|Nick Pandelena sinks a putt while practicing at Atkinson Country Club in Atkinson, N.H., on Saturday, where he frequently hones his game. (Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe)|
He’s walking tall on the links
At 6-feet-4, 215 pounds, Nick Pandelena is an imposing figure, particularly on the ice, where he delivered a number of crunching hits from the blue line for the varsity hockey team at St. John’s Prep this past season.
And with his height, the 18-year-old is regularly asked why he doesn’t play basketball.
But he was also the state individual champion on the golf course last fall, ousting Joe Leavitt (Central Catholic) and Keeghan Lavin (St. John’s of Shrewsbury) on the first playoff hole after firing a 1-under-par 71 in the rain at Glen Ellen Country Club in Millis. He, along with 6-foot-6 University of Virginia-bound Nick McLaughlin, paced the Hawks to a runner-up finish.
This summer, he has driven the ball 350-plus yards off the tee.
“My size and playing hockey have definitely helped my game,” said Pandelena.
“People don’t really know how important having a strong lower body is in golf, and that strong base I had as a defender in the winter gave me an advantage when I drive my hips through the ball.
Pandelena started skating at age 3, and at 6 he started playing golf with his father, Paul, at Kingston Fairways in New Hampshire.
“He’s always played a lot of sports and I had played golf, so I took him to play with me one day and he took an interest to it right away,” said the elder Pandelena, while relating a story that provided an early glimpse of his son’s poise on the course.
“He was playing in a US Junior golf tournament at 9 or 10 years old and was up by three strokes. He put the ball in the pond in front of the green on the last hole and I was thinking to myself that if that was me, I wouldn’t even be able to hold the club. Well, Nick hit the next shot 6 inches from the cup to tap in. That ability to stay calm will serve him much better in golf than in hockey. The kid doesn’t possess the nervous gene.”
At 11, and already topping 6 feet, Pandelena realized the opportunity he had to excel on the golf course with his size and strength.
“Even though I was bigger and knew that it gave me the upper hand with distance, I knew that I had to work just as hard on the other aspects of my game that size couldn’t control,” Pandelena said.
“My goal for college was to go somewhere to play golf, and if hockey was a possibility, then I would try to make it work,’’ he said. “I started receiving offers to play in college around the beginning of my junior year, and from then on, I played in harder tournaments with better talent to really work on all aspects of my game.”
Boston College, along with Cornell, Denver, and West Point, offered Pandelena the opportunity to play both sports. Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouses Duke, Maryland, and North Carolina were interested in his tee-to-green game. But after a nine-hour visit at BC, he decided that he would play golf at The Heights.
“My ultimate goal is to play professionally, and I knew that the [ACC] was one of the best in the country for golf and it still leaves me a small chance to play hockey, so we’ll see what happens,” said Pandelena, who recently returned home from his freshman orientation.
This summer he has been busy, scheduling 13 tournaments, including the World Masters of Junior Golf two weeks ago in Las Vegas. His three-round total of 221 netted him a third-place finish, nine strokes off the pace of champion Jacob Schulz in the 17-18-year-old division.
“Nick came in as a freshman and made the varsity, which was rare for our team,” said St. John’s Prep golf coach Larry O’Neill. “He’s the longest hitter I’ve had in my 30-plus years of coaching, and as time went on, his putting and course management skills improved drastically. Obviously his size and core strength give him an advantage, but he works hard to be the best, and that’s what separates him from other golfers.”
When Pandelena isn’t working out in his basement gym, he’s at Atkinson Country Club or Windham CC, working on his game.
“The biggest thing I need to work on to prepare me for the next level is consistency,” Pandelena said. “I need to minimize my mistakes, and this summer is more about my swing than results.”
But O’Neill isn’t worried about how Pandelena will handle himself at Chestnut Hill.
“Nick is one of the three best golfers in the history of the school,” he said. “I expect big things from him.”
Ryan MacInnis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.