TORRINGTON, Conn. – Failing to qualify for the PGA Tour by a stroke remains the most agonizing moment in Kyle Gallo’s golfing life.
But Gallo never allowed such disappointment to deter him from remaining a personable, gregarious and upbeat person with a terrific game.
Such perseverance is a major reason that Gallo was inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame on Thursday night during the Connecticut State Golf Association annual meeting at Torrington Country Club. Longtime rules official Stan McFarland of Manchester joined Gallo in the state shrine.
“Hands down, without a doubt, it was the most interesting and most devastating thing that I’ve ever gone through,” Gallo said of narrowly missing a PGA Tour card in the 2004 qualifying school finals at the Stadium and Nicklaus courses at TPC West in Palm Springs, Calif. “When you work so hard and sacrifice so much for so long – like sleeping in cars and wearing tape on your hands bleeding from hitting so many balls – it’s a hard thing to swallow not reaching your dream by one shot.
“People just don’t comprehend all that it takes to get on the PGA Tour and how small the window is to make it. My goal was not to win 25 tournaments, it was to get on the PGA Tour, but maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world never have the opportunity, and I knew I could compete out there. Missing so close stuck with me for years and was hard to handle, but time has healed the hurt. I just came up a shot short of fulfilling a lifelong dream.”
Gallo shot 7-under-par 425 for 108 holes to tie for 27th place, but he needed to finish in the Top 25 under the rules in those days. Longtime friend Dan Janton, who played at the University of Connecticut, flew to California after Gallo shot a fifth-round 66 to put himself in position to fulfill his dream.
“I hid behind trees because I didn’t want Kyle to see me,” said a smiling Janton, who often caddied for his buddy and introduced him into the Hall of Fame. “I can still picture his birdie putt on the last hole to get his card sliding by the edge of the hole. It was heartbreaking.”
Gallo did earn fulltime status on the Nationwide (now Korn Ferry) Tour and played in the development league for two years with limited success partly because of back problems. Ironically, he said his most fulfilling round didn’t bring victory but came in the second stage of qualifying at Stonebridge Ranch Country Club in McKinney, Texas. Despite what Gallo called “brutal weather,” he was 4-under with two holes to go before making “smart bogeys” to advance to the final stage.
“The temperature was in the 40s and the wind was really blowing,” Gallo recalled. “I played it smart at the end by staying away from the water and made it through. I’ve had a lot of wins in my life, but that was my most satisfying round considering the circumstances.”
Gallo, 44, narrowly missed his primary goal after winning his third of four Connecticut Open titles (1998, 2000, 2004 and 2010), which is tied with John Golden (1932-35) for the most victories in a tournament that began in 1931. He also has been runner-up a record five times and shares the second-lowest 54-hole scoring record of 200, which he shot at the Country Club of Fairfield in 2000 after former PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions player and 2006 Hall of Fame inductee Ken Green set the mark in 1992 at Ridgewood CC in Danbury. John VanDerLaan shattered the record last year when he shot 194 at New Haven CC.
Gallo is the only person to win the Connecticut Open and CSGA Public Links Championship in the same year in 1998. He was runner-up in the 1995 CSGA Amateur, earned 1997 CSGA Player of the Year honors and qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 1995, 1997 and 1998. He played at Central Connecticut State University from 1993-95 and 1997-98, was a three-time All-New England selection and named CCSU Male Athlete of the Year in 1998. He also spent one year at the University of Texas-El Paso (1995-96), where he was a first-team Western Athletic Conference selection under coach Tim Norris, winner of the 1982 Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open.
“I never really took lessons, never had any formal training, while I was growing up playing at Timberlin (Golf Course in Berlin),” Gallo said. “I just liked to play, and when I went to Texas El Paso was the first time that I had someone look at my swing. I wanted to challenge myself, and (CCSU) coach (Lowell) Lukas alerted me that Norris had a spot on his team, so I went there.”
Ironically, Chuck Lasher and Lindsey Hansen, who worked together at Timberlin GC for 23 years, were inducted into the Connecticut Section PGA Hall of Fame on Nov. 24.
“They were the backbone of an unbelievable junior program,” Gallo said. “Timberlin was like a babysitting ground for many of the top juniors in the state for years.”
Gallo, a native of Newington, was part of a fourth consecutive CIAC Division II Golf Championship as a freshman at Berlin High School while playing with other standouts such as Jon and Paul Veneziano, who learned the game at Timberlin from Lasher and Hansen. Gallo is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame at Berlin High, where he graduated in 1993 after being named All-Northwest Conference four times and helping the Redcoats to league titles in 1991 and 1993. A two-time team captain, Gallo was a three-time All-State selection and two-time All-New England pick who ended his high school career with an astonishing record of 102-13-6.
After graduating from CCSU in 1998, Gallo turned pro, and his numerous victories included the 1999 Maine Open, 2004 Providence Open, 2005 and 2010 Manchester (Conn.) Open, 2009 and 2014 Cape Cod Open, 2011 Massachusetts Open, 2013 New England Open and 2013 Washington (D.C.) Open.
Gallo was named men’s golf coach at his alma mater in 2015 and remained in the position until the university discontinued the men’s and women’s teams three years later for political and financial reasons.
“It was a total crook what they did to us,” Gallo said. “Our entire budget was $175,000 out of an athletic department budget of $9.3 million. The men’s and women’s teams had about 15 players and accounted for 1.8 percent of the entire school athletic budget. What a joke!”
In their last season, the Blue Devils won their first Northeast Conference title in more than a decade, and Gallo was named NEC Coach of the Year. A year later, Gallo was named coach of the Western New England University men’s team.
Gallo hasn’t played much golf the past few years and now works with CSGA Amateur champion and Player of the Year Rick Dowling at the Golf Performance Center in Ridgefield. Gallo’s duties include teaching youngsters and developing a website for top junior players to contact colleges.
When not working, Gallo is at home with his wife, Meghan, and 21/2-year-old son Chase.
“He’s everything a little boy can be,” Gallo said proudly. “He hasn’t hit any balls yet, but he does like dropping them into the cup. Hey, being able to finish is a big thing in golf, right?”
Gallo said all options are on the table as far as his future in golf. He has considered becoming a reinstated amateur and possibly trying to qualify for the PGA Tour Champions in six years.
“I never rule out anything,” Gallo said. “I feel great and still have a thirst to compete, but I don’t know where my golf career is going. The last tournament I played was in September 2018, and I played maybe six or seven rounds this year, including in scrambles with friends. Playing golf is something I’ll do, health permitting, until I die. You can compete in golf forever.”
But you can enter a Hall of Fame only once.
“If you play the game long enough it can drive you stone crazy, so you always have to stay positive,” Gallo said, alluding to his narrow failure to earn a PGA Tour card. “Golf is a battle that becomes an obsession that becomes a passion that becomes a dream that becomes a reality. Golf is a teacher of integrity, honesty and humility.
“I’m young to get inducted and had no idea of the criteria, so it’s a wonderful honor. It’s weird because I never played golf to get into a Hall of Fame. I just loved to play, so I guess this is a testament to the life that I’ve lived. Golf is so much more than a score or a reward or a trophy, so thank you golf.”
McFarland, 79, has been making rules on players of all ages and abilities for more than 50 years on the local, state, regional and national levels. Another CCSU grad, he also was CSGA president and a member of the executive committee for eight years, is one of the organization’s five assistant tournament directors and has been a rules official with the highest certification for almost two decades. He has worked 19 U.S. Golf Association championships and eight NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championships and twice caddied in the Insurance City Open, now Travelers Championship.
“My plate has been full for a long time,” McFarland understated.
McFarland was born in Bar Harbor, Maine, and he and his family moved to Manchester when he was 10. He played “any sport that had a ball,” including golf with his father starting at 11 at Manchester Country Club. He wanted to caddie at the club at 10 but wasn’t big enough until a year later, when he was injured playing Little League baseball, leading to his focus on golf.
McFarland still lives in Manchester, where he was a member of the high school team that won two state championships and 39 consecutive matches and also excelled in amateur industrial leagues. At 19, while attending night school at the University of Hartford, he proposed becoming a club professional to his father, who asked, “Why would you want to turn something you love so much into a job?”
McFarland now says, “I thank him to this day.”
McFarland transferred to CCSU and graduated in 1982 before earning a Masters’ degree in business management and finance from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1985. He began his rules official career at Manchester CC and with the CSGA in the club representation program 20 years ago. He has led, taught and saved thousands of players, officials and volunteers from possible disaster.
During his CSGA presidency in 2015-16, the organization added a director of women’s golf and increased the number of volunteers, one of his priorities.
McFarland won five men’s titles and two senior titles at Manchester CC and two CSGA Senior Net Championships, tied for first in the 2005 New England Super Senior Amateur Championship, has made nine holes-in-one and seen four aces on par-4 holes while officiating. One of his championship wins came at Manchester CC, where he has the longest continuous membership and has served on the greens committee and board of governors.
McFarland’s wife of 35 years, Linda, has encouraged him to give back to the game that he loves and has traveled to nine countries as he played and officiated at more than 1,000 courses. The couple has visited faraway golf locales in Japan, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England, and he had a particularly memorable round in 1993 at the famed Old Course at St. Andrews Golf Course in Scotland.
“I got hooked up with two guys from Oak Tree Country Club in Edmond, Oklahoma,” McFarland said. “I drove it out there pretty good on 18 and hit a wedge shot to a foot. We were playing behind a match between the Scottish International Team and the Irish International Team, so I got a nice reception when I got to the green. The shot also saved me $30 because we were playing a skins game.”
McFarland has also been a member of the New England Golf Association Executive Committee since 2014, is currently its second vice president and will become president in 2021. Despite his multitude of activities, McFarland is proud that he’s still trying to expand his knowledge, which is why he’s often in rules discussions with other officials at tournaments and is quick to admit he has met many rules experts who are smarter than him.
McFarland’s mantra? “It’s what you learn when you know it all that counts,” he said. “Awards cannot adequately say how honored I am to be in the Hall of Fame. I’m so happy to have been able to give back to a game that has meant so much to me.”
Before Gallo and McFarland were inducted, the 2019 CSGA champions and Players of the Year were recognized, with Dave Szewczul providing the most emotional speech after receiving the Dick Siderowf Senior Player of the Year Award for the ninth time in the 11 years that he has been eligible. From the fall of 2017 through 2018, Szewczul underwent two back surgeries – a laminectomy that failed to achieve the desired results and a fusion – a right hip replacement, knee surgery, cataract surgery and the processing of a few kidney stones and wondered if he would ever be able to play golf again.
Szewczul’s return to the game, after prolonged and intense rehab, much less a return to competitive form, is a minor miracle. During his speech, he paused several times to collect himself, especially when he thanked his wife Lisa, son David, his doctors and therapists and the many people who continually offered support. They included longtime teacher and CCSU grad John Nowobilski, the longtime head pro at Tallwood CC in Hebron who retired in 2018 and helped Dave revamp his swing.
“I’m touched to be back and want to share this with everyone,” said Szewczul, the sales director for a packaging company who will be 66 on Dec. 16. “A year ago, I couldn’t drive or dress myself or walk any distance. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back and appreciate everything a lot more after the year that I’d had. My comeback couldn’t have happened without my family, and I mean everything, from helping me get dressed to getting me to appointments to driving me to changing their schedules to accommodate me.
“I always appreciated life and valued every day, but now I really do. I thank God every day to be healthy again, to be out of pain, because at the beginning of trying to come back, you wonder, ‘Can I do this?’ You’re doubtful, you’re skeptical. Now I’m just happy to be healthy, to have my quality of life back. I’m very grateful and feel really blessed.”
Szewczul, an All-American at Central Connecticut inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010, served as an inspiration to golfers everywhere this year as he was part of the victorious CSGA team in its win over the Connecticut Section PGA in the Julius Boros Challenge Matches, won the CSGA Super Senior Championship; finished second by a shot to longtime friend and frequent playing partner and Hall of Famer Bill Hermanson in the Connecticut Senior Amateur Championship; tied for fourth in the New England Senior Amateur in Maine, sharing the top Connecticut honors with Rick Malafronte; finished 11th in the CSGA Mid-Amateur Championship as the oldest player on the leader board by five strokes; tied for 15th with David in the Father-Son Championship and tied for 25th in the Connecticut Open in temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees and was the oldest player by far to reach the third and fourth rounds. Szewczul edged Hermanson by 42.67 points for Senior Player of the Year and remains the only person to earn Senior Player of the Year and Player of the Year in the same year.
Richard Dowling of the eClub of Connecticut earned Player of the Year for the first time; Jen Holland of Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield was the Liz Janangelo Caron Women’s Player of the Year for the third time that it was awarded; Bob Summers, 90, of Crestbrook CC in Watertown and a former teacher, coach and high school athletic director for 43 years, mostly at Avon High School, was named Volunteer of the Year largely for his work in the One-Day Series; Chris Fosdick of Wallingford CC received the Nick Pahoulis Award for medalist in qualifying in the CSGA Junior Championship; Chris Ayers of Goodwin GC in Hartford received the R.M. Grant Award for medalist in qualifying for the CSGA Amateur; and Lyman Orchards GC in Middlefield was given the Distinguished Club Award.
State champions to be recognized included Rasmey Kong, West Haven, Connecticut Open; Loretta Giovannettone, Woodway CC-Darien, Connecticut Women’s Open; Dowling, Amateur Championship; Richard Hayes, Silver Spring CC-Ridgefield, Russell C. Palmer Cup; Ben Day, CC of Waterbury, Mid-Amateur; Peter Tomlinson, Orange Hills GC-Orange, Public Links; Hermanson, Black Hall-Club, Senior Amateur; Mark Vasington, Wampanoag CC-West Hartford, Senior Match Play Championship; Patrick Griffin, Indian Hill CC-Newington, Chris Cote’s One-Day Player of the Year; Ben James, Great River GC-Milford, Junior Amateur; and Meghan Mitchell, CSGA Club for Schools, Women’s Amateur.
James, 16, a sophomore at Hamden Hall Day School and the No. 1-ranked junior in the Class of 2022, was unable to attend because he departed Monday for Victoria, Australia, to compete for the United States team in the Junior Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club on Sunday and Monday. The Presidents Cup between the U.S. and International sides is Dec. 12-15. Tiger Woods will join Hale Irwin (1994) as the only U.S. playing captain, while Ernie Els will guide the International team.
Joe Paladino, the longtime golf writer at the Waterbury-Republican, received a Special Recognition Award for his numerous contributions to the game. Owen Canfield, a sports writer for 55 years for the Torrington Register and Hartford Courant who died Saturday, was among the people who passed in 2019 and were recognized by CSGA executive director Mike Moraghan in the annual meeting before the Hall of Fame inductions.
“Owen did so much for golf in the state,” Moraghan said. “I remember the first time I met him I was 13 and playing in the Junior Tournament of Champions at Cliffside (now Tower Ridge) Country Club in Simsbury and I was paired with Dave Szewczul. I always had great respect for Owen and so did my dad.”
Moraghan’s late father, Marty, was the CSGA tournament director for many years, a USGA rules official and CSGA president in 1977-78 who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991. Others who died this year and were recognized included Hall of Fame members Fred Kask and Pat O’Sullivan Lucey and Connecticut Section PGA Hall of Famer Stan Staszowski, whose brother, Frank, was the longtime pro at Torrington CC.