Sorkin Takes His Shot at Oakland Hills
August 15, 2016 | Bloomfield Township, Mich.
By David Shefter, USGA
Playing in front of capacity crowds is something Nick Sorkin has become accustomed to during both his amateur and now fledgling professional ice hockey career.
As for teeing it up in America’s oldest amateur championship, Sorkin wasn’t sure how he would react at Oakland Hills Country Club’s South Course on Monday afternoon. Who doesn’t get butterflies before the start of an athletic competition?
But for Sorkin, 25, of Rockville, Md., competing in the 116th U.S. Amateur Championship is entirely different than skating before 20,000-plus screaming fans. Sure, there are nerves, but golf is Sorkin’s hobby; hockey is his chosen vocation.
“I’m just more excited to be here and to be in the moment,” said Sorkin on the eve of his first USGA championship. “You don’t ever know until you get into it.”
For Sorkin, the real pressure comes next month when he arrives at Pittsburgh Penguins training camp. Going into his third year of professional hockey with his fourth team, Sorkin, who was signed in March 2014 by the Montreal Canadiens as an undrafted free agent out of the University of New Hampshire, is hoping to finally stick with an organization.
“There’s a fine line between the minor leagues and the NHL,” said Sorkin. “It’s right spot, right time, right opportunity. It’s the same in golf tournaments like [the U.S. Amateur]. Everyone is good, but it’s whoever is playing well at the right time [who wins].”
Sorkin’s breakthrough hockey moment hasn’t yet arrived, although he got a chance to play two exhibition games for the hallowed Canadiens in September 2014, tallying an assist in a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins. During that training camp, he skated with the likes of PK Suban, Max Pacioretti and Andrei Markov, and shot against Olympic gold-medal-winning goalie and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price. Sorkin admitted it’s easy to get smitten being around such talent, but “you also know you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t have the game and the confidence.”
Sorkin didn’t stay with the Canadiens long, spending his first full professional season with the organization’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hamilton, Ontario, where he amassed 12 goals and 14 assists in 77 games.
Montreal, however, didn’t re-sign him last season, so Sorkin moved on to the Florida Panthers, who brought him in for a tryout. But he never felt comfortable with the club. So when an offer was extended to play in Sweden’s second-division HockeyAllsvenskan with Vasteras, Sorkin jumped at the opportunity. Playing on a wider ice surface – Europeans utilize Olympic-size 200 feet x 100 feet ice compared to NHL arenas of 200 x 85 – Sorkin thrived in the more free-flowing style.
His speed increased and so did his confidence.
Not only that, the Swedish team paid for the use of a car and apartment and his salary was tax-free. Even the language wasn’t a barrier since most of his teammates spoke English. “I tried [to learn Swedish],” he said. “Google Translate came in handy.”
The only drawback of playing in Sweden is that his golf clubs went into hibernation. But that is a scenario Sorkin endures between September and early April.
Although Sorkin began playing both sports when he was 10, hockey eventually became a professional pursuit. When it came time to choose a college, a friend got him to look at the University of New Hampshire and Sorkin helped the Wildcats twice come within a win of the Frozen Four. As a senior, Sorkin scored a team-high 20 goals.
During the summer months, Sorkin used golf as a way of escaping the pressures of hockey while also keeping his competitive juices flowing. His summer days aren’t totally devoid of hockey, though. He spends six to seven hours working out, which includes a mixture of skating, track training, weightlifting and even yoga. That gives him afternoons to hone his golf skills at Lakewood Country Club in Rockville, Md., where he prefers playing over practicing on the range.
Prior to this week’s U.S. Amateur, his competitive schedule was limited to local and state events, although a childhood friend got him an invite to this year’s member-guest event at Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., where was paired with longtime NHL great Mike Modano, one of Sorkin’s idols.
“It was cool to play with him,” said Sorkin. “He’s a good golfer, around scratch.”
Sorkin’s best showing on the state level was reaching the quarterfinals of the 2014 Maryland Amateur before losing to 2015 USA Walker Cup Team member and University of Virginia All-American Denny McCarthy, also a Rockville native.
But his biggest on-course achievement came July 26 at Worthington Manor Country Club in Urbana, Md., where he hit 17 greens in carding a 67 at a U.S. Amateur qualifier. Coupled with the 70 he posted the day before, Sorkin shared medalist honors and punched a ticket to his first USGA championship.
“I’m a good ball-striker, so I hit a lot of greens,” said Sorkin of his strength. “It all depends if I can roll in some putts. To me, golf is a little more relaxing and less stressful on the body than hockey.”
Sorkin credits the work he’s done recently with Lakewood instructor Wayne DeFrancesco, a veteran teaching professional who has competed in one U.S. Open and five PGA Championships (he was low club professional in 1995).
“We’ve worked on clearing my hips and creating space,” said Sorkin. “I am keeping my width [in my stance] very well. I feel like I hit it pretty far because of hockey and the workouts. I have fast-twitch, explosive movements.”
Sorkin doesn’t know how that work will pay off this week. Just competing among the game’s greatest amateurs has him excited to see where his game stacks up. But he doesn’t possess any delusions of grandeur.
When asked if he would rather hoist the Havemeyer Trophy or the Stanley Cup, Sorkin smiled and pondered the question for brief moment.
“I’d have to say the Stanley Cup,” he said. “That’s been my dream since I was a kid.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.