After consistently improving his golf game throughout his high school varsity career and helping the Northland Prep Spartans program reach new greens, Vincent Cortese is going to a college where he'll look to help a team continue to build its success.
On Tuesday in the Northland Prep gymnasium, the Spartans' star on the links signed a letter of intent with the Stevens Institute of Technology, where he'll join the Division III Ducks golf team and study quantitative financing.
Cortese, who shined on the course and in the classroom, will pack his clubs and head to Hoboken, New Jersey, looking to join a team that has been handing in better and better scorecards over the years.
"They are consistently improving each year, and I think last year was one of their best years so far," the Spartans senior said on Tuesday after sealing the deal with the stroke of a pen. "They are losing their No. 1 player, a senior, but I think I can step in, fill that role and compete at a high level."
Competing in the in the Empire 8 Athletic Conference, the Ducks finished the 2016-17 season second in the E8 Championship.
"The team never qualified for the NCAA Championship, so my goal is to help the team win the conference and reach the championships," he said.
Cortese, who began playing golf at age 6, taking lessons at 7 and competing in Junior Golf Association of Arizona (JGAA) golf tournaments at 9, leaves behind a stellar varsity golf career that made him arguably the most dominant high school player throughout the Flagstaff-based programs in the last four years.
In his freshman year, Cortese finished the Division III Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) state golf tournament in a tie for 51st place as the only Northland Prep golfer to fire a shot in the champion rounds. After taking 22nd his sophomore year at the state tourney, placing 11th his junior year and leading the Spartans team to their first-ever team state appearance this season, Cortese capped off his varsity career with an impressive third-place finish at the state course.
He notched a two-day total of 2-under 140 to tie for third out of 90 players. As a team, Northland Prep shot a closing round of 338 to finish the final day of the state tournament in seventh place out of 15 schools in the team standings.
"He worked really hard on his game because he wanted to get to that next level," said Spartans head coach Matt Bailey, who is also the PGA director of golf at Forest Highlands. "He worked hard not only during the season, but during the offseason. He's always had a focus on getting to the next level."
A DRIVER FOR THE SPARTANS
Owner of many school records, Cortese leaves some big shoes to fill.
In Spartans golf program history Cortese owns the lowest score in a 9-hole match at a 3-under par 33 that came his junior year. He holds the lowest 18-hole score, a 3-under par 67 that he recently recorded at the state tournament. Additionally, his 2-under par 140 is the lowest 36-hole score in Spartans history.
While taking swings for the Spartans, Cortese tallied the most individual medalist honors in high school matches for the school in a season. Medalling eight times in his senior year, the total added to his school-record 20 individual career medalist honors that were first-place finishes.
After being followed by 33 college golf coaches during his high school career as a potential prospect for their program and participating in recruiting visits by six different D-II or D-III coaches, Cortese decided on Stevens and head coach John Ziegler.
Cortese was in contact with the Ducks former head coach. Then Ziegler recently took over the Ducks program, but didn't forget about Cortese while transitioning to the helm.
“In the middle of April, this opportunity came through out of the blue,” said Cortese's mom, Jenny Tan.
HE'S GOT CLASS
In addition to his standout performances on the links, Cortese has been a stud in the classroom.
Set to put down a cumulative-weighted grade point average of 4.24, Cortese completed 33 semester hours of advanced placement classes, and he finished in the top one percent in the nation in both the ACT and SAT scores. He also was the President of National Honor Society his senior year.
"He can contribute in the classroom and on the golf team,” Tan said.
Cortese said he feels confident heading to the next level of golf and academics, both of which will be mentally taxing. He said he's realized how far he's come as a person through his golf game.
“I would freak out when I made a birdie, but now I am very calm after it and try to keep a level-headed mindset, and it’s made a huge difference,” he said.
Stevens, impressed with his commitment to golf and his grades, flew him out, all expenses paid, to visit the campus.
"We are proud of Vincent academically, athletically and socially in how he's developed throughout high school and in terms of extracurricular activities, including being President of the National Honor Society and some of the community projects he's done as well," said Vincent's father, John Cortese.
After playing desert courses for so many years, Cortese said he's looking forward to golfing where the greens are a little more green. He added that dealing with humidity and different elements will be a challenge he's ready to tackle.
Overall, he's excited to see where he can take his game.
“As I keep practicing and have more competition at the collegiate level, with more athletes who have scores like mine around me, that will make me a better player," the senior said.