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Golf: Caleb Manuel, Cole Anderson aim to finish college careers with a flourish

Apr. 30—Caleb Manuel and Cole Anderson have big hopes, dreams and aspirations awaiting them when their golf careers reach the professional ranks.

That all can wait, however. For Maine's two young standouts, there's still school work left to be done.

Manuel and Anderson are looking to finish their college careers in style as both have their teams poised for NCAA regional berths and hopefully NCAA championship appearances soon afterward. The regional berths will be announced Wednesday afternoon, and the top five teams at each will make the NCAAs.

Manuel shot 4 under to finish tied for seventh in the stroke play round of the SEC championships, leading the University of Georgia to the quarterfinals.

"We're feeling a lot better than we did last year, even though we ended up winning a regional," said Manuel, a Topsham native. "I feel like our team and my game are heading in the right direction."

Anderson, a Camden native, was 3 over through two stroke play rounds at the ACC championships, but won a pair of matches in the match play round to lead Florida State to a runner-up finish.

"It's obviously a tough pill to swallow, we've come up close a few times at the ACCs," Anderson said. "The good news is it seems like everybody's starting to play well at the right time. We're looking forward to this last big push."

Manuel, the three-time defending Maine Amateur champion, had a so-so fall and a better spring, and then hit a higher level in the SEC championships. He played all three stroke play rounds at even par or better, then was one of two Bulldogs to win a match in a quarterfinal loss to Arkansas.

"I think I just prep a little bit differently for the SECs. I get a little more excited for it," he said. "These last three tournaments are the ones like major championship golf. Everyone remembers these ones, and not so much the other ones. I kind of put aside how I played last fall."

Manuel said a healthier mental approach helped him pull out of his streak of lackluster play earlier in the season.

"I go out and enjoy it. It's just golf, at the end of the day," he said. "(I) kind of took my mind off the score. I would just focus on the shots I was hitting for about 20 seconds, and after the 20 seconds of my full focus and the shot was over, whether it was a good shot or bad shot, I would just let it go.

"I'm not worried too much about my score, versus just trying to feel comfortable and hit the shots I want to. If I do that, the score will take care of itself."

Anderson said he was frustrated by how he played during his senior year, and he was swapped out of the Florida State lineup for the third and final round of the stroke-play portion of the ACC Championship. He bounced back to thrive in the match-play competition, however, earning a 3-and-2 victory over Georgia Tech in the semifinals, followed by a 5-and-3 win against North Carolina, the Seminoles' lone win, in the final.

"I have plenty of experience (in team sports) through baseball and hockey. When your number's called, you go out and do your job," he said. "There was disappointment of not playing the final stroke-play round, but ... I knew I was good enough to go do my job in match play."

Anderson said the match-play round allowed his competitiveness to flourish.

"You've got two guys in front of you you need to get through to do your part," he said. "You block everything else out and you go beat a couple of kids. It's the single-minded focus of 'I need to beat this person.'"

Both players know they've got high-stakes team golf in front of them, first with the regionals and then, hopefully, the national championships.

Manuel thrived in that stage last year, finishing tied for second in a regional at Bath, Michigan. He was 3 under through 29 holes of the NCAA championships before slipping on the back of the second round.

"To have that in my back pocket and know that I was right up there through two rounds is nice," he said. "The SEC's the best conference in golf, so to be able to contend and finish seventh there last week, if I can do it there, I can definitely do it at the national championships too."

Anderson tied for 29th in the championships last year.

"I've had some struggles and the mental battles that come with that, but it's served its purpose," he said. "I've got two more opportunities to go do some good things. ... I think I've got a good opportunity to finish the season strong, I feel like my game's moving in a good direction."

Both players know they'll miss the experience when their college careers come to an end, whether that's in a regional or on the national stage. Professional golf awaits, however, and Manuel and Anderson have been preparing to tackle those challenges.

Manuel said he plans to turn pro immediately after Georgia's season ends, and try either Q School for the PGA Canadian Tour or local pro tournaments in the summer, and then try to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour in the fall.

"I've played in the U.S. Open and two Korn Ferry events. I know what it's like," Manuel said. "It's going to be pretty easy for me to go from playing in Korn Ferry events to SEC golf and these types of events. I'm not going to shy away from any player in the field."

Anderson, who flirted with a Korn Ferry Tour win in Maine two years ago, is more tight-lipped about his plans.

"There are people that are helping me behind the scenes to get ready for that," he said. "But my focus is here with the team. I'll put the pieces of the puzzle together, as far as pro golf goes, once it's here."

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