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An encouraging word drives Colli forward

A few positive words of encouragement can help a golfer drive the ball 250 yards, and sometimes they can help him go a lot further.

Chris Colli was 13 when he heard the words that continue to push him today.

While visiting his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., Colli met European tour pro Nacho Gervas at Cramer Mountain Country Club in nearby Cramerton. Gervas and two other players were driving balls, and Colli decided to give it a try.

"I struck the ball real solid," said Colli, who now lives in Brandon. "He (Gervas) told me, "You've got a future.' Ever since then I've had the drive to play."

That drive, inspired by a few simple words from Gervas, helped 19-year-old Colli earn a trip to the prestigious Florida State Golf Association Amateur Championship last week. Colli, who played for Manatee Community College this year, shot a course-record 69 at SaraBay in Sarasota to win the qualifier.

"I putted real well," Colli said. "I only had 24 putts, and I had six birdies. I just played really, really well."

He finished four strokes ahead of St. Petersburg's Phil Leckley and Sarasota's Brad Lanning.

"It's an impressive score, especially when you consider the conditions," MCC golf coach Margie Robertson said. "That course was as tough or tougher than it's been since it was redesigned two years ago. It was prepared tough because it was a state amateur qualifier.

"It was just a wonderful day for Chris Colli and I was thrilled for him."

Colli averaged 75.5 for MCC this season and struggled in the third round in almost every tournament the Lancers played. At the state junior-college tournament, Colli wasn't even MCC's top golfer.

Colli was the top golfer at Bloomingdale High in 1992, but didn't win individual conference or district titles. Gaither beat Bloomingdale by one stroke in the district championship, denying Colli and his teammates a chance to showcase their talent at the state high-school tournament.

"There's no doubt he was one of the top 10 players in the state," Bloomingdale coach Dom Moresco said. "He just never got the opportunity."

Yet Colli always has displayed the potential to be a good golfer. Both Robertson and Moresco said Colli always was capable of producing a sub-70 score in a big tournament.

"If you ask was it a surprise in reference to what he's able to do, I would say no," Robertson said. "I actually anticipated something like this happening a lot sooner.

"Chris is a complex, intelligent young man. He just needs to focus on one shot at a time. That's what he did at SaraBay."

Colli benefited from being at SaraBay, the home course for MCC. Moresco said course knowledge always has been a strength for Colli, who works in maintenance at River Hills Country Club while not playing at River Hills, Bloomingdale and Buckhorn Springs.

"He's always been course conscious," Moresco said. "He always knew the courses and how to play them."

Now the challenge for Colli is maintaining his focus while keeping his long-term goals in sight. Colli may stay at MCC for another year, but he's also considering transferring to a four-year school.

If confidence is a prerequisite for great golf, Collie should have little trouble succeeding at MCC or a four-year school, and he should play well in the state amateur at Bay Hill Country Club in Orlando starting Thursday.

"I have the basis to be a good player," Colli said. "I putt the ball well, I hit the ball long, I have a good iron game. All I need is the experience of difficult situations to put me at the top. The more tournaments I play, the better I'll get.

"My temperament requires a lot of play."