Pictured: Colin Murphy on picking golf over baseball in spring of 2022: “At the end of the day, teaching these kids how to play golf, and just for myself trying to win a state championship, trying to win these matches and the Shoreline championship, that’s kind of how I want to leave my legacy at Coginchaug and my high school career.”

By Paul Augeri

MIDDLEFIELD – In high school, friendships count for a lot. This spring, Colin Murphy felt the tug of his baseball-playing buddies at Coginchaug and the allure of being their teammate one final time before graduating.

But, two things: One, Murphy is a really talented and driven golfer. He first picked up a club at age 13 … and that was pretty much it for baseball.

“It was a tough transition,” he said, “but I just love the game of golf.”

And two, because of this fairly recent commitment to a sport that he will now play in college, Murphy felt a responsibility as the only senior player for new coach Bill Austin — and as the Blue Devils’ captain — to finish what he started. And to mentor the team’s underclassmen so that perhaps they will embrace the game and put the necessary time into it to improve, as he has done.

“It was really hard for me to decide,” Murphy said. “I didn’t want to leave the team to go play baseball, but at the same time I wanted to be with my friends. And I’m not a bad baseball player. So that was definitely a tough decision. But I think at the end of the day, teaching these kids how to play golf, and just for myself trying to win a state championship, trying to win these matches and the Shoreline championship, that’s kind of how I want to leave my legacy at Coginchaug and my high school career.”

Colin Murphy swings from the first tee on Lyman Orchards’ Jones Course before an April match against Middletown. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

Austin is a hockey lifer from West Haven who has coached the sport since 1981 at West Haven, Hamden, Yale and with Greater New Haven’s youth program. Now that he’s retired, he wanted to do something in golf from a coach perspective. Having played the sport since his high school years, he found Coginchaug and got the job.

His other good fortune? Having the caliber of Murphy leading the team.

“His decision speaks to who he is, it really does,” Austin said. “As a person he has all of the characteristics you would want in a captain, and technically he knows more than I do. From a hockey perspective it’s a little different. I can help pretty much anyone in that sport. I love being around kids. I actually get more from them than they do from me. I truly believe that. And I hope to be here for a while.”

Murphy, a lefty, will be on the team next year at Assumption, a private college with NCAA Division II programs in Worcester, Massachusetts. At Coginchaug, he’s turned in several below-par, 9-hole rounds this year and he will be among the contenders when the Shoreline Conference championship tournament gets underway May 24 at Stanley in New Britain.

Here’s more from our recent interview at Lyman Orchards:

What was it about Assumption that made it the school for you?

“Both of my parents went there and so did a relative. The coach (John O’Hara) got back to me within days of me reaching out and we clicked right off the bat. He watched me play in a (summer) event and said, ‘If you want to come here, you’ve got a spot.’ The team won the Northeast-10 last year, and I’m looking forward to building on that and helping them win another one. And the business program is phenomenal. It was just a no-brainer to go there.”

What was that first year of golf like for you?

“My dad used to play and my uncle and brother play. My uncle to me to the Apple 9 one day and I was like, ‘I really enjoy this.’ I probably went out and played once a month and just fell in love with it. I definitely had a baseball swing and had to go to the range every day. And every day during the summer I hit balls for an hour or two hours. My parents were so supportive. They got me a new set of clubs. They said, ‘If this is what you want to do, just go for it.’ And that’s what I did.”

Did you have designs on playing at a school bigger than Assumption?

“I wanted to play at a high level but my scores weren’t there yet. I really picked up my game my junior year. Schools wanted to see some lower scores and they didn’t see them yet. So Assumption took a shot on me and I think it’s really going to pay off, because this year I’m turning into a solid golfer.”

When did you start playing competitively?

“Two years ago. Peter Egazarian, my swing coach, said, ‘Go play in some 36-hole events.’ And that turned into playing some really competitive events such as the Northern Junior and the U.S. Challenge Cup. And playing in those really transformed my game playing against golfers who are very, very good.”

Favorite course to play?

“Either New Haven Country Club or Rhode Island Country Club. Those are some really nice courses.”

Best 18-hole round?

“I shot a 68 at Agawam Hunt in Rhode Island and a 70 at Rhode Island Country Club.”

Best club in your bag?

“Right now it has to be my 3 hybrid. I can work it draw, fade, high, low, whatever I want. The biggest thing I’ve been working on is my putting. Knock on wood, my putting has been phenomenal this year so far in matches. Last year my biggest struggle was putting. I’ve worked on it non-stop. That’s my biggest improvement in the bag.”

Toughest shot to master?

“Consistency is key in golf. I would say I’m a pretty good ball striker, but when it comes to hitting long irons, I struggle with that mostly because I tend to hit the ball low on a pretty straight ball flight. So when it comes to getting the ball in the air with my 4 and 5 iron, it’s somewhat tough for me. So it’s something I’m working on this year going into college because the yardage is going to be much longer. We’ll be playing from the tips at Assumption – 6,900 to 7,100 yards.

Favorite pros to follow?

“Collin Morikawa. His swing is beautiful. He’s got the same name and initials as me. Viktor Hovland is a guy I like to watch. He started to golf when he was 11, kind of the same background as me. He started young and really worked hard at it. I like those guys a lot.”

As a lefty, have you picked up on anything from watching Phil Mickelson?

“Phil’s short game is phenomenal, so I’ve watched some of his videos. His videos have definitely helped me progress with my golf game.”

What satisfaction do you get from playing the game?

“The biggest thing for me is contributing to the team, as well as making connections with teammates and other players I play against. At the end of the day, golf is just a sport. I want to go to college, have a great college experience  and then have a good future and get a good job. I think golf is definitely going to help me with that. If I go into the business world, then that could definitely play a big part in where my path takes me.”

What do you do as team captain to make a difference?

“I try so hard to help my teammates out. Bill Austin is the best coach you could ask for for the type of team we have (young, inexperienced). Last year was a struggle. We had new kids who didn’t play golf before. I would help them out pretty much every day at practice, giving some tips about how to swing, how to putt, how to chip. I think they’re progressing this year — AJ Turman, Carson Sewell and Joe Cronk and the girls (Sophia Reny and Alyssa Szymaszek). They’re really trending in the right direction. If they put in the work, they’ll really benefit and get better. Golf’s so mental. It’s what I try to tell them. If you hit a bad shot, just forget about it and go to the next one. Me? You can only be so good at hitting the ball. But when it comes to thinking about what shot you’re going to hit and where you have to hit it, that’s the biggest thing.”

You finished sixth in last year’s Shoreline championship tournament. Does that motivate you for this year’s postseason?

“Last year I had a lot of adversity. I missed qualifying for the State Open by .1. I had a 3.1 differential to the 3.0 needed, so that really stung. I needed to be in the top three in the division championship to qualify for the State Open and I finished fifth. This year I really want to turn that around. I’m really working hard. I had one bad round of 42 but I’ve put that away. I’m averaging 36 for nine holes right now. My differential is a 1.5 without the 42. I think I can make a run at the state championship and in the State Open.”

The Shoreline has such good players and you’re in that conversation.

“The play is so good. Any of us have a shot at the state championship. And we’ll compete for the Shoreline championship as well — (Portland’s) Luke Stennett, (Cromwell’s) Jack Wise, Luke Karpiej of Hale-Ray (the defending Shoreline champion), and there’s a few other kids that are definitely going to be good players. And they all have bright futures as well. You couldn’t ask for a better conference. The courses we play are awesome, too.”

What are your summer golf plans?

“Right now going to try to qualify for the Northern Junior (the 36-hole tournament for pre-college amateur 19 and younger is Aug. 1-3 at Great River in Milford). It’s the best event  I have ever played in. There’s kids from all over the world who play. I played with a kid from Hong Kong and coaches from all over – Stanford, Virginia, Virginia Tech – attend. And I also plan to caddie at Shelter Harbor in Weekapaug, Rhode Island. I’d like to play in some other events as well and spend time with family and friends before leaving for college.”

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