MANCHESTER – Nick Pelotte of Bingham is used to pressure. He has played basketball state championship games in front of thousands of screaming spectators more than once.
The quick guard’s slashing moves to the basket helped lead Valley High School to four perfect seasons, an 84-game winning streak, and four Class D state championships, including 90-81 over East Grand of Danforth on March 2.
Playing a genteel sport such as golf should be a walk in the park by comparison.
“This one is a lot more difficult,” said Pelotte after Tuesday’s opening round of the Maine Amateur Golf Championship at Augusta Country Club. “You’re all by yourself. There are no teammates to carry you when you’re a little off.”
Pelotte has had to learn to control his temper on the course, much more so than on the basketball court.
“You can get a little upset playing basketball and your skills take over,” said Pelotte. “In golf, if your head’s not in it, you might as well pack it in.”
It took Pelotte a while to learn that.
“When I first started, I was a head case,” said Pelotte, who took up the game in 1997 after watching Tiger Woods win the Masters. “I threw clubs, I broke clubs.
“That’s when I realized I had to get my head into it. That’s when I started to improve.”
The first two years were the worst, according to Pelotte. “Then I came out of it,” he said.
His handicap quickly dropped from a 20 to its current 2 at Lakewood Golf Course.
“I’ve seen the benefits,” he said.
His progress in golf has been quicker than it was in basketball.
“I learned something all the time in basketball, but it was more gradual,” said Pelotte. “Golf changed almost over one summer.”
Pelotte had his challenges Tuesday when he shot an 83 at Augusta, a par-70 course.
“I knew it was a difficult sport, but it chews on you,” he said. “You’re always looking forward to the next day.”
Pelotte will be taking his basketball game to Plymouth State in New Hampshire in the fall, but he won’t be able to play golf for the Panthers, too, because the school doesn’t have a golf program.
“If they had it, I’d do it,” he said.
For now, he’s going to concentrate on basketball.
“I can do golf a lot longer than I can basketball,” Pelotte said. “After basketball, after college, then I can concentrate on golf more.”
A pro career remains a question mark, though.
“I’d like to,” he said, “but that’s unrealistic, maybe.”
Maybe if he keeps his head in it, though.
Top teachers named
Golf Digest has named the top 50 teachers in the country and the top teachers in each state.
Ranked No. 4 in Maine is Paul Piveronas, an assistant pro at The Woodlands in Falmouth.
If it was up to Ron Brown Jr. of Cumberland Foreside, though, Piveronas would be No. 1.
“He’s the best,” said Brown, who was formerly a member at The Woodlands and won his second Maine Amateur when it was held there in 1999.
“He’s a real student of the golf swing,” said Brown. “He’s good at breaking down the golf swing, and that’s basically what he had to do with me.”
Piveronas worked for David Leadbetter for a number of years in Florida, according to Brown. Leadbetter was ranked No. 1 in the country by Golf Digest.
Brown turned to Piveronas, Maine schoolboy champion in the early 1980s, when his game deserted him.
“I was in such bad shape two months ago, I couldn’t break 80, anywhere,” said Brown, who also won the Amateur in 1975.
“He got me back hitting the ball solid,” said Brown. “Now it’s up to me to make the putts.”
Brown shot a 73 Tuesday, five strokes behind leader Shawn Warren, a protege of Piveronas’.
Brown credits Piveronas with Warren’s success.
“He’s worked with him for four years,” said Brown.
According to the Golf Digest rankings, Harvey LaMontagne of Paris Hill Country Club is No. 1 in Maine, followed by Ken Raynor of Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, and Piveronas’ boss, Kevin Roberts at The Woodlands.