Christine Mandile’s lone loss on the course last fall was the result of a critical error.
On the final hole of the match, amid the darkness that had swept over the golf course, Mandile, in her first year at Winchester High, hit her second shot from the fairway. Then she realized her mistake.
“I saw the ball that I hit,’’ she said, “but it wasn’t mine.”
It had been difficult to see just where her drive, and her opponent’s drive, had landed, and she picked the wrong ball.
But it wasn’t her opponent, her opponent’s coach, or anyone else who pointed out the blunder; it was Mandile. She was docked a stroke, lost the hole, and subsequently the match.
Mandile played on the Winchester boys’ team last fall. On Monday she’ll hit the links on her own in the MIAA North/Central/West girls’ individual championship at the Townsend Ridge Country Club in Townsend. There, she’ll try to earn one of the 15 available slots for the state final June 13 in Brockton.
As a first-year player at Winchester, the 15-year-old could surprise the field as she did Tom Walsh, head coach of the high school team, when she first appeared in the fall.
Golf had always been a part of Mandile’s life. She had a set of clubs at a young age and would play casually with her parents. But it wasn’t until about two years ago when she decided to drop soccer and fully dedicate herself to golf.
“I was done with soccer,” she said. “I was pretty good, but our town’s really into soccer, so I wanted to take a different direction and try golf. I was good at it and I liked it.”
Her father, Tom Mandile, said his daughter was an even better basketball player, but she dropped that too, a decision he said was the correct one.
“She decided not to play basketball in high school and she really focused on getting a little stronger, getting a little more flexible, and working on her swing,” he said. “The bottom line is I’m happy with what she chose to do. It definitely was the right move.”
Having long been a member of the Winchester Country Club, she began working last spring with one of its instructors, former professional Seul-ki Park. In just two months, Park helped improved Mandile’s game by ten strokes, including adding roughly 40 yards to her drive.
“She’s found a great mentor,” said Tom Mandile of Park. “She’s taught Christine about swing and how to conduct yourself on the course.”
Mandile’s rapid growth as a golfer was evident late last summer when she won the junior club championships as a 14-year-old in the 14-18 age division, then took first-place honors with her dad in the father-daughter club tournament as well.
She followed up those performances in the fall by going 12-1 in her first high school season, averaging 39 to 42 strokes over nine holes.
While she’s still young in the sport and still takes regular lessons from Park, she’s become a mentor to some of the younger girls at the club who have taken up the game. She has gone to their lessons with Park and played with them, and is interested in visiting the local middle schools to promote girls’ golf.
On a hot, overcast Saturday afternoon, Mandile was out on her home course with her father preparing for the tournament. In two days, she’d travel to Townsend and practice at the tournament site with Tom Walsh, but on this day she just wanted to get some swings in.
Equipped with a new set of clubs, and a driver that gives her 15 to 20 yards more than her previous one, she teed off on the first hole with a slow, methodical backswing and a whipping release.
She sent the ball straight into a divot in the rough. But rather than move the ball only a few inches to right onto the fairway — she was just practicing, after all — she decided without hesitation to work herself out of the jam. She ended up with a three-shot par.
“She’s a very determined kid,” her father said. “When she puts her mind to something, she sets goals and tries to achieve them.”
Mandile said she will be focused come tournament time. Her key goal, she said, is to focus on her aim and get her approach shots closer to the cup, and let her results lay where they may. But before she heads to Townsend for the tourney, she must first tackle the SAT biology test June 2, all part of a rigorous academic regimen.
“She’s a better student than she is a golfer,” her father said. “Which is what I’m most proud of.”
She said she is looking forward to being the lone Winchester representative in the tournament. She ultimately chose golf over all other sports because of its individuality.
“I really love Nature and just being outside,” she said. “I like golf because I get to control my game. I don’t have to worry about anyone else.”Matt Case can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.