By Gavin Menu
Ever since they can remember, Gabe Denon and Dillon Decker have lived for the sport of golf. The recent graduates of Pierson High School spent last fall torching local links as two of the top high school players on Eastern Long Island and now, with the arrival of summer, they are busy preparing for the next phase of their golfing careers.
This fall, Decker will attend the University of Tampa, where he is expecting to walk-on to the school’s Division II golf team. Denon, on the other hand, will be going in a different direction and plans to attend Campbell University in North Carolina to study golf management, a major that actually forbids students from joining the intercollegiate golf team.
“The plan is to teach golf or be an assistant or head pro,” Denon said this week, taking a moment from a busy day working as a caddy at The Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton. “I’ll definitely miss the school-type match set-up, but the way I’m going to set up my schedule, I’ll be done at one so I can play golf the rest of the day.”
The PGA Golf Management Program at Campbell “allows students to acquire the specialized knowledge and skills necessary for success in the golf industry,” according to its website. Class topics include Tournament Operations and Rules, Introduction to Teaching, Facility Operations, Turfgrass Management and Golf Shop Operations.
Denon is not ruling out a possible return to competitive golf in the near future, although Campbell competes in Division I, which would make it challenging. Denon said he would work hard on his game this summer and next year, with an eye on possibly transferring to a school where he could join the golf team.
“I’m going to see where my game is at that point,” Denon said.
Decker has his eyes set squarely on competitive golf in the immediate future. He graduated a semester early last winter and spent the next two months in Florida working on his swing with Mike Sweeney, the assistant pro at The Bridge Golf Club, where Decker works as a caddy.
Decker will study finance and accounting at Tampa, but golf will also be a major part of his experience. Recently he shot a 5-over par 78 in a tournament at The Cherry Creek Golf Links, which puts him right where he needs to be in order to compete at Tampa.
“To get a spot on the team, you have to be shooting an average of 5-over in tournament conditions,” Decker said. “I feel like my full swing is where it needs to be and now I just need to work on my short game.”
Decker is working five days a week at The Bridge and “golfing seven days,” he said, adding that the intensive practice and tournament play this summer should allow for improvement with his game.
“I feel like by the time I’m down in Tampa I should be at two over par or better,” Decker said. “In the next year I should be able to improve more than I ever have.”
Denon and Decker led Pierson to one of its best seasons ever last fall as the team finished with an 8-2 record, second only to undefeated Southampton. They went on to win the third annual Sebonack Invitational, which was played in gusty conditions at the Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, the site of this week’s United States Women’s Open Championship.
“They got the fever at a young age,” said Sean Crowley, the head golf coach at Pierson. “And their parents supported their passion to get better.”
As local caddies and high school golfers, both Decker and Denon have had the opportunity to play most of the local courses, including the private ones, in an area that is rich with some of the world’s great courses. Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links of America, Atlantic, The Bridge, Sebonack, Maidstone, East Hampton—Denon and Decker have taken their best shots at them all.
“I think my favorite course out here is Shinnecock, but the hardest is probably Sebonack,” Denon said, adding that the world’s best women’s golfers who are competing at The Open this week would be tested by the course’s undulating greens. “It’s hard to put the putts where you want them to go.”
Decker’s favorite courses locally are National and, of course, The Bridge, “for all they have done for me,” he said.
“I started playing golf when I was five at Goat Hill and Sag Harbor,” Decker added, referring to the two public courses in the closest vicinity to home. “And now I’ve played every track out here, all these great courses. It’s definitely a treat.”