HARTFORD, Conn. – University of Connecticut athletics are known mainly for its men’s and women’s basketball teams, winners of 15 national championships.
But on Monday, the Huskies’ baseball team beat No. 1 seed Maryland on its home turf to qualify for a best-of-three NCAA Division I Super Regional, one step from the College World Series, for the first time since 2011, and sophomore Caleb Manual earned a spot in next week’s U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Manuel shot 1-under-par 69 at Old Oaks Country Club and 2-under 68 at Century CC in the sectional qualifying Monday in Purchase, N.Y., to share medalist honors with Haskins Award winner Chris Gotterup of Little Silver, N.J.
“It doesn’t really feel real right now,” Manuel told the Portland (Maine) Press Herald after advancing to the 122nd national championship. “(There’s) a little relief, especially after watching the scores the last hour (of qualifying). But I’m definitely proud that my game can get me to this level, and that I get to play against the actual best in the world next week, and all the names you read about.
“It might surprise some people. I’m a little shocked, but I knew I had it in me.”
Manuel competed against more than 90 players, including more than 50 pros, and knew he had a shot to advance after the first 18 holes.
“(I wasn’t) going there just to play in it, I’m going there to try to make it,” Manuel said. “After I shot 69, I knew I had a good chance. The goal kind of reset from there. ‘Let’s go, let’s do this thing.’ ”
Manual closed with four birdies and two bogeys and made five pars down the stretch, including a 6-foot putt at the 18th hole that gave him a share of medalist honors instead of being part of a nine-way playoff for the final four spots at The Country Club.
“I was a little nervous, but something I’m working on with my swing is you’ve got to rip through the ball,” Manuel said. “When I’m nervous, I tend not to rip through the ball. That was kind of my mantra out there. Rip through it, and good things happen.”
Qualifying for the U.S. Open continued a notable ascension for the 20-year-old Manuel. He was the Maine Golfer of the Year in 2020 and 2021 who attended Mount Ararat High School in Topshame, Maine, where he was a four-time All-State pick, individual state champion in 2018 and ’19 and led Mount Ararat to two team state championship, setting a course record 63 in the state qualifying. In 2019, he won the Maine State Amateur, set the course record of 60 at his home course, Brunswick Golf Course, and captured the American Junior Golf Association tournament in Sugarloaf, Maine, qualifying for the U.S. Junior Amateur. In 2020, he captured the Maine State Golf Association Junior Amateur Championship and finished third in the New England Amateur. A year ago, he was second to Cody Paladino of West Hartford in the New England Amateur at Great River GC in Milford. He also played three years of varsity basketball at Mount Ararat High and served as team captain as a senior before heading to UConn.
While playing for the Huskies, Manuel has two wins, 11 Top-10 and 14 Top-20 finishes and is UConn’s career scoring leader with a 71.7 average. In 2020-21, he earned an immediate spot in the regular lineup, participating in all 10 events while becoming a first-team All-Big East selection, Big East Freshman of the Year and a member of the Big East Championship All-Tournament, Big East All-Academic and PING Division I All-Northeast Regional Teams. This season, he was Big East Championship co-champion and named to Big East Championship All-Tournament Team and was a Second-Team All-Big East selection.
Connecticut nearly had a second representative in the 156-man field in Brookline on June 16-19, but Ben James of Milford lost in a sudden-death playoff in which eight golfers tried to secure the final three spots. James, the No. 1-ranked junior player in the country who will graduate from Hamden Hall Country Day on Friday, birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine of his final round to get himself into the playoff. After all eight players parred the first extra hole, PGA Tour Champions player Fran Quinn of Holden, Mass., Brandon Matthews and Michael Thorbjornsen each birdied the second hole to advance.
Though he didn’t make it to the national championship, James was one of four top young players to receive a sponsors’ exemption into next week’s Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. James, 19, who will begin his college career at the University of Virginia in the fall, hasn’t finished worse than third in his past six American Junior Golf Association starts, winning four times. Thorbjornsen, a sophomore at Stanford who led the Cardinals to the NCAA Championship, also received a sponsors’ exemption.
Quinn, 57, last played in the U.S. Open eight years ago at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California, with his son, Fran Jr., as his caddie. Both tried to qualify Monday, but only dad made it through after he had failed to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open.
“My son was trying and I was like, ‘Hey, come on, let’s both try to get in the Open.’ He had a great opening round. I was fortunate to sneak in,” Quinn said. “I’m sure he’s going to have an opportunity to play in a bunch of these.”