Isabella DiLisio stood at the place where her great-grandfather helped make history, dropped a ball and took a swing.
She doesn’t remember exactly which club she hit or where the ball landed, but the feeling stuck with her.
DiLisio was about 200 yards away from the 18th green at Merion Golf Club East, the spot where Ben Hogan pulled off a famed 1-iron shot in the 1950 U.S. Open.
Her great-grandfather, Nick Ciocca, was on the bag for Hogan that day. She never met him, but 52 years later, DiLisio was playing the course, walking where Ciocca had walked.
“It was a little bit eerie knowing he was there in 1950 caddying for Ben Hogan,” DiLisio said. “Me and the other kids hit a couple of shots right next to the plaque. I was like, ‘Oh, my great-grandfather was probably right there.’”
DiLisio’s roots run deep at Merion. Between her relation to Ciocca, her hometown’s proximity to the course (she lives about 30 minutes away) and her experience playing there, she can’t get enough.
But not just anyone can play Merion Golf Club East, DiLisio had to earn it.
The rising junior at Mount St. Joseph Academy gained her shot at playing the famed course after winning the Pamela Emory Fox Merion Junior Invitational in 2012 with a group of three other junior golfers.
Her parents, Sam and Dina DiLisio, were happy to tag along.
“The course is unbelievable, it’s amazing. The fact that my grandfather was a part of golf history there – he passed away when I was 13 or 14 years old – so for us seeing that plaque on the 18th hole was an experience we’ll never forget,” Isabella’s father, Sam DiLisio, said. “We knew my grandfather was like five feet from there in one of the biggest tournaments ever.”
The family hasn’t always held a connection with the site of the 2013 U.S. Open. Isabella DiLisio played the course in November 2012 and the family found out about Ciocca’s role in the 1950 U.S. Open only 2 ½ years ago.
“We knew he caddied for Ben Hogan, but we didn’t know where or when,” Sam DiLisio said. “When it was verified by the historian, we were stunned, but people at Merion were elated over it. They had been looking for years.”
Now, Isabella DiLisio can’t wait to continue her relationship with the course. She’ll be walking it as a standard bearer at the 2013 U.S. Open.
“It was her idea [to volunteer],” Dina DiLisio said of her daughter. “She plays at Talamore Country Club, and last summer I walk in and say, ‘What are you guys talking about?’ And they said, ‘If you want to volunteer to help with the U.S. Open.’ And Isabella goes, ‘Sign me up now, Ma!’”
Sam and Dina DiLisio will also volunteer, serving as hole marshals.
“When she signed up, we knew we were going to volunteer,” Dina DiLisio said.
“Because she doesn’t drive, so either way we were going,” Sam DiLisio jokingly chimed in.
On the course, Isabella DiLisio is looking to make a name for herself as a class-of-2015 junior golfer. She’s Golfweek’s No. 143 junior girls golfer, and most recently earned a sixth-place finish at the International Junior Golf Tour’s Bridgestone Golf Tournament of Champions.
“She works really hard, and she can come back,” said fellow junior golfer Jane Hopkinson-Wood. “She doesn’t let a bad shot get to her, so her mental game is really good. She just loves it – I think that’s part of it too.”
DiLisio hopes her experience as a standard bearer can bring another element to her game.
“Just getting to see a professional group and how they play in the U.S. Open is going to be really good for me,” DiLisio said. “I’ll get to see what they do and how they play and figure out how I can be a better player from watching them.”
She carries a Merion head cover for her 5-wood, bringing Ciocca along wherever she plays.
As Ciocca’s golf savvy, that’s been helping her for years.
“His voice is always in my head when I’m in tournaments too, because he told Ben Hogan he would see him on the next tee even though his leg was hurting, so that’s kind of what I am thinking when I’m not playing too well,” DiLisio said.
“It kind of makes us seem like a golf family. There’s just good blood.”