Feb. 23—TAMPA, Fla. — Nick Maccario went to Florida two weeks ago looking to find something near and dear to his heart.
His golf game.
Really, the golf game he played summer en route to his 2020 Mass. Golf Player of the Year Award, which included three second place finishes in the Mass. Amateur, N.E. Amateur and Ouimet Memorial and a championship at the Hornblower Invitational.
Oh yeah, and that cherry on top, the 56 (a k a 15-under par) he shot — one of the best scores ever recorded over 18 holes in the history of the sport — at his home course Bradford Country Club.
Maccario entered in the nationally-acclaimed Gasparilla Invitational in Tampa this past weekend, and due to COVID-19 and the vast majority of Americans working remotely he went down about 10 days before the tournament.
To practice and play.
Maccario needed some practice before the Gasparilla, which he finished 37th overall a year ago.
He had entered two other national tournaments in Florida and Georgia in November and December, and pretty much, for him, bombed in both, missing cuts.
Maccario finished tied for third at the Gasparilla Invitational, even par over three rounds (69, 70 and 71), which included a birdie on the last hole on Saturday.
"The progression from the beginning of the trip to the end was fulfilled," said the 28-year-old Maccario. "I did practice more and, more importantly for me, played more. I was ready to go when I got to the first tee on Thursday. I know that it's in there and I suddenly didn't lose it."
Florida golf, said Maccario, is different than Massachusetts golf. The greens roll differently. There are less oak trees. The sun is almost always shining. And there are more great, year-round golfers.
A year ago, Maccario was never in contention, finishing tied for 37th with rounds of 74, 75 and 74. On Saturday he was in the second to last threesome.
The highlight of the entire trip was probably the last hole, a par-5, when he hit a 6-iron from 205 yards out. After a bogey on 17, he needed a birdie for a top three finish. The two tourney leaders were four and five strokes ahead.
"I hit it nice and figured it would be around the pin, but I couldn't really see that part of the green because it was tucked back," said Maccario. "It landed in front and rolled up to where the pin was. I could only see the ball land. There was a crowd around the green and I heard a loud 'OOOOOHHHHH' followed by an 'AAAHHHHH.' I knew it just missed. I figured it was close.
The ball rolled by the pin, missing the hole by an inch, and rolled off the green. He chipped up to a few feet and got the birdie.
"Finishing third looks better than fifth," said Maccario. "It was a cool experience, the last hole and really the entire tournament. It felt good to compete. I had missed that."
Like 80 percent of the country, Maccario took advantage of working remotely — he's a buyer for Fidelity — with his Florida trip.
There are two more elite Mid-Amateur (25-and-over) tournaments to improve his ranking even better, including the Terra Cotta Invitational in Naples, Fla. in late April and the 2021 U.S. Amateur Four-ball in Seattle in late May with Mike Calef, which they qualified for after winning a sudden death playoff for the second and final spot in October.
He left Tampa on Sunday and is already back in his Waltham apartment. After a few days off, it will be a lot of indoor practice, practice and practice.
"The more you play these events, like three or four times, the more comfortable you get," said Maccario. "You look around you see this guy won and is 45, and another guy won, and he's 50. There's no age to it. There are tournaments we play with the kids (U.S. Amateur, Mass. Amateur, etc.), which is great. But I like this a lot, too. I just want my game to travel to Florida, or wherever that may be."
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.