Caleb Manuel played soccer, baseball and basketball growing up in Topsham, but it was golf that became his favorite sport.
“I began playing golf when I was 10 or 11. I won the [Brunswick Golf Club] championship when I was 13. That’s when I knew I had something a little more special and I could do something with it,” Manuel said.
The 19-year-old Manuel won the Downeast Metro Amateur Golf Tournament by 15 strokes last weekend, shooting a 12-under-par 129 that shattered the tourney record by nine shots.
It didn’t take him long to realize he loved the sport.
He said there is nothing like landing a shot where you visualized putting it. Or confidently lining up a 20-foot putt knowing it was going in.
“Winning a tournament is a great feeling,” said Manuel, who won the 2020 Maine Junior Amateur Championship and has finished as high as third in the New England Amateur.
“You get to meet a lot of different people and you make lifelong friends,” Manuel said.
He considers himself a golf junkie who practices and plays several hours a day.
On Monday, a day after shooting an 8-under-par 63 at Bangor Municipal Golf Course to win the Downeast Metro title, Manuel played 54 holes of golf after caddying for a friend.
He has already enjoyed a memorable 2021 season.
He helped lead the University of Connecticut claim its first Big East Tournament championship since 1994 by finishing fourth with a 1-under. His second-round 66 tied for third best in tourney history.
Manuel was the Big East Freshman of the Year, an all-tourney selection, a first-team All-Big East pick and an All-Northeast Region selection. His 72.5 strokes-per-round average led the team.
“I definitely exceeded my expectations. A big part of my success was my consistency,” Manuel said. “I finished top five in our last four or five tournaments. I played solid and my putter came around at the end of the year.”
He said he learned a lot under UConn head coach Dave Pezzino and thoroughly enjoys being a student-athlete. He is on a 75 percent athletic scholarship.
“It gives you a good balance. You also have school and you have to have a social life, too. You don’t get too worn out on golf,” Manuel said.” Some guys who go to southern schools get a little burned out. That’s another reason I came to UConn.”
He said December and January are useful in taking time away from the game and also enjoys watching other UConn teams play.
Manuel also received valuable advice from Husson University golf coach and J.W. Parks golf pro Mike Dugas.
“He said to be good at golf, you have to practice. But you also have to take time off and just be a kid. So I’ll take a few days off here and there. I’ll go fishing or caddy for a buddy,” he said.
Manuel’s grandparents own a camp on Toddy Pond in Bucksport, so that is a popular fishing destination for him.
Manuel, who was a point guard and captain on the Mt. Ararat High School basketball team, can drive the ball a long way even though he is only 5-foot-8, 150 pounds. However, he said all of his UConn teammates can outdrive him.
“My [driving] distance is fine. But everything comes down to the short game,” said Manuel, who works with swing coach Paul Piveronas, the golf pro at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth.
Manuel continues to learn how to manage a round, when to be aggressive and when to play more conservatively and settle for a par.
He has been fortunate to have a wonderful support group including his parents, Patrick and Jill, and older sister Anna along with the members and staff at the Brunswick Golf Club, where he owns the course record (59).
Manuel will play several tournaments this summer. Next, he will next try to qualify for the Live and Work in Maine Open, set June 24-27 at Falmouth Country Club in Portland. It is the first Maine stop for the Korn Ferry Tour, which is one level below the PGA Tour.
He will play one round at the Ledges Golf Club in York on Monday and will vie for one of eight spots for the Korn Ferry event.
Manuel also will compete July 13-15 in the Maine Amateur Championship at the Kebo Valley Club in Bar Harbor.
He won two Class A individual championships and two team titles at Mt. Ararat.
“Team championships are much more gratifying,” said Manuel, who considers Sugarloaf his favorite course in Maine.
He would eventually like to play on a pro tour, but he knows it won’t be easy. He plans to continue to work hard as he has during his amateur career.