Penn State grad Delsandro ready for U.S. Open

Golfers walk up the 15th fairway past the Little Church Pews bunker, a small version of the famous Church Pews bunker between the third and fourth fairways, during a practice round for the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club on Monday.
Golfers walk up the 15th fairway past the Little Church Pews bunker, a small version of the famous Church Pews bunker between the third and fourth fairways, during a practice round for the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club on Monday. The Associated Press

After years of planning, the right-hand man to Oakmont Country Club’s superintendent is close to realizing what he helped make possible.

David Delsandro wears a lot of different hats as Director of U.S. Open Operations & Projects.

The job title alone is a mouthful, and the role seems equally challenging.

That’s because it is.

“It’s pretty comprehensive I guess,” the 32-year-old said.

He took a deep breath, and started to explain.

Delsandro, a 2006 graduate of Penn State’s turfgrass management program, has been a key cog in organizing the 116th U.S. Open Championship, hosted by Oakmont, a course described by golfers and pundits alike as the toughest in the country.

As stars like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day descend on Oakmont, trying to get familiar with the terrain ahead of their title pursuit, they might want to chat up Delsandro.

There are few that know the course as well as he does.

Delsandro, a native of South Hills in the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh, all but lives at Oakmont. Working agronomically on the course, aiding in capital projects for the club, and handling of volunteers and workers, he has his hands full.

And he wouldn’t want it any other way.

“We work together on a multitude of things,” Delsandro said of the tasks undertaken by him and superintendent John Zimmers. “You usually never see us in the same place at the same time. It’s one of those deals.”

Delsandro described his relationship with Zimmers, a Rutgers graduate, as “pretty special.”

It was Zimmers, after all, that created a new position at Oakmont with Delsandro in mind. With the club’s ninth U.S. Open on the horizon, the role of Director of U.S. Open Operations & Projects was offered to and accepted by Delsandro in 2013.

It was a return to Oakmont.

As an 18-year-old at Ringgold High School in Monongahela, Delsandro worked at Cedarbrook, a 36-hole public course. And with the 2003 U.S. Amateur Championships being hosted at Oakmont that summer, Delsandro wanted nothing more than to volunteer.

“My boss at the time at the public course somehow made a phone call and got my name in,” Delsandro said, as if still surprised.

He continued at Oakmont as an intern in 2004 and 2005, and upon graduation from Penn State in 2006, he joined the club as a full-time employee of the grounds department.

Delsandro was promoted to first assistant superintendent in October 2006 and stayed in that role until fall of 2010, having worked the 2007 U.S. Open and 2010 U.S. Women’s Open along the way. He moved on to take a superintendent job at Nassau Country Club in Long Island for three years before coming back to Oakmont in his current position.

But before returning to Oakmont — and before even becoming a full-time employee in the first place — was a decision.

A decision of not only what he wanted to do with his life, but also where he wanted to go to accomplish it.

Both choices were pretty simple.

“I was a big science nerd in high school. I loved chemistry, loved biology, organic chemistry,” Delsandro said. “And I already had experience working at the public golf course for several years during high school, and I kind of found it as a way to apply blue-collar work ethic with some high-level science knowledge.”

It was settled. Delsandro would study turfgrass management.

But where?

“Penn State is always regarded as the No. 1, if not top-three or top-five, turfgrass programs in the U.S.,” Delsandro said. “It has the most history and tradition in our industry for grooming and producing high-level superintendents, researchers, academia.

“I didn’t really pursue any other option. To me, it was a no-brainer.”

What else has been a no-brainer for Delsandro is hiring who he knows — Penn Staters.

Delsandro said the grounds department at the club has 40-45 staffers, full-time and interns combined. Of that figure, 10 of them are either Penn State grads or currently attend the university.

It’s not as if favoritism has overtaken Delsandro and the staff at Oakmont. He pointed out that members of the grounds crew have attended a wide variety of universities, from Colorado to Rhode Island.

“We try to recruit individuals with a turfgrass background, whether that’s for full-time or internships, all across the country,” Delsandro said. “It’s a pretty eclectic mix. But Penn State over the years has always been a foundation right in our backyard to have young, motivated, talented professional individuals to groom in our internship program and hopefully come back as full-time employees upon graduation.”

And now, with countless days of preparation already logged, Delsandro still has work to do.

Oakmont brought in 150 superintendents from the United States and internationally to work the U.S. Open, so taking care of everything from transportation to security is on Delsandro’s mind.

Delsandro loves it all — the logistics, course management and cooperation with the USGA.

But he does, however, after growing personally and professionally over the years, takes special pride in one specific task.

“The thing I enjoy the most is working with and grooming and mentoring young professionals moving up through the industry,” Delsandro said. “Whether it’s an intern or graduate, building those relationships and teaching and training not only the agronomic aspect but also the business side of it.

“Seeing people who you’ve had a small part in their development achieve in our industry is probably the most rewarding thing.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9