Ballo a real-life Happy Gilmore

Freshman Peter Ballo wasn’t always a golfer.

He fooled around with a driver and a tee growing up, playing in the occasional tournament, but his athletic passion as a kid was hockey. In fact, he doesn’t even know how he eventually wound up playing golf for St. John’s.

“I still really haven’t figured it out yet, but I was always good at golf,” he said.

Ballo played hockey for 10 years before deciding golf would be a better collegiate fit. After being named All State his sophomore and junior years, his senior season ended after nine games due to injury. Had he continued playing hockey, however, the path to collegiate and ultimate NHL stardom would have been much tougher.

“I would have had to go to another post-grad prep school and if I didn’t receive a scholarship there I’d have had to go to play junior league hockey,” Ballo said. “If I played well, and a college decided to offer me a scholarship, I would have been 21 by then.”

Ballo did receive offers to play college hockey, as he made contacts with Division I and III coaches through his coaches at Trinity Catholic in Stamford, Conn. But golf was never too far out of mind.”The hockey coaches at those schools were also the golf coaches there,” he said.

Ballo did make a decision well before the injury took place, deciding to focus his time on eventually playing golf in college.
But he wasn’t the only golfer in his family, let alone the only golfer in his family to play at St. John’s. Peter’s older brother, Mike Ballo Jr. is the team’s captain as well as one of its star players.

Growing up, the Ballo brothers shared a sibling rivalry, one that started as heated as can be between two brothers and developed into a constructive working relationship based on strongly representing St. John’s on the golf course.

“We’re the perfect age apart,” Mike said. “I’ve always been bigger and stronger and he’s finally able to compete with me. It’s healthy competition and great to play against each other all the time. It’s helped us develop our games quicker that way.”

Today, the brothers share a much closer relationship, one forged through long days on the course and extra time at the driving range.

“The relationship changes as you get older. Now that we’re both here [at St. John’s] he’s one of my best friends,” Mike said.
Peter has found the transition from hockey to golf different, but not one that has been too complicated for him so far. He placed second overall at the Mission Inn Classic on Oct. 4, shooting one-under par for the tournament.

In fact, according to Peter, hockey and golf aren’t too different, as they both require similar fundamental swing techniques. A slap shot and a tee shot in golf use a similar circular swinging motion, but one striking difference in technique – the rolling over of hands on the swing’s follow-through – could turn a drive into a shank, something Peter has worked on correcting over the course of his career.

“In hockey, your shot will go depending on when you roll your wrists,” he said. “You don’t want to do that in golf. You want to be a bit more steady, otherwise you’ll hit a very big hook and it won’t generate that much height.”

The Ballos are confident, however, that any problems they have on the golf course can be fixed simply with their own intervention. Peter said that though their swings may seem different, their short and putting games are almost identical, and Mike thinks the team’s closeness will ultimately benefit his brother.

“Golf is tough, a much more individual sport,” Mike said. “We have a passion for the game that makes us want to be the best we can be. No one on the team is there to mess around. We’re all there to play the best we can every week.”