Nutley’s Purcell makes return trip to golf Tournament of Champions

Photo by Jim Hague/ Nutley resident Kieran Purcell earned a second straight trip to the NJSIAA Golf Tournament of Champions with a fine performance last week at the state sectionals at Forest Hill Field Club in Bloomfield.


By Jim Hague

The truth be told, Kieran Purcell was first a baseball player.

“I played baseball until I was 13,” said Purcell, the standout golfer from Nutley who is a sophomore at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City.

In fact, Purcell was a member of the Nutley American Little League All-Stars that won the overall state championship as 10 year olds and was on the Nutley American team that went to the 2008 12-yearold All-Star Section 1 finals, before losing to North Bergen. Purcell was a left fielder on that team.

“It was exciting to be part of all that,” Purcell said.

But Purcell soon found out that golf was the lifeline that flowed through his veins – and for good reason.

After all, it helps that Purcell comes from a family of golfers. His father, Pat, is an accomplished golfer, but his uncle Kevin is a golf professional and was once the supervisor of golf in Bergen County.

“I am really close to both my Dad and my uncle,” Purcell said. “If I listen to someone more, it’s probably still my Dad, but my uncle helps me through my problems with putting. Anytime I’m either hitting it bad or I’m in a bad mental stage, I can go to both for advice. It’s awesome to have both.”

Purcell made history last year, when as a freshman at St. Peter’s, he qualified for the NJSIAA Golf Tournament of Champions, becoming only the second Hudson County golfer to ever earn a berth to the T of C, joining former Prep golfer Andrew McGlynn, who qualified in 2008.

So the pressure was definitely on Purcell to head back to the T of C, considering now as a sophomore, he’s bigger, stronger and a much better golfer.

Plus, it also helped Purcell that the NJSIAA Non-Public A North state sectionals last Monday were held at the Forest Hill Field Club, which is Purcell’s home course.

“Because it was at my home course, I sort of got myself too excited,” Purcell said. “I should have just stayed calm. I was just too tight.”

For a while Monday afternoon, it looked as if Purcell’s fi ne round of 78 was not going to be good enough to move on to this Monday’s T of C at the Hopewell Valley Country Club just outside of Princeton.

And during that time frame, Purcell was upset that he let a golden chance slip through his hands.

“The pins were in some tough spots and I couldn’t get close enough to get a birdie,” Purcell said. “I hit one fairway the whole day. The pressure was on me a little. I knew I couldn’t live off what I did last year.”

Purcell had a previous best score of 70 at Forest Hill, so his score of 78 was just a little bit off. He also played Forest Hill on the Saturday prior to the state sectionals and felt like he played well.

“I got a round in and hit a couple of tee shots to get ready,” Purcell said. “This is a disappointment and a good learning experience.”

However, when all of the players’ scores were tabulated and totaled, Purcell’s disappointment turned to joy.

His score of 78 was good enough to finish in a tie for fi fth place and that standing enabled Purcell to indeed qualify for the T of C.

With that, Purcell became the first Hudson County golfer to ever qualify in back-to-back Tournament of Champions.

“The whole thing changes in a second,” Purcell said after he learned he earned a berth to play with the state’s elite golfers for a second straight year. “I knew it was going to be pretty tough, especially with a score like that. I thought I needed maybe 76 to make it. I really wasn’t playing well. I just kept plugging along. I even hit one ball completely out of bounds. I thought that was it.”

But Purcell’s persistence paid off and he was able to make it with what he fi rst believed to be a heartbreaking score. It’s almost like the old ABC “Wide World of Sports” intro, with the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” all rolled into one fleeting moment.

“It’s great,” Purcell said. “I’m not going to stop here. I want to make it all four years.”

Purcell had a fine opening to the season, winning the Fairleigh Dickinson Invitational in the first few weeks of the spring, besting a solid fi eld that included several golfers from Bergen Catholic, perennially one of the finest golf programs in the state.

“From that point, I never really threw out a crappy round,” Purcell said. “I was able to stay consistent.”

After shooting a 78 at Forest Hill Monday to qualify for the NJSIAA T of C, Purcell went out on Tuesday with some bigger fish to fry, namely the overall New Jersey State Golf Association Amateur Championship.

At the second of four qualifying rounds for the NJSGA’s 111th state amateur, Purcell shot a 73, good for a tie for third among all of the amateurs in attendance, most of whom were much older than Purcell.

With that score, Purcell earns the right to compete in the NJSGA’s state amateur June 5-7 at the historic Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield. Not a bad accomplishment at all.

“I gave up baseball and I guess I made the right choice,” Purcell said. “I don’t want to say that I expected to make the T of C again. But I am glad that I was able to back up what I did last year. It’s a good feeling.”

A historic feeling at that.

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