Jan. 20, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
Rice senior golfer Michael Buttacavoli has always strived to achieve academic excellence, a fact confirmed by his being honored as a U.S. Golf Association All-American Scholar during his junior season and his earning enough credits for graduation in just three and a half years.
But while Buttacavoli harbors dreams of a professional career, two events helped reinforce his commitment to excellence in all endeavors. While jogging during the 2008 thanksgiving holiday break back home in Miami, Buttacavoli tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee. The severity of the injury amplified the fragility of a professional career in golf, something Buttacavoli experienced from a short distance when his older brother Frank, also a Rice letterwinner, had his pro golf dreams derailed by a series of debilitating injuries.
Interestingly, Frank Buttacavoli was attending medical school at the University of Miami when Michael suffered his injury. Frank, now a resident in San Antonio, made the initial recommendation for Michael to undergo reconstructive surgery, a procedure that was done with haste and one that cost Buttacavoli the spring season of his junior year.
Buttacavoli led Rice with a 73.64 strokes-per-round average during the fall season of his junior year. His knee surgery altered his perspective.
"I really didn't have any expectations. I just went in trying to do my best, trying to work hard, and work as hard as my knee permitted me," Buttacavoli said. "I really couldn't practice as hard as I would have liked over the summer when I was allowed to start playing again just because the doctor said you can hit only so many balls and you can only take this many swings because he didn't want to stress it. Then I knew once the season started and we had the 36-hole days it was going to be tough because I really hadn't done that since November of '08."
To an extent, those concerns were unfounded. Buttacavoli surged to a second-place finish at the season-opening UTA/Waterchase Invitational after shooting an opening-round 70, and following with a second-round 68. The Owls won the team title, their first championship in 11 years, and Buttacavoli went on to record a ninth-place finish at the Louisiana Tech/Spire Creek Intercollegiate and an eighth-place finish at the Carter Plantation Intercollegiate. Rice finished fourth and second, respectively.
"For our team to win and to start out the season like that gave me a little boost of confidence and helped me mentally, which helped overcome the physical aspect of having to come back from knee surgery," Buttacavoli said. "Coming out of surgery I didn't know what to expect. Obviously Tiger Woods came right out and won his second tournament, but he's Tiger Woods. Other guys on (the PGA) Tour like Ernie Els came out of his knee surgery and people say he's still not back on form and he had his three years ago. Coming back and coming close to winning the tournament individually and the team winning really raised the bar."
Buttacavoli kept the bar high in the classroom, where he is an economics major and business minor, on the course and everywhere in between. Rice golf coach Drew Scott stresses excellence in all things, and the Rice experience inspired Buttacavoli to strive toward that goal.
"Getting the education as well as having the ability to perform athletically go hand-in-hand," Buttacavoli said. "You have to be well-rounded or else it's difficult to succeed later on in life.
"Our coach demands that of us also. He always wants us looking our best, he always wants us thinking that somebody is always there watching you. Whether it's going to class (or on the course), he always wants us to be on top of our game. You need to be sharp because you never know who's watching. That's the best thing I've learned here. At a place like Rice, our coach holds us to a much higher level than everybody else because he expects that of us. In the long run that's definitely going to help me."
With his dedication to golf and his commitment to thriving in the game of life, Michael Buttacavoli is poised to be one of Tomorrow's Leaders.