Ojala to pair with golf for life

Robert Layman / Staff Photo Proctor High Senior Nick Ojala enjoys a spring day at the Proctor-Pittsford Country Club Monday April 17.

Robert Layman / Staff Photo Proctor High Senior Nick Ojala enjoys a spring day at the Proctor-Pittsford Country Club Monday April 17.

Editor’s note: This story about Proctor High School’s Nick Ojala is part of a four-part series about three-sport senior athletes in Rutland County.

Nick Ojala will go it alone this golf season as the only Proctor high schooler playing the sport, but don’t feel sorry for him. He’s had plenty to celebrate with teammates during an impressive three-sport career.

And he’s even taking golf along with him as a career path.

Should Ojala become the medalist at the state Division III golf tournament in June he’ll have the distinction of having won three state titles this school year. He was part of a third straight Division IV basketball title in March, as well as having scored the winning goal in his school’s second straight D-IV soccer crown last November.

Robert Layman / Staff Photo Phantoms' Nick Ojala during a game against West Rutland in January 2017.

Robert Layman / Staff Photo Phantoms’ Nick Ojala during a game against West Rutland in January 2017.

Ojala will attend Florida Gulf Coast University and take up a Golf Course Management major. That’s a pursuit that is becoming quite familiar to a school better known for its generations-old stamp on sports like soccer and basketball.

“It will be different,” Ojala said this week of a collegiate career focused on one activity. “It’s going to be interesting being able to focus on one sport the whole year. I’m used to playing a sport for four months and focusing on that. I think it will be nice.”

Proctor seems to be sending a lot of graduates onward and upward in golf these days.

Proctor alum Josh Upson is the head pro at the prestigious Medinah Country Club just outside of Chicago and, closer to home, one of Upson’s school mates, Mike Harger, is head pro at Manchester (Vt.) Country Club. Even closer: Ojala’s dad, John, is the club manager at Proctor-Pittsford Country Club.

“I did know Mike Harger and I thought what him and my father do for work was interesting and could interest me down the road,” said Ojala, who has worked summers in the PPCC pro shop.

“I kind of see myself as a head pro or an assistant pro,” he said. “This year and last year I had a decent amount of experience in the pro shop and I actually like it a lot.”

But with a job in golf comes a challenge, one which might benefit from fresh sets of eyes and perspectives.

Golf courses everywhere are struggling to sustain memberships and grow the game in increasingly tougher financial times, and soon that problem will fall to Ojala’s generation.

“The whole future of golf is getting the younger generation interested,” he said. “I don’t know what specifically to do down the road, but something I do now is volunteer as a camp counselor in a juniors program here. It brings a lot of interest from the kids. Some of them don’t like it too much because their parents made them do it, and there are others who see themselves improve and they like it.”

The latter was the case with Ojala, who formerly spent his entire year involved in varsity and club soccer. Then his father got him interested in golf and Jake Eaton, the Proctor athletic director and boys basketball coach, inspired his interest in basketball.

He’s been a three-sports guy ever since.

“When I was younger, I was never really into golf, but my dad introduced me to golf in the ninth grade and I just loved it,” he said. “I don’t know if it was any one specific moment, but the summer of my freshman year was the first time I played a couple times a week. I thought, ‘Hey! I could get pretty good at this.’”

Fewer fans are around to witness high school golf exploits than soccer and basketball, where Ojala has been a part of some remarkable moments.

He was on the floor and had a huge 3-pointer when the Phantoms staged a miraculous comeback against Sharon in the 2015 basketball finals at Barre Auditorium.

“That was crazy,” he said. “I actually played a decent amount in that game because one of our starters fouled out with like five minutes left in the fourth.

“I think we were down like five or six points with like 30 seconds to go, and they had the ball and I thought it was over. It was so unexpected.”

Ojala and the soccer Phantoms beat Arlington in penalty kicks in 2015 and last fall, against rival West Rutland, Ojala scored the game-winning goal in the finals.

Now those sports are gone, and Ojala is going to be on the fast track to improvement as a competitor in Fort Myers, Fla., at a school whose campus he likened to a “resort.” There are dozens of courses in the area and a former school mate, Braden Fox, is already a student there.

“I definitely want to compete down there,” Ojala said. “It will be harder, but it will make me better.

“And I want to come back here and try to do better in the Vermont Amateur and other tournaments here.”

Ojala also has some unfinished business in high school golf. He was coming off his best season yet last year, then was bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease. So Ojala, who had been medalist in five matches, had to sit out the states.

“That was really upsetting,” he said.

“(This year) I want to compete in the states and win. I think I have a pretty good chance.”

SOPHOMORE YEAR

  • Soccer — Voted to All-Marble Valley League second team
  • Basketball — Member of Division IV State Championship team
  • Golf — Medalist in two matches

JUNIOR YEAR

  • Soccer — Voted to All-Marble Valley League first team
  • Voted to All-State team
  • Member of State Championship team
  • Basketball — Voted to all-Marble Valley League first team
  • Member of State Championship team
  • Voted to Vermont Basketball Coaches Association Dream Dozen
  • Golf — Medalist in five matches, including Southern Conference championships
  • Qualified to play for team Vermont in the New England Juniors Golf Championships

SENIOR YEAR

  • Soccer — Voted to all-Marble Valley League first team
  • Voted to All-State team
  • Member of State Championship team
  • Basketball — Voted to All-Marble Valley League first team
  • Honorable Mention for State All-Star team
  • Member of State Championship team
  • Played in the Vermont Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game

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bob.fredette@rutlandherald.com