New York Times
A Backstage Golf Guru Unclutters His Mind to Take a Shot at the U.S. Open
Dominic Scaglione Jr., who plays Frankie Valli in the Broadway musical “Jersey Boys,” sometimes stops and asks for a tip from his teacher before going onstage to sing “Sherry” or “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
“Before I go out to sing a song I’ll ask him for a golf tip — it relaxes me,” Mr. Scaglione said. The teacher to whom he turns for reassurance is not a voice coach or a theater director, but Noah Pilipski, 41, a prop master for the show whose job, in the wings of the August Wilson Theater, is to hand Mr. Scaglione guitars and other props, not to mention push him onstage in a car seat after “My Boyfriend’s Back” ends.Besides being a seasoned stagehand who is versed in the tight choreography of backstage maneuvering, Mr. Pilipski has gained a reputation among Broadway theater people for his prowess on the golf course.
“Noah’s kind of a guru — everybody involved with the show knows his reputation and how good a golfer he is,” Mr. Scaglione, who plays with Mr. Pilipski, said.
PhotoAn avid golfer, Mr. Pilipski hopes to qualify for this year’s U.S. Open.CreditAndrew Renneisen for The New York Times Mr. Pilipski, who has worked, off and on, as a stagehand since he was 20, says he is playing his best golf ever and hopes to qualify to compete in the United States Open next month in Washington State.
On Monday, he will take part in a local qualifying round for the tournament, at Trump National Golf Club in Pine Hill, N.J. If he plays well enough, he will advance to a sectional round at Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., where he will vie for a slot in the Open.
Trying out for last year’s tournament, Mr. Pilipski shot a 75 at the 18-hole local qualifying round and missed moving on by two strokes.
“It’s just a reminder that talent exists in the most unlikely places,” Mr. Scaglione said. “The guy pushing my furniture onstage is a golfer who can shoot in the 60s.”
Mr. Pilipski is a true urban golfer. He practices at the driving range at Chelsea Piers, putts on the carpet in his Upper West Side apartment and plays at New York City’s public courses, including Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course in the Bronx, where he is the reigning club champion. His evening hours at the theater allow him to practice, play and teach during the day.
Perhaps even more peculiar than the prospect of a Broadway stagehand playing in the U.S. Open is Mr. Pilipski’s approach to the game.
He challenges both the need for traditional golf lessons and the focus on technique over which many golfers obsess. Studying and drilling basics like grip, posture and alignment slows development, he claims. He advocates teaching the game the way one teaches children to walk or to ride a bicycle: Let them keep trying.
“The problem is, no one out there is operating in freedom; everyone is trying to consciously control how they play,” said Mr. Pilipski, who during various stints as a stagehand for touring shows has studied with prominent golf teachers across the country.
After devoting years to trying to master various approaches and methods, he vowed years ago to unclutter his mind and resolved to try to play the game effortlessly. After a long while, he realized he was breaking his own rule by imposing what he called an “effortless methodology” on himself.
Continue reading the main storyAdvertisement
Continue reading the main storyFor the past year, he said, he has been able to let his unconscious mind take over.
The result is what Mr. Pilipski describes as “peaceful golf,” a purer, more personal style of play, with less mental interference and tension. He is finishing a book about his approach.
“I’ve been truly swinging in a state of freedom for a little over a year now,” Mr. Pilipski said on Friday, as he smacked one soaring shot after another down the middle of the Chelsea Piers practice range. “I feel like an artist, like the club is a paintbrush and I’m just throwing shots out there. No two are the same.”
U.S. Open qualifying rounds are open only to expert golfers. Of the roughly 10,000 players trying to qualify for about 75 spots in this year’s 156-man field, many are successful PGA Tour players who have earned exemptions from the local qualifying rounds and go directly to the sectionals. The chances of advancing through both qualifying rounds are slim: Only 24 players qualified this way for last year’s Open, said Brian DePasquale, a spokesman for the United States Golf Association, which runs the tournament.
At Chelsea Piers, Mr. Pilipski ran into Preston Truman Boyd, 29, an actor in the cast of “On the Twentieth Century” on Broadway. Mr. Boyd, a student and playing partner of Mr. Pilipski’s, said his game had improved greatly as a result of the stagehand’s intuitive approach.
“I’ll never go back to mechanics, ever,” said Mr. Boyd, who will caddy for Mr. Pilipski on Monday.
Mr. Scaglione calls Mr. Pilipski’s approach “Buddha golf,” and said that it resonated with him as a performing artist.
“Most guys play with all mechanics, but Noah has this spiritual, otherworldly approach to the game,” he said. “You’re like, ‘Why is this guy working as a prop guy?’ ”
Mr. Pilipski said he hoped to one day teach and play golf full time, but that he would let his unconscious mind determine whether that happened, as well his results on Monday.
“If I shank every ball, so be it,” he said. “I’d rather play with freedom than control.”