At the PIAA Golf Championships at Heritage Hills Resort in York, the Scranton Prep junior shot 12-over-par 154 (75-79) to earn a fifth-place medal in the Class 2A individual tournament. Then, he overcame a rough start in the team tournament to share medalist honors with teammate Andrew Mariotti and help the Cavaliers capture a silver medal as state runners-up in Class 2A for the second straight year.
Here is more from Stivala’s Athlete of the Week interview:
What does M.J. stand for? Martin John. My dad’s name is Martin and both my grandfathers’ names are John.
Other sports I play: Wrestlng. What weight class? 145. I do wrestling more for the conditioning of it and being part of the team.
Favorite teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Athletes I admire: Definitely Tiger Woods because he kind of got junior golf started. Also Jordan Spieth a lot. He’s such a clutch golfer. He can get himself out of any situation, which I like a lot.
Favorite food: Grilled chicken
Superstitions and rituals: I always pray the night before. I listen to the same playlist. I have an order of songs that are fast-paced in the beginning and slower in the end. It gets me worked up in the beginning and then I relax toward the end. It gets me cooled down, ready to go. Then I just breath a lot to calm myself down so I don’t have any nerves going to the first tee.
First round of the individual tournament was very windy. How did you combat the conditions? I was kind of used to it from last year. It was a little different playing in the cold. It was so cold down there. But the wind was just something you have to adapt to. Take every shot, measure the wind, see what you can do. You can’t predict the wind.
In the first round, you went bogey-double bogey-bogey on hole Nos. 4-6, then played the final 12 holes at even par to shoot 4-over 75 and sit two shots out of the lead. How did you recover from those holes? I knew those holes were going to set me back a little bit. But I just wanted a medal so bad and I knew I could do it. So I just said to myself, ‘I either do it now or I’m not going to do it at all.’ I just got in that mindset. I kept my head down, focused and made some pars.
What was it like the night between the first and final round? Tough to sleep? I tried not to work myself up too much. We saw the scoreboard, saw I was third, but didn’t pay attention to it too much. We wanted to get ready for (the next day). We were saying that you can’t even enjoy it because you have to get ready for (the next day). So we talked about it for maybe 20 minutes, then started calming down and getting ready for the next day — cleaning the clubs, talking about what clubs to hit on what holes, what mistakes I made and how to fix them. Stuff like that.
You were tied for the lead after nine holes in the final round, then bogeyed four of the final five holes. Still, were you happy with your finish? One-hundred percent. First place after 27 holes was a big deal. But with three holes left, I was nervous and my coach pulled me over and said, ‘Look, buddy, we came down here for a medal. Just focus, get pars on the next couple holes and get your medal.’ So I just concentrated and finished up strong.
In the team tournament, you started 10-over on the first 11 holes, but played the final seven holes even. How did you recover from that rough start? I just couldn’t get the ball rolling early on. I lipped out like four putts through my first three holes. What made my round so great two days before was my putting and it just seemed like I couldn’t make any putts. But with seven holes to go, I talked with my coach (Ed Cimoch) and he said, ‘Listen, buddy, we’re real close. We need you, we need your score.’ So I said to myself that I came down here and did it for myself (in the individual tournament), now I have to help my team out. So I just said that’s enough and started doing what I needed to do.
Was there a shot during that stretch that helped turn things around? On No. 10, I hit into the bunker on the left. Then I hit my shot short, chipped up and made the putt. It was a pretty long putt, so that’s when I got my confidence back and saying to myself, ‘You can do this.’
The team used a late-season surge to make the state tournament and finish runner-up again: Even last year, we weren’t expected to make it to states. I don’t think we were expected to do anything special this year. It just shows that anything can happen. Toward the end of the season, we got our chemistry and just started playing good. It seemed no one could stop us.
Famous golf course you’d like to play: I’d love to play Augusta, but it’s always been my dream to play Pebble Beach. All the pictures and everything I’ve heard about it. Just seems like it’s kind of the greatest place on Earth. But Augusta, too. That’s just the coolest course in the world.
Three people I’d like to have dinner with: Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Kevin Hart
Post-graduation plans: I definitely want to go to medical school after I graduate college. So I’ve been looking into schools that are going to gear me in the right position to get into medical school. I would love to go to Johns Hopkins — that’s my dream school. But the University of Scranton is also an amazing school. But now that I placed pretty good at states as a junior, I’m waiting to see if any schools might offer for me to go play golf there. If I can find a school that would allow me to play golf and has my major, then I would gladly accept an offer. But to me becoming a doctor and going to medical school is more important than golf. I hate to say it but it is. So if it comes down to it and it’s either golf or school, I’m going to have to pick school.