Nutley golf team shines with Purcell leading the way


Michael Purcell was just a little annoyed and deservedly so.

The Nutley High School junior had just missed qualifying for the NJSIAA Golf Tournament of Champions by one stroke for a second straight year.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Purcell. “It’s one stroke again. I have been ready forever. I had it going for a little bit, but then I doubled (double bogey) on 16 and I bogeyed 18, so that did me in.”

Still, Purcell shot a round of 77 at the NJSIAA North Jersey Sections 1&2, Group III championships last Monday at the Darlington Golf Course to finish sixth overall. It was a fine round, despite Purcell’s frustrations.

Such is life with the Nutley golf team these days. There was a time when just having one golfer play in the state sectionals would have been a major accomplishment.

But the Maroon Raiders were there as an entire team, having met the state’s requirement of having won at least 60 percent of their match play all season long.

And the Maroon Raiders were second at the Essex County Tournament this year, falling by just three strokes to perennial state power Montclair.

Needless to say, it was a great spring for head coach Thomas Grant and the Maroon Raiders.

“I think it was a pretty good showing,” Grant said. “We were 12-2. We lost to Montclair and we split with Glen Ridge. So we did pretty well.”

At the state sectionals, Anthony Castronova shot an 85, Dominic Pomponio had an 86 and John Sabadics fired an 88 for the Maroon Raiders.

Grant believes that the rest of the team followed the lead of Purcell.

“I think it definitely had an effect on the rest of them,” Grant said. “Michael is a very good golfer. Darlington is a rather difficult course and it’s one that we don’t play all season, so it’s tough to do well here if you don’t play well here. There are a lot of blind shots here, where you need skills off the tee. You need to play it a couple of times to get used to it.”

The Darlington Golf Course features at least five holes where the golfers tee off, but have no idea where the greens are, because they simply can’t see them. So they have to use their judgment and golf wherewithal to get through the holes.”

Grant can understand Purcell’s frustration.

“For two years, Michael was right there,” Grant said. “It’s just unfortunate.”

Purcell said that he never shot better than 75 at Darlington, so when he saw the scores coming in that were ahead of him, he knew he was in trouble.

“No doubt, there are guys who play here all the time,” Purcell said. “I don’t know why I can’t do better here. I don’t understand it.”

Purcell, who comes from a long line of solid golfers in his family, has to shake off the disappointment of last Monday and concentrate on tournaments that he is set to play in during the weeks ahead.

“I have the Super Essex Conference (Thursday) and I have a good shot there,” Purcell said. “I have a lot of big tournaments coming up.”

Purcell is registered to play in the New Jersey Amateur, which will be played at Forest Hill in Bloomfield, where Purcell is a member, and then the New Jersey Open, which Purcell has already qualified for.

Purcell is also working on a new swing with his personal coach.

“I guess I’ve been using the new swing for about the last two weeks or so,” Purcell said. “It’s been difficult learning, but I know it’s going to help me in the long run. I’m trying to learn on the fly. When I’m hitting the ball well, I get it going pretty good. I just needed a couple of good putts here. I didn’t get them this year. I definitely left a lot of shots out there. I have another year to do it. I’ll come back next year and be even better. I’ll get it next year.”

Purcell will be back. And so will the Nutley golf team after a stupendous 2016 campaign. The Maroon Raiders are well on their way.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”