember how to hit it. When the club would get to the top, I would feel that there was no chance I was going to make good contact with the ball.”

Vettese remembers playing in a club championship at Donalda Golf Club in 2008 when he hit four consecutive shots into the river on the first hole and withdrew out of frustration and embarrassment on the second hole.

According to Vettese, front-nine implosions had become a regular part of his game, leading to scores well above the 100-mark.

“I was becoming known as a reverse-sandbagger,” says Vettese with a smile. “But I knew that I could do better than that. There was something psychologically preventing me from playing well.”

Mike Vettese examines his golf ball at the Ecco Classic. Pictures created by Capture Scratch and provided by the GTA AM Tour. (taser 2)

Those who play the game understand how difficult it is to score well during a leisurely round, while performing under pressure in a tournament — where every shot takes on extra significance — is a completely different challenge.

According to Vettese, past poor performances would traumatize him on the golf course, lingering in the back of his mind during pressure-filled moments.

However, he did not solve his psychological barrier on the golf course.

It was while playing basketball during a self-imposed golf sabbatacle — just a few seasons ago — that Vettese had an epiphany about why he was struggling so much on the course.

“In basketball, it is far more obvious who is defending you and trying to get in your way. In golf, it is just yourself,” said Vettese. “So if I could succeed in a game, like basketball, where someone is trying to stop me, there is no reason why I can’t succeed in a sport where I am my own biggest enemy.”

With this new perspective in mind, he set out to turn his fortunes around, devoting all of 2014 to practicing and honing his skill set for tournament play.

It was during this time that he met Derek Morris, a fellow avid golfer and a runner-up in a GTA Amateur event last year, who became a positive influence on Vettese’s game.

“He had a lot of untapped potential when we first met,” said Morris. “When he started to practice with a purpose regularly and manage his own game a little more strategically, the results were apparent immediately.”

Armed with a newly found confidence in late July, Vettese chipped-in for par on the par 3, 18th hole at the Ladies Golf of Toronto to win the ECCO classic over Jeff Gatcke by one stroke.

“It seemed surreal,” said Vettese. ”I didn’t believe that I had actually won for about a week.”

Vettese continued his hot play into September, recording his first-ever under-80 in tournament play en route to winning the P.J. Dermody Classic at Wyndance last week by two strokes.

The right-hander, who plays a swooping draw as his stock shot, continues to set goals for himself and work towards them.

“I’ve always wanted to play in the Ontario Amateur,” said Vettese. “I’m hoping to qualify next year.”