by MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — Frank Garcia’s lifelong relationship with golf has taken him to some of the finest courses in this region, as well as nationwide.
But as he walked through the doors to the Hyde Park Golf Course on Wednesday, there was no denying he had come home.
“This was my life,” Garcia said in a telephone conversation with the Gazette. “The country clubs will never make up for what I did. This club was my life.”
It’s at Hyde Park Golf Course where Garcia returned Wednesday to provide a free golf clinic to local youngsters, many of whom will play in the City of Niagara Falls Kids Junior Golf Tournament on Aug. 13. The man who now makes a living teaching adult clients at places including Niagara Frontier Country Club was back to the place where he learned the game, offering basic pointers to some who may one day follow in his footsteps.
“Hyde Park is memories, the humble beginnings,” he said. “I’m still there. I’m not above that.” Garcia recalled walking as a boy from his home on 37th Street and Simmons Drive to Hyde Park, through St. Joseph’s Cemetery down the gulley of Hyde Park’s Red Nine, where he’d look for abandoned golf balls.
He also began playing on the Red Nine, as well as the White Nine. Under the rules of his city parks junior pass, he couldn’t play the course on weekends so he’d instead use the practice green.
At age 16, he won the first of his many city championships. As Garcia explained, for all the people close to him who offered their support, there were just as many who wanted to see him fail.
Both proved to be equally motivating.
“There were people that didn’t like me, because I started the game at 11, and at 16 I was the city champ while guys were playing for 40 years,” Garcia explained. “My father couldn’t even beat me, and he grew up with these guys.”
It was his mental version of the “bulletin board material” that sports teams often use today: be told you cannot do it, then go and show them otherwise.
As for those who supported him, there were plenty he identified: Mike Slipko, who played on the PGA Tour in the 1970s, his uncle Phil, Sam DiNardo, Adolph Del Zoppo, Nick Pelsoni, Tony Cassano, his cousin Feliz Viscuglia, and Tom Etopio, with whom Garcia launched the Cataract Amateur Golf Club. Among the most successful students to emerge from that program was Paul Scaletta, who played in the 2012 PGA Championship, 2013 Honda Classic and was named the South Florida Player of the Year in 2012.
Among many names he recalled, there was also Matt Kasicka, who was 84 years old while Garcia was still a teenager rising in the game: “How I loved that man. He taught me to manage the golf course to make smart shots and never get ahead of myself.”
Since 2000, Garcia has offered professional lessons from Niagara Frontier Country Club and offered his gratitude and praise to its staff.
At Hyde Park on a summer afternoon, he was looking at the faces of youngsters who could have been him a generation ago. A man who openly expresses his Christian faith, Garcia is not bitter about those who would hold him back. When asked how he’s approach the young golfers at this clinic, he considered that maybe a little adversity might prove constructive in their development, too.
“What I want to get across to them is that adversaries are everywhere,” Garcia said. “I’m sure these city kids got more than their share. I just tell them that in my own life, the presence of God is there with us, if you keep doing the right things, good things will happen for you.”
As he pushed himself, Garcia hopes the kids he met and the kids who will play on August 13 will be willing to push themselves.
“To work hard and to have a goal is great. You have to work at it and you’ve got to see yourself through it.”WHO: City of Niagara Falls WHAT: 36th Annual Kids Junior Golf Tournament WHEN: Tuesday, August 13 15-17 year old players check in at 7 a.m. and tee off at 7:30 a.m. 11-14 year old players check in at 7:30 a.m. and tee off at 8 a.m. 7-10 year old players check in at 7:30 a.m. and tee off at 8 a.m. Lunch at 12:30 p.m. Awards and prizes will be available. WHERE: Hyde Park Golf Course COST: $5 per player Players must register by August 6. For more information, including where to register, call 286-4840.