Alfred Defeo had never shot par on a hole of golf three years ago. Had never competed in a tournament. Never even swung a club.
Over the weekend, however, he traveled to TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to begin defending his Golf Channel Am Tour championship.
The amateur competition began Sunday and ends Wednesday. After the first round, Defeo, who lives in Absecon and manages the Second Cup Expresso Bar at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point, was tied for 34th place among the 65 players in his flight, 13 shots off the lead.
The tournament success he had in 2009 and hopes to repeat this week reflects a love of the game that developed quickly.
"Three years ago, for my birthday, my boss (Mark Bond) wanted me to go out and play a round with him," Defeo, 30, said last week. "I was like, 'Man, I've never played before.' So on my birthday he gave me a card with a set of four lessons. I went to get the lessons and I was hooked."
Ever since, Defeo, 30, has been playing every chance he gets. He became a member at Seaview - A Dolce Resort in Galloway Township, and plays at least four times a week. He also continues to take lessons and work on his swing throughout the year, whether by going to indoor facilities in the winter or swinging a club inside his house for 20 minutes a day.
"We've actually created a monster," Bond, 52, said jokingly. Bond, who owns the Second Cup coffee shop and two others, is sharing a rental with Defeo during the tournament and competing as well.
It wasn't long after Defeo took up the game that he made the transition into tournament play. The summer after his initial lessons, he entered as many area tournaments as he could find. As he continued to improve, he recorded his first tournament victory at Ramblewood Country Club in Mount Laurel.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling," Defeo said about winning a tournament.
Last year, Defeo again entered as many Golf Channel Am Tour regional tournaments as he could, including one at Seaview that he won to qualify for the national event in Florida.
The Golf Channel's Am Tour 2009 national championship was held at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. The tournament, like this year's, was comprised of six flights based on the players' ages and handicaps. In La Quinta, Defeo competed in the Snead Flight, which was for 20-handicap golfers. On the final day of the tournament, he overcame a seven-stroke deficit to win the national title for his age/skill level.
This year, Defeo is playing in the Jones Flight for 16-19.9 handicaps.
In preparation for this year's nationals, Defeo entered nine other Golf Channel Am Tour events. He finished in the top five in seven of them, including two victories. His wins were at Ballamor Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township and The Architects Golf Club in Lopatcong, Warren County.
Golf Channel Am Tour events are recorded and televised.
"It's more of an adrenaline rush than anything, I get butterflies in my stomach countless times. I'm just a normal person; I'm not used to stuff like that " Defeo said. "Next thing you know you have all these cameras following you around. It's kind of hard. The first couple of holes, my hands are shaking and it's tough to focus, but you get over it."
Defeo said that the tournament play gives him the drive to practice and get better.
"As an adult, this is the most fun I've ever had," he said. "Nothing else even compares. The experience, and the people you meet, it's just great. If you go out and play with your buddies, that's fun. But when you're playing stroke play for a trophy, that's a whole different game. You have to take that 3-foot putt that you might miss but would have taken for a gimme. You have to make that putt."
Despite playing in a more competitive flight this year, Defeo went into the national tournament with high expectations.
"My goal is top five," Defeo said in the days leading up to the event. "Last year, it was top 10. It's a little bit of luck. A couple good shots, or a couple putts fall, and I could be right back there. Golf is a little bit about luck, too.
"You need some to win a tournament."
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