Encouragement from Late Grandfather Motivates Massimino
August 12, 2019 | PINEHURST, N.C.
By Stuart Hall
Roland Massimino is adept at sensing when the query will arrive. Certainly a man with his name has to be related to Rollie Massimino, the ebullient college basketball coach who guided an unlikely Villanova University squad to a stunning upset of No. 1-ranked Georgetown University to win the 1985 NCAA Championship.
“The question is usually asked by the guys who watched it, and when they come up to me, right away I know they are going to ask if he is my grandfather,” said Massimino, who happily embraces his lineage. “I love it though, it never gets old for me. He was one of my heroes and it’s always cool to see the positive support he had from everybody.”
The elder Massimino – who won more than 800 college games in a 41-year career – was pretty good in offering support, as Roland Massimino can attest. In 2013, the younger Massimino was in high school, just starting his journey into competitive golf. He attended the U.S. Open with his grandfather at Merion Golf Club, and afterward Rollie told his grandson that he was going to write him every day for a month.
“It’s a very special thing to have because [the letters] are these one or two-line motivational tidbits,” Roland said of the notes that were numbered from one to 31. “I think he just wanted to help me out. I don’t think I appreciated them as much as I do now. I went back and read them after he passed away [in 2017] and they hit me a little different. And when I need a little motivation, I’ll go back and read them.”
Of the collection, one of his favorites poses the question: Would you rather be the elephant or among the mice? People come to the circus to see the elephant, not the mice.
“Do I want to be the player everyone comes to see or just one of the players in the field,” said Massimino, translating the note’s meaning.
In a sense, this week’s 119th U.S. Amateur Championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club represents an opportunity for Massimino to become that elephant.
Massimino, 22, of Lumberville, Pa., enters his first USGA championship at No. 725 in the World Amateur Golf RankingTM. He enjoyed a modicum of success during his collegiate career at Kansas State University, never winning but posting eight top-20 finishes this past season, including an eighth-place finish at the Big 12 Conference Championship.
His best finish in four amateur starts this summer, including the North & South Amateur Championship here at Pinehurst last month, was a 33rd-place finish at the Porter Cup. He missed the cut in the North & South.
In his U.S. Amateur qualifier at Ridgewood Country Club in Danbury, Conn., in mid-July, Massimino shot a personal-best 63 in the second round to earn medalist honors. Twice before Massimino earned alternate status but never got the call.
“I’m here to win, for sure. I’m not here to just make match play,” he said. “I’m going to approach the stroke play like a normal tournament and not try to post a number that will get me into the final 64. Then in match play, I know I’m not the highest-ranked player here, but you never know what will happen. Right now, I feel like I can beat anybody. It’s the attitude I have to have.”
Massimino arrived to competitive golf in his early teens and eventually eschewed team sports because he was drawn to the individual accountability of golf. His game began to evolve during his years in Manhattan, Kan.
He chalked up his freshman year struggles to the obvious transitions to college life. Then he learned how to practice properly and more efficiently. The latest adjustments have been in the areas of putting and mental performance.
Massimino will tee off on Course No. 2 on Monday knowing that he is not among the favorites to advance deep in the championship. Then again, neither was Villanova in 1985.
The Wildcats entered as a No. 8 seed and narrowly defeated No. 9 Dayton in the opening round. Villanova then defeated a No. 4 seed, a pair of No. 2 seeds and two No. 1 seeds, including Georgetown. The 66-64 championship win over the Hoyas is considered one of the tournament’s greatest upsets.
Should Massimino succeed, his win may be viewed similarly.
“I know I am talented enough to go out and compete with most anybody, but it’s just a matter of doing it on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It takes playing your best golf every day, instead of every once in a while.
“This is a great test, and you have got a lot of future pros in this field. This would be a great steppingstone to prove to myself that I can go to the next level.”
Winning the championship might also change a narrative. Instead of someone asking if Massimino is Rollie’s grandson, the question may be, “Aren’t you the U.S. Amateur champion?”
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.