Kieran Purcell had already established himself as being one of the best golfers, if not the very best, in the history of St. Peter’s Prep. After all, Purcell became only the second golfer in the school’s history to qualify for the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions when he was a freshman.
So essentially, Purcell raised the bar – albeit on himself.
Last year, as a junior, Purcell just wasn’t himself.
“He struggled badly,” Prep head golf coach Ryan O’Flaherty said. “He was thinking too much. His putting suffered. Golf is one of those sports where you have to put it all together to be successful. He had too much on his mind.”
Purcell admitted that he was letting his future college plans effect his golf game.
But things changed once Purcell made his college decision known. He was headed to the University of Delaware, where his father, Pat, once played under a golf scholarship. Purcell got a similar offer. The weight of the world was finally off Purcell’s shoulders.
“When I chose the college where I was going, all the pressure was gone,” Purcell said. “I was playing golf for fun. Nothing else mattered anymore. It was definitely a mental thing, no question.”
O’Flaherty could see the change in his talented golfer.
“He was able to put it all together,” O’Flaherty said.
The changes started early in the season. The Marauders went to the FDU Classic at River Vale, where they won as a team and Purcell finished in a tie for first.
A week later, the Marauders went to the Blue Devil Classic at Echo Lake and they finished third as a team. Purcell won that tourney as well.
Later, the Marauders went to the Blue Heron Classic at Galloway (the site of the former LPGA tour stop) and they battled fierce conditions of rain, wind and cold.
“It was a brutal day,” O’Flaherty said.
The Marauders finished third as a team and Purcell led the way, placing third as well.
“Playing those tournaments got him ready for the state tournament,” O’Flaherty said.
The NJSIAA Non-Public A state sectional championships were held Monday at the Forest Hill Golf Club, a course where Purcell was once a member.
Having a slight advantage of knowing the course, Purcell shot a one-under-par round of 70, which was one shot better than the rest of the field.
Purcell won the state sectional gold medal, never before done in the history of the Prep program.
For his efforts, Purcell has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Purcell felt good about his chances at the state sectional.
“I was pretty confident going in,” Purcell said. “The biggest change is my confidence in putting. I just go out and play and see what happens.”
Purcell managed to card four birdies in his gold medal-winning round.
“He definitely put it all together,” O’Flaherty said. “He just went out and had fun. The pressure of college was over with and he had nothing on his mind. Coming in at one under, the opposing coaches were even impressed. He plays well and he’s one of the elite golfers in the state. I like Kieran going up against anyone else.”
O’Flaherty likes Purcell’s spirit.
“He’s a competitor in anything he does,” O’Flaherty said. “We lost nine matches this year to the rain. There was no panic in Kieran. He just kept everyone together and focused on the big picture. He’s our ringleader. He told everyone not to focus on a bad shot or a bad round. It’s what you ask of a senior leader.”
O’Flaherty also enjoys Purcell’s new-found confidence.
“He’s been very confident all year,” O’Flaherty said. “We were walking into the Blue Devil Classic and he just said, ‘I’m going to win today.’ I kind of laughed it off and he went out and won. Monday, at Forest Hill, he was halfway through it and he gave me the look of a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. That look was, ‘Don’t worry, I got this.’ When Kieran plays well, it’s up to the rest of the team to try to keep up with him.”
Purcell enjoys the fact that he helped to put the Marauder program on the map statewide.
“It feels good, but I’m sure they’ll have just as good of a team even without me next year,” Purcell said. “Since I’m graduating, it doesn’t mean that the program is going to fall off. It’s a good achievement.”
Purcell now heads to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions once again – this time for a final time.
“I’m very excited about it,” Purcell said. “For the last couple of tournaments, I’ve been free and easy. I’m sure it will be even easier at the Tournament of Champions.”
Purcell plans to major in finance at Delaware. He’s just happy to get a chance to go to the same school as his father.
“I think everyone is very excited for me,” Purcell said. “Getting that scholarship [package] was a big relief for me. I just had to tell myself that I could have a great year.”
Great year indeed. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.