When he was a young child, Nick Mandell wanted to be a baseball player more than anything.
He was an all-star from the age of 8 to 12.
But by the time he was 13, he wasn’t having any fun anymore on the diamond.
So he made a decision to make golf his No. 1 avocation. It’s been that way ever since.
“It’s you against the golf course,” said Mandell, a Southridge High School senior. “It’s not team versus team, like baseball or basketball. You can’t blame anybody but yourself if things go wrong out there.”
Little has gone wrong for Mandell the past few years.
He helped his teammates earn a 3A state team title last spring in Spokane with his fourth-place finish.
He signed a letter of intent to play golf next fall for Washington State University.
He’s won one tournament title (Tri-City Invitational), and he’s aiming for a state championship in May.
“Last year I don’t feel a took high school golf as seriously as I should have,” he said. “This year I’ve worked on a couple of swing changes. I’ve worked a lot harder on putting in the time. Last year I just wanted to hang out with friends.”
He still hangs out with friends. It’s just that most of them are competing with him on the golf course.
Now that the Tri-Cities schools all play in the same conference, Mandell goes up against the guys from Richland High School every league pod match. And he still has to compete day in and day out with the tough Hanford boys.
Today, everybody gets together at Horn Rapids Golf Course in Richland for the second pod match of the season.
“Playing against them all the time makes me even better,” Mandell said. “I’m friends with almost all of them. Nothing makes you want to better than beating your best friends.”
Guys like Richland’s Jeffrey Marcum. Or Hunter Thompson, who is headed to Cal State Fullerton after this season. Or the Bombers’ Drew McCullough, who fired a stunning 63 on March 27 at Canyon Lakes — Mandell’s home course yet — that had the Southridge senior mesmerized.
“I’ve played golf with him quite a bit,” Mandell said. “But watching him move around Canyon Lakes on that day was like looking at art. He looked like a pro out there. He made the golf course look stupid.”
Then there is Hanford’s Eric Dahl, and Tanner Martin.
“Me and Tanner are really good buddies,” said Mandell. “He is one of the most gifted golfers I know. He started late with the game, but now he’s one of the biggest workhorses I know.”
This relationship with his opponents has made him better. His father, Canyon Lakes head professional Matt Mandell, has noticed it.
“Nick has benefitted from this,” Matt said. “I have never met a bunch of kids that love to beat the heck out of each other on the golf course and are best friends off of it.”
For Nick, it also helps having a golf pro as your father.
“It’s got its perks,” said Nick. “I always have somebody who knows what I’m going through. He’s always at home, so he’s a role model for me.”
Nick also works at Canyon Lakes, and can be at the course an average of five to six hours a day — even longer during the summer.
Matt Mandell said his job is to keep Nick grounded.
“I keep him from getting too high or too low,” said Matt. “He’s so much a better player at this point in his life than I have been. There are a few kinks in his armor. But I’ve never met a kid who rises to the occasion like he does.”
Those kinks might be his long iron play, said Nick. His dad believes he needs to work on his stance, posture and grip. But they both agree on his strengths: his short game and putting.
“You can’t rattle him,” said Matt. “The bigger the stage the better he plays. I’ve told a few friends that if I needed someone to sink a 10-footer to save myself from the devil, and I had my choice of Tiger (Woods), Jack (Nicklaus) or my son, I’d take my son.
“From the time he was little, he always wanted to putt,” Matt continued. “He was into total instant gratification. He wanted to see the ball go into the cup.”
He’s seen a lot of that these past few years.
Other top boys golfers
Besides Mandell, some of the top are boys golfers this season include Richland’s Drew McCullough, Jeffrey Marcum and Hunter Thompson. McCullough fired a 63 at Canyon Lakes last month to win the Invite there. He’s also had a second-place finish (64) at Tri-City Country Club and a third in the first MCC pod match. Marcum placed third in the 4A state tournament last year, and Thompson was third at Canyon Lakes at 69. Hanford is also loaded with Tanner Martin, who was medalist at the first MCC pod at Meadow Springs and third at Canyon Lakes. He has signed a letter-of-intent to North Idaho Community College. Teammate Eric Dahl had a second-place finish at the Meadow Springs pod. The area’s best small-school golfer – heck the state’s best small-school golfer – has to be DeSales’ Ryan Baumgart, who won the state 1B-2B state title last year.
The area’s top girls
The best players by far are the 1-2 punch at Hanford of Taylor Kain-Godoy and Kelsey Aiello. Finally seniors, the pair led the Falcons to the state 3A team title last year in Spokane, and they both tied for ninth with identical 154s over two rounds. Kain-Godoy won the Lee Dahlquist at AppleTree last month with a 77. Aiello was third. Teammate Lacy Skwarek is also a strong golfer. Pasco has a 1-2 punch of its own in Neydeen Martinez and Jalayne Martinez. Neydeen has a second at Dahlquist and a third at the Pasco Invite. Jalayne won the Pasco Inviite and was third at Dahlquist. DeSales’ Emily Baumgart – Ryan’s sister – is the defending 1B-2B girls state champion.