Most freshmen athletes enter college hoping to better their talents by the time they graduate four years later.
As an Oglethorpe freshman in 2011, Anthony Maccaglia came on like lightning. He won the 2012 NCAA Division III Golf Championship individual title in Florida. That’s a difficult victory to duplicate, but Maccaglia would like to close out a sensational collegiate career by repeating that victory at this year’s Division III championships being played at Grandover Resort and Conference Center in Greensboro.
If he wins, he would tie three other golfers as the only repeat winners of the championship. The others are Mike Bender of California State-Stanislaus (1979, 1980); Ryan Jenkins of Methodist University (1993, 1995) and Chad Collins of Methodist, a three-time winner in 1998, 1999 and 2001. Collins has also been a consistent money winner on the PGA Tour since turning pro.
Maccaglia’s sophomore, junior and senior years haven’t been a letdown since that national championship in 2011. He was in contention for the individual title in the 2013 and 2014 tournaments and earned PING First Team All-America honors all three years. In 2014, he and his Oglethorpe teammates finished second to Schreiner University of Texas for the team title. Maccaglia’s junior year performance earned the distinction of being the only Division III golfer chosen for the Palmer Cup, college golf’s version of the Ryder Cup. Except for Maccaglia, America’s team was made up of Division I golfers. He didn’t win any matches against his European counterparts, but he didn’t look shabby. In three matches, he took his opponents to the final hole.
This year, Maccaglia has been ranked from start to finish as the No. 1 player in Division III golf. He leads the nation with a stroke average slightly over 70 shots a round. He also led in greens hit in regulation, 74 percent.
“I’ve been playing pretty good golf, the putter is really hot,” he said Wednesday after shooting a four- under-par 68 on Grandover’s West Course. “Making 10- to 20-footers, that always helps with the score.”
He said when you make six birdies as he did Wednesday, your scores are going to be south of 70.
He calls Grandover’s East Course “probably one of the toughest tracks in Division III golf.” The fact that the fairways are brown this year after a horrible winter doesn’t bother Maccaglia. He said everyone has to play on the same grass, or lack thereof.
The question is why such a talent as Maccaglia is playing Division III instead of with the great players on the Division I level.
“I didn’t have a great high school career,” he said. “The coach (Jim Owen) happened to look at me and gave me a chance.”
Owen said he was in the Tampa on a recruiting trip and didn’t have Maccaglia on his list. But the youngster turned up in a group that was playing six holes with the coach.
“He missed all six greens,” Owens says. “But he got up and down six times. After the round, I said that’s easily the best short game I have ever seen.”
Maccaglia grew up in a blue-collar family, which was originally from Pittsburgh. His dad is a postman and his mother works for a large company. Maccaglia told the coach his short game was great because he during the day to play golf. It was something we could bond with.” He said by the time he was 10 or 11 he was beating his father, a decent golfer, regularly.
Even though his putting and short games are spectacular, Maccaglia is no cream puff when he whacks his driver. Owens says the senior has added 40 yards to his drives since arriving at Oglethorpe.
Owen has no doubt Maccaglia can bank money on the PGA Tour. “Coaches know when a player has the ‘it’, factor,” Owen says of the mysterious ingredient that separates great players in any sport from others who may look just as good in practice. “He has that ‘it’ factor.”
Maccaglia says, “Playing the tour is my dream,” he says. “That’s what I’m going to work for during the summer.”
Owen says Maccaglia needs to add more strength to his body, but he can accomplish that. Once he does and qualifies for the PGA Tour, “He’s going to chase Chad Collins into the record books,” said Owens.
Collins, the 2001 Methodist grad, has won $2.2 million since gaining full Tour status in 2008. His best year was 2010 when he won $815,961 with three top-10 finishes. Perhaps, the best Division III player is Olin Browne Sr., who played for Occidental College of California, and won three PGA Tour tournaments before joining the Champions Tour. He won the 2011 U.S. Senior Open.
For Maccaglia, the pro circuit is still ahead. Right, his pressing business is in Greensboro. He said in the three years he has returned to the national championship since winning in 2012, “You realize how special it is to win one.”