Golf Notebook: Manuel enjoying a strong sophomore season at UConn as the Big East Championship nears

Caleb Manuel hits from the sand trap and onto the 16th green last summer in Waterville. Manuel shot a 70 and had two shots off the lead after the first round. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Sentinel

After a summer that went about as well as Caleb Manuel could have hoped because his ensuing college season has been a similar story.

Manuel has thrived in his sophomore season at the University of Connecticut, playing a schedule that began in September, had a winter break and has resumed in the spring. The Topsham native and Mt. Ararat Graduate has played a team-high nine events and 27 rounds and is the Huskies’ leading scorer with an average score of 70.9. He also paces the team with 16 rounds of par or better, and his seven top-10 finishes are four more than any other UConn player.

After a summer that included a Maine Amateur Championship, a runner-up finish in the New England Amateur and qualification for the Korn Ferry Tour event in Falmouth, Manuel said he’s been able to build on his momentum.

“I don’t know if I expected it, but I definitely wanted it to be that way,” he said. “I like to have some of the guys on the team look at me as a strong player that they can rely on. I’ve definitely jumped into that position, and it’s fun to play good golf. ”

UConn is preparing for its now important stretch of the schedule. The Huskies have a tournament at Penn State next weekend, then will play in the Big East Championship the following weekend in South Carolina. UConn won the conference title last year.

“The Big East is pretty much, not the only tournament that matters in the spring, but it’s the biggest one,” Manuel said. “Hopefully we can get back to the regionals this spring as a team. That’s the one that’s the big one this spring. Hopefully I get the game to Peak right around that tournament. ”

For all of his success, Manuel said he went through a lull during the spring. He opened in March with back-to-back top-10s at events in North and South Carolina, but struggled to a tie for 61st in Alabama in the next event. After breaking 70 three times in the previous six rounds, he shot 73 or above all three rounds in Alabama.

“I haven’t been hitting it great,” he said. “It happens. People go through these stretches. ”

The event was at the end of March and the Huskies haven’t competed since, but Manuel said he’s been able to practice and get his game back on line.

“I feel good (about) where my game’s at now, even though we haven’t had a tournament in a little bit,” he said. “I think a big thing is just believing in your game and believing in yourself, and I think I kind of went away from that for a little bit there.”

With the Big East Championship coming up, Manuel said the key is to stay Loose.

“You’re going to be nervous on the first tee, but after that you’ve got to go out and claim it’s like another golf tournament,” he said. “Treat every tournament like it’s the same.”

• • •

Manuel’s home course, Brunswick Golf Club, is gearing up for the season. The course opened for play on April 1 with 13 holes available to players, and director of golf AJ Kavanaugh said all 18 will likely be available by next weekend.

“It’s almost a mirror of last year,” Kavanaugh said. “Our back nine is always the first set of holes that’s ready, so April 1 was kind of picked all the way back in the middle of March as the target date to open at least a back. It was actually a positive that, come April 1, we were able to open four holes on the front as well. ”

The extra holes came in Handy, as Kavanaugh said there was a large group of golfers that showed up on April 1 to play, despite the day’s constant rain.

“We had over 100 golfers in the rain (that day), so we were off and running right away,” he said. “Quite a few people caught the wind that we were opening up around there. … When I saw the tee sheet, I think it was almost 112 Golfers a couple of days before already booked, but I thought ‘Oh, the weather doesn’t look good. If we get half of that, I would consider that a (Worthwhile) opening day. ‘ And we had almost the entire sheet, everyone showed up. ”

• • •

Augusta Country Club is nearing a full opening as well. General manager Dave Soucy said that Tuesday will be when greens are open, as opposed to the temporary greens that are set up now.

“Year round, we’re open for members,” he said. “But the official opening day is Tuesday, using greens. People are excited, membership is essentially full. A few people are resigning, we’re taking a few more, but essentially we’ve got just a limited amount of memberships available right now. ”

Todd McArthur looks for his ball at the Fairway during a round Saturday at the Augusta Country Club in Manchester. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

Soucy got the course, which this year will host the Maine Event June 27-29 and the Charlie’s Heroes tournament for Veterans on Aug. 15, came through the winter season well, even if the weather wasn’t as friendly as possible.

“You never know. We cover a bunch of greens that have (had) some problems in the past, ”Soucy said. “The hard part this year is that we had a few warm-ups, and if you have ice, that’s the killer. You can have snow as much as you want, but when you have ice for more than 90 days consecutive, it causes some issues. ”

Soucy credited his staff for working to make sure the course would be in good shape.

“To the credit of the superintendent (Chris Barnicoat), he and his guys went out and they snowblowed and shoveled, and one of our members owns Manchester Motors, he was nice enough to fly us a piece of equipment that we could get out on the golf course to snowblow some of the greens, ”Soucy said. “The golf course came through in a pretty good shape. … All we need now is some Sunshine. ”

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