Between studying for finals, finishing up research papers and finding a summer job or internship, the month of May is arguably the busiest time of year in the life of a college student.
Although he is no longer a student himself, Dennis Tiziani, head coach of both the men’s and women’s UW golf teams, can definitely relate to being busy and stretched for time.
Tiziani, who at the age of 57 still remains one of Wisconsin’s most premier golfers, is not only the coach of two collegiate athletic teams, but is also the president of Cherokee Park, Inc., the host of a prime-time television show and a speaker at a number of workshops for high school golf coaches throughout the year.
You won’t, however, hear him complain about his busy schedule.
Since his childhood days of watching his father play as a club pro in Ironwood, Mich., Tiziani has been around the game of golf as both a student and a teacher all of his life.
“[My father] was the motivator for this thing. My brother is the director of golf here (Cherokee Country Club) and a champion in his own right. And my sister also has won,” Tiziani said. “It’s one of those deals: if you’re a mechanic, you’re a mechanic. If you’re a golf pro, you’re a golf pro. So that’s all I really know.”
As a professional, Tiziani has participated in the U.S. Open three times (1976-78), qualified for the National PGA Club Professional Championship 12 times (1973-84) and even competed in the 1976 PGA Championship. His stint on the PGA tour, however, only lasted three years (1969-1971) because he opted to take a break to spend some time with his family, a decision that has graced Madison with perhaps Wisconsin’s greatest golf mind for over 30 years.
“I had moderate success as a player on the tour, although I played in a lot of events,” Tiziani said. “But I had a wife and three kids, and the oldest kid was three years old. You have to make a choice at some point in time. Am I going to go my own way or am I going to go the way that I chose here, with marriage and family? The job opened up here (Cherokee) and I applied for it … I thought that I’d stay here for just a little while at least to get my feet wet, before I went back and played. Well, 30 years later, I’m still here.”
Tiziani’s tenure at the helm of UW’s golf programs, like his career as a player, has been studded with success. In 1993, he guided the men’s team to a Big Ten Conference Championship, ending a 36-year drought. A year later he proved it was no fluke, winning a second-straight title.
The strides he’s made as the director of the men’s program, however, by no means overshadow the success he’s experienced as the women’s head coach. Tiziani led the Badger women to its first Big Ten Conference Championship and first NCAA Regional appearance during the 1993-94 season. And for his team’s accomplishments, he was recognized as the Coach of the Year in both the Big Ten Conference and the Midwest District of the National Golf Coaches Association.
Before Tiziani, no coach had ever won both the men’s and women’s conference championship in the same year. Although he takes great pride in what he accomplished as a player, the unprecedented feat he achieved as a coach in 1994 will always hold a special place Tiziani’s heart.
“I’ve won at both levels: playing and coaching. However, there was more satisfaction in winning back-to-back men’s (championships) and the women’s (championship) in the same year. That had never been done before, where the same coach won both deals,” Tiziani said. “Overshadowing that, to be able to share the victory with so many young men and women, to share that experience, that’s the essence of coaching. It’s not about the coach; it’s about the players. That accomplishment is history making, and to make history today is very difficult … it probably won’t be another 10 years until those people realize what they did. It was that big.”
Tiziani is not only honing players’ skills at the collegiate level, but is also honing them as an educator. Over the past 20 years, he has given over 200 junior golf clinics throughout the state.
The future of any society is the youth. In our society as far as golf goes, junior golf is where it’s at in order to keep the business going,” Tiziani said. “Junior golf for me has been huge for a long time. At Cherokee, where I have a chance to do it first hand, we have a lot of junior players and exceptional junior players.”
Although the “exceptional players” can use the program to showcase their talents, junior golf, according to Tiziani, is more about generating interest in the game and having fun and less about the competition aspect of it.
“Most importantly, you have an opportunity to touch people who are not going to go on in golf but are going to play golf on a recreational basis,” Tiziani said. “Golf was not played to keep score. As soon as you put that measuring device to golf, it becomes frustrating. What they say is: ‘Geez, the sun’s out, the birds are singing, the grass is green; if you want to screw it up, go play golf.’ In our particular case, we want to make sure they enjoy their round.”
Although she is just four years old, the junior golfer in Tiziani’s program with perhaps the most potential is his granddaughter, Bobbie. Not only was her mother a four-year letter winner in golf at UW, but her father also happens to be PGA player Steve Stricker.
“[Bobbie] is going to be five now and I’m with her every day. We ride the cart, chase the geese, look for woodchucks and all that stuff,” Tiziani said. “She hits the ball and loves to play, but her attention span isn’t that long yet. She has some possibilities, though, you know. She has some genes that just might work.”
Whether he’s guiding one of his golf teams to victory, running a junior golf clinic or playing with his granddaughter, Dennis Tiziani is likely to be busy doing something. And Madison and the state of Wisconsin have reaped the benefits of his “never an idle moment” attitude for the past 30 years.