On wardrobe choices, Game 6 tickets and pro golf goals: Maxwell Moldovan preps for U.S. Open
The challenges already were immense before Maxwell Moldovan, his dad and his caddy drove nine and a half hours to the Boston area on Saturday.
The Green High School graduate and Ohio State sophomore makes his major championship debut this week during the 122nd U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. His busy schedule takes him to a pair of significant amateur tournaments — the Northeast Amateur in Rhode Island and the North & South Men’s Amateur Championship at Pinehurst in North Carolina — the next two weeks.
Golf might be the easy part.
Packing for this odyssey was tougher than a downhill bender to save par.
“I’m taking like 20 golf shirts with me,” Moldovan said with a laugh. “It’s hard for me to get together 12-15 outfits I want to wear.”
Look good. Drive the ball in the fairway. Maybe luck into some Game 6 NBA Finals tickets. That’s the ideal game plan this week for Moldovan, a huge Boston Celtics fan who will happen to be in Boston playing the first round of the U.S. Open the same day as his Celtics take on the Golden State Warriors.
“I’ve been talking about it since I knew the U.S. Open was going to be in Boston: ‘How sweet would it be if I was in Boston for the U.S. Open and the Celtics were in Boston for the Finals?’” Moldovan said. “It’s actually going to happen now. I’m trying as much as I can to get in contact with some people and find my way into some Game 6 tickets. It’s been pretty challenging so far.”
Tee times for the first two rounds were released Monday and they did no favors for Moldovan as a basketball fan. Grouped with Germany's Yannik Paul and South Africa's MJ Daffue, Moldovan will go off No. 10 for Thursday's first round at 12:41 p.m. and No. 1 for Friday's second round at 6:56 a.m.
To be clear, getting a seat in TD Garden to watch Steph Curry and Jayson Tatum would be fun.
A good week at America’s national championship for golf could be career-altering for Moldovan.
Is this week simply the highlight of an already sparkling amateur career?
Or is this week something more, a springboard into a pro career than could start sooner than later?
It’s in play for the 20-year-old Moldovan, who earned his way into the U.S. Open field via “the longest day in golf.”
He fired an opening-nine 30 on his way to a 5-under 135 during 36 holes of sectional qualifying last week at Springfield Country Club. He finished tied for third in a field that included 15 golfers with PGA Tour cards.
“It’s cool to win a college or amateur tournament. It’s a really cool feeling. But that’s probably as happy as I’ve been on a golf course when I found out I qualified,” Moldovan said. “The lifelong dream for me has been to play on the PGA Tour and I have the chance to play in a major championship. It still hasn’t hit me yet that that’s going to actually happen. It’s hard to imagine it still.”
Moldovan is riding a wave right now. He won three times during the spring season at Ohio State. He earned PING All-America Third Team and All-Big Ten First Team. His scoring average of 71.03 this season was the lowest by a Buckeyes golfer since 1980, besting his 71.50 from last year.
Moldovan’s explanation for the recent surge is simple: putting. Like a lot of golfers, when Moldovan putts well, he feels like he’s going to finish well. Ball striking never is much of a question with the former two-time OHSAA state champion, known for his accuracy off the tee.
His father, John Moldovan — the teaching pro at Ohio Prestwick Country Club and a former GlenOak and Kent State golfer who played on mini tours in Florida in the early 1990s — feels like it’s a combination of comfort, confidence and experience coming together for Max.
As for how his son’s game fits the layout at Brookline, an old-school course with tight fairways and small greens, John says, “Extremely well. He hits a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. Even when he was younger, when even par is a good score, he’s there.”
John received some U.S. Open advice for Max from his friend Rick Adcox, a veteran PGA Tour caddy from Hartville who has carried the bags of golfers such as Dave Stockton, Gary Nicklaus and Jerry Kelly: “He said, ‘Tell Max to just slow down. Time is going to go too fast. You don’t have any control over it. You’ve got to try to slow down and enjoy it. Walk slow.”
With a good week in Brookline, life could start going a little faster for the younger Moldovan.
Professional golf is the ultimate goal, and it’s a realistic goal for a player of Moldovan’s caliber. He was the 2019 American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year, becoming the first male from the Midwest to win the award. He’s competed in the US Amateur and the Junior Presidents Cup. He won the Southern Amateur in Mississippi last summer with a four-round 264, breaking Justin Leonard's tournament record set in 1993 by six strokes. He’s 52nd in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, a list on which he’s been as high as 33rd in his career.
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But timing is everything, in Moldovan’s mind, when it comes to making the jump to the pros.
“Unless something crazy happens this week and I finish top 10 or something, I’m planning on doing four years at Ohio State,” Moldovan said. “I’ve always said with turning professional, making it to the tour, it’s always a lot of being in the right place at the right time. Some guys have a really hot week that propels their career. Other guys can play consistently well but not quite well enough and it takes them five, 10, 15 years to get to the tour. So it’s kind of a week-by-week, year-by-year thing for me. I’ve loved my time at Ohio State so far and I have every intention on going back for year three and four. If a door does open with an awesome week at the U.S. Open, I’ll definitely consider my options.”
Moldovan expects a group of 15 to 20 friends and family to be in Brookline for him, including his mom, Leigh, and girlfriend Emily Andrego. (The former Leigh Burdette from Hoover High School, Moldovan’s mom was a sharp shooter for the University of Akron women’s basketball team in the early 1990s.) His caddy, Jake Conjerti, a fellow Green High School grad, is “probably as nervous and excited as I am,” says Moldovan.
Moldovan is a 5-foot-9, 160-pound kid who is ready to take on the big boys of golf. He lives somewhere between the humility of a prayerful person who thanks God with regularity and the confidence of a player who has taken on and beaten older players throughout his life.
Now it is time to take a world stage.
“It’s still crazy, wrapping my mind around it,” Moldovan said. “But at the same time I’ve been working really hard for it and I’ve always wanted a chance to test my game against the best players in the world. I’m just excited and thankful for that chance.”
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