By Jim Hague
Kieran Purcell didn’t know how he would fare this golf season at St. Peter’s Prep. After all, the Nutley resident was just a freshman at the downtown Jersey City school and he couldn’t predict how he would perform right away as a varsity golfer.
But it helped that Purcell had a lot of golf experience. His father, Pat, is a scratch golfer and his uncle Kevin is one of the more respected names in Bergen County golf as the general manager of golf courses for the Bergen County Department of Parks.
“I learned a lot from my father and my uncle also helped,” Purcell said.
Purcell also didn’t have much choice of where he was going to attend high school.
“My grandfather went there and a lot of my family members went there,” Purcell said. “It was a family tradition and they loved it. It didn’t take long to figure out that I loved it too.”
Purcell made his way to the Marauder varsity this year and quickly entrenched himself as one of the top members of the squad.
Last week at the NJSIAA Non-Public A North state sectionals, Purcell shot a 74 to earn a berth at the prestigious Tournament of Champions at Neshanic Valley Golf Club in Neshanic Station.
“It was pretty intimidating, playing with the best players in the state,” Purcell said. “I knew that I had to play my best round just to compete.”
Purcell more than held his own, firing a round of 76, becoming only the second player in the history of the school to play at the NJSIAA T of C.
Three years ago, Andrew McGlynn broke through as the first Marauder golfer ever to play at the T of C and he shot a 77, so Purcell, as a freshman, now holds the distinction of shooting the best round of golf in a championship tournament in the history of the school.
For his efforts, Purcell has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“It really means a lot to me to be among the best in the state,” Purcell said. “It was good for me, good for the experience. It was good to get a tournament like this under my belt. Maybe I can qualify again and do better next time.”
Like a true duffer, Purcell was not happy with the way he played, despite shooting the lowest round of any freshman in the state.
“I wanted to putt well and it’s all about the putting,” Purcell said. “I really figured that I had nothing to lose being here, so I just had to hit the ball straight and make a few putts. I honestly thought I was going to do a lot worse than 76. But once I started playing, I wanted to do better.
Added Purcell, “Last week, when I shot the 74, I putted great. This time, I didn’t hit one fairway. I hooked a few shots and made a bunch of shots just to get back. I was grinding the whole time.”
But Prep golf coach Anthony Verdi, who also serves as the long-time Prep wrestling coach, was pleased with the way Purcell performed.
“To be in this environment and shoot this well, it’s very impressive,” Verdi said. “Kieran is a tough kid and this is a sport where you need mental toughness. He proved that he has that toughness. To be the top freshman among 136 of the top golfers in the state, it’s very impressive. He loves the game of golf and plays all the time. I think it’s great for him and great for the school. The future definitely looks bright for Kieran.”
Purcell said that playing in the T of C will only make him a better golfer down the road.
“It won’t make me as nervous in the future,” Purcell said. “But I’m always nervous anyway, because I care so much. I want to do well.”
Purcell said that he plans on competing in a Bergen County tournament that is organized by his uncle.
“I’m going to try to play in all the big events,” Purcell said. “There are a couple in Philly that I want to play. My family has a connection there. It should be a good summer.”
Yes, it should be, considering that the freshman now has the confidence and the proof that he can play with the big-timers.
After being a little hard on himself to begin with, Purcell finally came around and realized just how truly special his performance was.
“It was a lot of fun,” Purcell said. “To do this well with this great group of golfers, well, it’s pretty awesome.”
Seems like the future is definitely very bright for Kieran Purcell and chances are that we haven’t heard the last of him just yet.