As the competitive golf world slowly returned this summer, Carlo Pizzano found himself applying to tournaments across the country. The Loyola sophomore received plenty of rejections, which he knew would come. He just wanted to make the most of the opportunities he could give himself.
Pizzano did just that. He’s now won three times since July, establishing himself as a potential rising star in the sport.
The run of success started with a victory at the Savannah Quarters Invitational (Pooler, Ga.) in mid-July, when Pizzano shot 10-under across three rounds and won in a playoff. He captured another victory in mid-August at the Bubby Worsham Memorial Tournament in Bethesda, Md., firing two rounds of 66 and 68 to win by five. Most recently, Pizzano won the Washington Metropolitan Golf Association (WMGA) Metropolitan Amateur in Mitchellville, Md., Oct. 27, shooting a back-nine 30 to post 5-under for two rounds before winning in another playoff.
“He’s always been a confident kid, but you take anybody and you give them three wins in four months, that’s going to make them even better,” Loyola men’s golf coach Chris Baloga said. “You always go to a tournament and think you have a chance to do well, but I think now he probably gets there and knows he should do well. So I think that’s going to play a big role in his success going forward.”
This breakout is especially encouraging because Pizzano hasn’t been a full-time golfer for long. In high school at St. Anselm’s Abbey in College Park, Md., he also played baseball and basketball. But Pizzano is no newcomer to the sport. He’s been playing since he was 5 years old, and knew following his freshman year of high school that he wanted to reach golf’s highest levels.
“I think what drew me to golf more than anything was the challenge,” Pizzano said. “At [high school] age, I was already a really good baseball player, a really good basketball player. I felt like I’d accomplished a lot. In golf, I hadn’t. I was always frustrated, I always felt like there was way more I could have done. And I would rather keep pursuing that challenge. I think golf taught me a lot more about myself, about commitment in general.”
Baloga — who played golf at Towson and has enjoyed a strong amateur career himself — first met Pizzano at a Wake Forest camp during the summer of 2017, and the two Maryland natives stayed in touch. Pizzano recalls that he seemed to play well every time Baloga watched him, and Loyola emerged as the best college fit because of the familiarity and the chance to be part of a strong underdog program.
Even without baseball and basketball to worry about, though, Pizzano still has plenty on his plate. He majors in engineering, one of the most time-consuming programs at the university. He’ll sometimes have to miss practice for a lab, and late nights are often followed by early mornings. But Pizzano has shown he’s willing to put in the work on both ends.
“They don’t make them like him very much anymore,” Baloga said. “He’s a guy, like, if they offered a 7 a.m. class, he would take it because he’s up and ready. He’s done his workout before most people wake up in the morning. … He’s just an unbelievably driven kid, and he’s ready for whatever opportunity presents itself.”
Both of Pizzano’s parents are engineers. Both of his siblings are engineers. He has a deep-rooted passion for the subject, just as he does for golf. So he has no qualms about the challenge he’s given himself.
“I think it’s easier when you’re balancing two things that you love so much, and [for me] that’s golf and engineering,” Pizzano said. “So staying up late one night doesn’t necessarily make me upset. Doesn’t bring me down. Waking up early to go practice doesn’t bring me down.
“I’ve always been told to balance. Everyone’s always said, ‘Carlo, you do too much, you do too much.’ But I’ve always had the answer, ‘Why not? Why can’t I?’ There’s people in the world that you read about that do twice as much as I do in their time commitment — I’m really not doing that much compared to some people. I kind of see it as … I really don’t try to get ahead of myself, and I think that’s why I don’t get stressed out as much as some people would. I just focus on what I can do better today that I didn’t do yesterday.”
Pizzano played in all seven tournaments for the Greyhounds in 2019-20, posting a scoring average of 73.3. He posted a pair of top-15 finishes in the fall and tied for eighth at the Loyola Intercollegiate in February before the pandemic ultimately canceled the remainder of the season in March.
While courses were closed in Maryland, Pizzano did what he could to get better away from the course. He bought a net to hit balls into off a mat in the first week of quarantine and often FaceTimed his swing coach while practicing. He had a putting setup in his room. He spent hours on the stationary bike. To see balls fly in the air, he actually went to the baseball field at St. Anselm’s Abbey — this drew strange looks from the monks passing by, but several of them knew him from the school.
Setting a schedule was the hard part, as most tournaments in Maryland were pushed back to the late summer and fall and events nationwide had more applicants than usual. Pizzano’s goal was to earn World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) points, and the Savannah Quarters Invitational offered points for a top-five finish, so he and his mother made the drive. He fired rounds of 66, 70 and 70, including a back-nine 32 (4-under) to force a playoff. Pizzano nearly holed his approach on the second playoff hole, tapping in for a winning birdie.
Both of Pizzano’s wins in the state of Maryland featured challenges by his Loyola teammates. Senior Nick Mejia finished solo second at the Bubby Worsham, while junior Matt Malits was solo third and two shots out of the playoff at the WMGA Amateur. With the Patriot League planning to proceed with a spring golf season, Baloga is high on his team. The Greyhounds return all 11 players from this past year due to NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to 2020 seniors, and the incumbent top two of Evan Brown and Brandon Berry are entering their traditional senior years.
“I think the good thing for him here [is that] there are definitely a couple of guys on our team that, on a daily basis, he’s still trying to beat, because they’ve had more success than him, they shoot lower numbers in practice, stuff like that,” Baloga said. “He’s still always chasing somebody versus trying to figure out who he’s trying to chase down. That should help him along the way.”
Pizzano isn’t shy about his desire to make it as a professional golfer. That’s a cutthroat world, and his game admittedly isn’t there yet, but a lot can happen in three years. Pizzano has already gained 7 mph of swing speed — which translates to roughly 20 yards of driving distance — in the past year. He’s broken through as a three-time winner this summer. He’s played with several active pros (and Brown, who has professional aspirations of his own) and seen what they do better than him.
Golf, perhaps more than any other sport, offers constant opportunity for tangible improvement — lower scores, longer drives, more precise approaches. But it’s never easy, especially when livelihood hinges on beating other exceptional talents. Pizzano knows this, though, and he embraces it.
“I see myself in seven years on the PGA Tour playing in these tournaments. That’s legitimately where I see myself,” Pizzano said. “And obviously right now, even though I’ve won three tournaments … they say congratulations, but my mindset is always that I’ve only taken one step. And I have no idea how high the stairs are, but I still have to keep stepping forward. And so I’m taking it one step at a time.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Loyola Athletics