Caleb Manuel stands near the ninth hole at the Brunswick Golf Club, his home course. Manuel, 20, has qualified for the U.S. Open, which will take place this week in Brookline, Mass. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Caleb Manuel woke up Tuesday morning, checked his phone and saw that he had missed a few messages. Over 250, in fact.

“It was an insane amount,” said the 20-year-old from Topsham. “It was people I don’t even know, saying ‘Hey, it’s so-and-so. I got your number, just saying congratulations.'”

On Monday, Manuel became just the third golfer from Maine to qualify for the U.S. Open, following Biddeford’s Casey Bourque in 2004 and Topsham’s Sean Gorgone in 1991. Only two years after graduating from Mt. Ararat High School, he will be teeing it up with the best players in the world this week at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. The U.S. Open is one of the sport’s four major championships.

It’s the latest feat for a golfer who took up the sport as a 10-year-old and qualified for the Maine Amateur tournament at 13. While Manuel long had success among age-group peers at the high school and junior levels, his game has reached new heights over the past 12 months.

Last June, he qualified for a professional golf event, the Korn Ferry Tour’s Live and Work in Maine Open at Falmouth Country Club, playing as an amateur. Soon after, he won the Maine Amateur and finished runner-up at the New England Amateur championship. A student at the University of Connecticut, he become a Big East Conference individual champion this spring. And on Monday, Manuel put himself in rarefied company by qualifying for the U.S. Open.

According to the United States Golf Association, 8,880 players attempted to make this year’s U.S. Open field by competing at qualifying tournaments across the country. Manuel was one of just 65 golfers – less than 1 percent of all the qualifiers – to make the cut.


Falmouth Country Club professional Shawn Warren, who has played in three PGA Championships, said he is impressed by how far Manuel has progressed – and how quickly.

“He’s making rapid strides,” Warren said. “He’s really growing as a player faster than I would foresee people of his age going.”


For all his success at a young age, Caleb Manuel has no airs about him. Despite his busy schedule, he remains close with high school buddies and has endeared himself to the oldest members of Brunswick Golf Club, his home course.

Manuel’s approach to golf has become legendary at Brunswick Golf Club. Employees and members all have their stories of watching him playing at dawn, hitting balls after sunset, putting for hours in pouring rain or playing 36 holes in blistering heat.

He also works at the course, spending his shifts doing whatever is needed.


“He works the pro shop and he, still, since he was 16 years old, works outside cleaning carts,” said A.J. Kavanaugh, the director of golf at Brunswick Golf Club. “Sometimes as high school kids turn to college, some jobs get beneath them. Not Caleb.”

At 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, Manuel is an unimposing figure on the golf course, but one with a distinctive look because of his long hair and black-rimmed glasses. His talent and affable nature have made him the center of attention at Brunswick Golf Club, where he set the course record two years ago by shooting 59 over 18 holes.

Caleb Manuel embraces his great-aunt, Nancy Manuel Rogers, after winning the Maine Amateur championship last July at Kebo Valley Club in Bar Harbor. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“His personality has grown,” said his sister, Anna, a first-grade teacher at Lisbon Community School who also works at the golf course. “There are people in their 60s, 70s, 80s on the deck having dinner, and Caleb goes right over and they treat him like one of their own.”

Kavanaugh sees that same outgoing nature, and pointed to a member event last month in which an older golfer asked Manuel to be his partner, and he readily accepted.

“He always has time,” Kavanaugh said. “It doesn’t matter which member it is, one he knows very well, one he’s never met before. … He’s just so humble and welcoming in that regard.”

Donna Brunette, the principal at Mt. Ararat from 2013-21, noticed that about Manuel, too.


“Whenever I would attend a golf match or a competition,” she said, “Caleb was the young man, from his freshman year, who would come over and shake my hand and thank me for coming.

“People like having Caleb around.”

Manuel wasn’t always the single-minded golf addict he is today. Before high school, it was easy to find him on different fields around the Topsham area. He played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. And he was good, gifted with athletic talent and hand-eye coordination.

“He’s a 15-sport athlete,” said former Mt. Ararat teammate and close friend Will Kavanaugh, A.J.’s brother. “That’s what we always call him.”

It was through sports that Manuel honed his close circle of friends. There was the group from the high school golf team, and the group from basketball, which he played at the varsity level for three years at Mt. Ararat.

Finding time for his pals when there is practicing to do and tournaments to play isn’t easy. But Manuel makes room.


“I’ve still got to be a person and a friend,” he said. “I can’t just let golf take over my life.”

The Manuel household is often where those get-togethers take place. There’s always a game going on: Wiffle ball, basketball, ping pong.

“He loves to have people over all the time,” said his mother, Jill Manuel. “And he’s notorious for not letting me know. I know now to keep my freezer stocked and make sure I have food, stuff for grilled cheese and burgers on the grill. … I call them ‘Caleb’s little posse.’ You don’t know if it’s going to be two boys or 10 boys that show up.”

Manuel’s affability got him into the good graces of a playing group of retirees at Brunswick Golf Course that calls itself the Fraternal Order of Old Goats. Manuel and the group’s “Head Goat,” Bill Foley, struck up a rapport, and Manuel and his friends became honorary members of the group, eventually earning the label “Billy Goats.”

“He loved my husband to pieces,” said Foley’s widow, Patty.

Bill Foley died in October 2020. The loss hit Manuel hard.


“(Bill and Patty) always thought a lot of him, they were big supporters, they came to his high school graduation party here at the house,” Jill Manuel said. “He was heartbroken, as if it was his grandfather.”

Caleb Manuel uses a goat head cover on his driver, symbolic of earning the affection of older members of the Brunswick Golf Club who call themselves the Fraternal Order of Old Goats. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Manuel visited Patty soon after and she let him take some of Bill’s golf belongings, including a head cover and a red FOOG hat. Manuel still plays with the head cover. When he won the Maine Amateur last summer, the hat was on his head.

“For him to carry that stupid-looking Goat head cover on his driver while he’s playing in these tournaments, it just warms my heart,” Patty said. “He said the Head Goat is watching over his game.”

Manuel did give Patty something: a note from July 7, 2015, promising her “1 ticket to the Masters” if he makes it there.

“I can’t even begin to say enough,” Patty said. “He’s like a son to me.”



Caleb Manuel is clear about his career goals.

“I want to play (golf) professionally,” he said. “However long it takes me, I’m going to try, until I run out of money or break something or physically can’t do it.”

Manuel’s major at UConn is sports management, but his focus is on the golf course.

“I don’t really have a Plan B,” he said. “People ask what I want to do with (my major). No idea. I want to play golf. That’s the only thing on my mind.”

Manuel has the help to get there. He began working with instructor Paul Piveronas of The Woodlands at 14 years old in 2016.

“He’s always been a really good ball striker,” Piveronas said. “I’m really pleased with how he’s (taken) his short game to the next level. His putting and his chipping and his pitching around the greens is really what’s elevated his game.”


Piveronas said they work together roughly 10-12 times a year, and frequently discuss videos Manuel takes of his swing.

Caleb Manuel watches his shot off the tee on 11th hole at Falmouth Country Club during the first round of the Live and Work in Maine Open last June. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Mentally, he’s really tough,” Piveronas said. “He’s very determined, he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. I’ve never told him he needs to go practice. He can overpractice sometimes.”

For all of Manuel’s successes, there have been lows. Jill Manuel recalls seeing her son at a college tournament in Alabama in March, after he had finished tied for 61st in a tournament with UConn.

“It was rough. He was pretty down,” she said. “It was very disheartening to see him kind of slumped, his posture, his mannerisms. He wasn’t himself.”

There are times when the passion becomes a chore.

“I was lost,” Manuel said. “It was the first time in a while that that had happened. … There were times after the round where I felt so tired and discouraged. I was like ‘This is a terrible feeling. I don’t want to feel this ever again.'”


To deal with the pressures of competitive golf, Manuel talks to Dr. Scott Barnicle, a sports psychologist and an assistant professor at the University of West Virginia. The two see each other in person once or twice a year but frequently speak after Manuel’s events.

Barnicle said the sessions focus on three areas: listening to an inner circle and blocking out outside distractions, embracing rather than being unnerved by the prospect of success, and viewing difficult situations as opportunities to succeed, rather than threats of failure.

“He’s been very good learning how to view difficult situations as a challenge,” Barnicle said. “It helps him see ‘What do I want to get,’ or ‘What do I want to earn,’ or ‘What do I want to achieve.’”

“When he’s coming down the 15th hole, 16th hole, he’s learned to be very, very efficient, and very skilled at viewing that situation as a challenge. … Of all of the sports psychology tools that I’ve helped him with, that would be the one that he’s really harnessed and been able to use the most.”


Caleb Manuel has never had a problem separating himself from the crowd on the golf course. If the grooved swing, perfectly placed shots and low scores don’t tip you off as to which golfer in the field he is, the long hair and black rimmed Ray-Ban glasses certainly will.


“I just embrace (the look),” Manuel said with a smile. “Other than my golf game, it’s something I’m known for. The little guy with glasses.”

There was a time when Manuel tried contacts. The experiment was short-lived.

“It took me 45 minutes, and I only got one in,” he said.

Caleb Manuel won the high school Class A state golf championship in October 2019 as a senior at Mt. Ararat High. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The long hair is a choice. Manuel was once among the close-cropped, wearing a buzz cut through middle school. In high school, though, he began to wear it longer, and a style was born.

“It would get really long and I would cut it, and people wouldn’t recognize me,” he said. “It takes time to grow it back. I cut it around Halloween this year, and I haven’t cut it since. I’m just letting it go now, trimming the sides, kind of like a mullet look.”

Some people tell him to cut it, to no avail.


“He likes the flow,” Jill Manuel said. “It’s a look, for sure. Trust me, we’ve tried to get him to cut his hair, but he’s not having it. He wants that look.”

As for the rest of the ensemble, Manuel doesn’t stress about the particulars.

“You don’t see many golfers with glasses, and – I don’t know if disheveled is too strong of a word – but he doesn’t really care if his golf shirt becomes untucked or if he misses a belt loop,” said his father, Pat Manuel. “His shoes sometimes, I’ll be like ‘Caleb, do you need a new pair of shoes? These don’t look very good.’ And he just, I guess, cares less about that type of thing.”

Manuel said he was teased occasionally for his look. It never bothered him.

“It happened on the basketball court more often,” he said. “If we got into a heated conversation on the court, if there was an aggressive foul or something, someone would call me ‘Four eyes.’ Bring it on. That just gets me more going.”

Pat Manuel served as his son’s caddie on Monday at the U.S. Open qualifier in Harrison, New York. After Caleb rolled in his last putt to finish his qualifying rounds at 3-under par, he picked up his ball, walked over to his father and flashed him a smile.


“He says ‘Dad, I think that may be enough (to get into the U.S. Open),'” Pat Manuel said. “One thing led to another, and he’s there.”

Caleb Manuel will leave for Brookline on Sunday, ready to take the biggest step of his golfing career.

However well he plays, Manuel is going to enjoy the experience.

“It’s not life or death,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re still going to go home to the same people, and they’re still going to love you.”

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