By Murray Evans
OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 5, 2013) – Bruno Buccolo’s first semester on Oklahoma Christian’s men’s golf team offered only hints of what was to come. A trip back home to Argentina over Christmas break made all the difference and led to arguably the greatest career in the program’s history.
In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s summertime in December, and Buccolo took advantage of the warm weather, spending the break practicing and working to sharpen his game. In the opening round of OC’s second spring tournament in 2005, he fired an 8-under-par 64 en route to recording the first of his 10 career wins, which remain a school record.
Buccolo, who played a key role in establishing the proud tradition of OC’s golf program, will become that sport’s first representative in the OC Athletic Hall of Fame. He will be one of six former OC standouts who will be inducted on Friday.
“My record wasn’t that bad, I guess, looking back,” Buccolo said. “When you’re playing, it seems normal. But looking back, wow! I’m definitely proud of what I did.”
Buccolo arrived at OC in the fall of 2004 through a connection with former OC player Juan Lizzaralde, another South American who had become friends with Buccolo during their time in junior golf. OC coach David Lynn traveled to south Texas to watch Buccolo play and came away “blown away by how good he was.” Buccolo had never been to Oklahoma but accepted Lynn’s scholarship offer.
He immediately took a liking to OC and its “super friendly” people but said “it took me some time to adjust” to life on the Southern Plains. That adjustment period showed up in his golf game.
“The first semester of his freshman year, he could not get the ball in the hole,” Lynn said. “He looked like a tour player in practice. He could hit shots that nobody I’d had before could hit. But it took him a full semester of playing tournament golf before he finally got comfortable, which is normal.”
The trip home to Argentina for the holidays proved to be the right tonic. In OC’s first spring tournament, Buccolo shot a first-round 65 at Hawks Creek Golf Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I’ll never forget it,” Lynn said. “That was it. That was the turnkey that unlocked the door and he never looked back.
“When he had it going, he just kept it going.”
OC’s team then took a spring break trip to play in the Embry-Riddle Eagle Invitational at Indigo Lakes Golf Club in Daytona Beach, Fla. Buccolo’s 64 – a course record – gave him command of the tournament and he finished off his first win the following day.
That 8-under 64 remains tied for the OC record for lowest score in relation to par.
“Just getting that first win was a relief,” Buccolo said. “Any golf player, that’s what we play for, is to win. Getting that win my freshman year was exciting.”
Win No. 2 came during the fall of his sophomore year at the Vikes Turkey Shootout in Victoria, British Columbia. The next spring, he won at OC’s own Sleep Inn and Suites Classic at River Oaks Country Club, then made it two straight tournament wins by taking the Yale Spring Open in Connecticut.
As a junior, he won twice during the fall season, at the U.C. Ferguson Classic at Lincoln Park Golf Club’s West Course in Oklahoma City, then at the Bill Ross Intercollegiate at Hillcrest Country Club in Kansas City, Mo. He repeated as the champion at OC’s tournament at River Oaks in spring 2007.
“After my junior year, I knew I had seven wins,” Buccolo said. “My goal was to make it to 10.”
In the fall of his senior year, he won the Peaks Classic at Grandote Peaks Golf Club in Colorado. He needed two wins during the spring campaign to break Lizzaralde’s school record of nine tournament wins. He tied his friend by winning the Arizona Intercollegiate at Francisco Grande Golf Club in Casa Grande, Calif.
In late March, he set the record by capturing the OC tournament at River Oaks for a third straight year.
“Getting the 10th was unbelievable,” Buccolo said. “It couldn’t have happened at a better place than our home tournament at River Oaks.”
Rhein Gibson, a talented OC golfer in his own right – winning four tournaments while playing alongside Buccolo – said it’s difficult for those who don’t play golf to comprehend how impressive Buccolo’s college career was.
“Ten is a huge number,” Gibson said. “One win a year, you’re considered to have had a great college year. For him to win 10, that’s pretty astonishing. That probably will never happen again.”
Gibson attributed Buccolo’s success to his consistency on the golf course.
“He never really hits a bad shot,” Gibson said. “He always keeps it in play. If he putted good, he won that week. He’s just that good a ball striker.”
About the only thing Buccolo and Gipson didn’t accomplish was leading the Eagles to an NAIA championship or winning individual medalist honors at the national tournament, but the Eagles were in the top three at nationals all four of those years. Both were four-time first-team All-America selections.
Buccolo also shined in the classroom, becoming a rare three-time NAIA Scholar-Athlete – something Gibson said he wouldn’t have predicted when they were freshmen.
“I roomed with him my freshman year and he couldn’t speak a lick of English,” Gibson recalled. “But he worked really hard. For him to be a Scholar-Athlete for three years and to graduate with a 3.8 (grade-point average), all credit to him. That was amazing.”
The two teammates and friends kicked around together on some minor pro golf tours for a few years. Buccolo missed making the last stage of the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School by two shots in 2011, shooting a quadruple bogey on a par-3 hole.
While Gibson continues to play professionally, Buccolo – who married former OC tennis player Sabrina Grimes – gave up that lifestyle when he and his wife began talking about having children.
“I realized, for the money I was making on the pro tours, it wasn’t worth it for me to not be able to see my kid for three to four weeks,” Buccolo said. “It got to the point where I put things in balance. I said I gave it a try and it didn’t work out like I wanted, but I don’t have regrets. I gave it what I had.”
In June, he and his wife had their first child, a son. He now works for Midland Mortgage in Oklahoma City, where he’s an assistant manager for an investor reporting group. It was sooner than he’d hoped, but Buccolo definitely is using the degree he earned at OC.
“I tried to prepare professionally in golf and work out, but now I have a great job because of the education I got at OC,” he said. “I am grateful for that.”