Big brother's influence key in Nick Gabrelcik's path forward in golf

Julie Williams/Golfweek

Big brother's influence key in Nick Gabrelcik's path forward in golf

Amateur

Big brother's influence key in Nick Gabrelcik's path forward in golf

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Being the little brother has always served Nick Gabrelcik well. It opened doors to big-kid golf games. Perhaps more specifically, Donnie Gabrelcik opened that door.

When Donnie was in the seventh grade, Nick was only 8. Five years can feel like a big difference at that age, but it never did to Donnie. He had a group of middle-school buddies who spent most of their summers playing pickup golf games at Fox Hollow Golf Club near their Trinity, Florida, home. Nick generally tagged along.

“They didn’t give him an inch,” joked Annette Gabrelcik, Nick and Donnie’s mom.

Donnie would beg to differ. Nick was allowed to play from a forward set of tees, but not without hearing about it from the guys. Nick was always the youngest in the group, but also was crucial for filling out the third foursome.

“He was always welcome,” Donnie said sincerely, and maybe a little sentimentally.

On Saturday, Nick tackled ChampionsGate’s International Course – all 7,069 yards of it from the black tees. His 2-under 70 left him two shots off the pace at the halfway point of the Golfweek International Junior, where he’s trying to defend his title.

Strolling along behind Nick as he was carted off to the scoring table mid-morning, the family discussed the highlights of Nick’s day. The Gabrelcik camp is tight-knit and supportive, and this has been a banner year for Nick, now 17. Last month, he was named the Florida State Golf Association’s Junior Player of the Year. He has committed to play for the University of North Florida next year.

It’s fair to say it would be a much different story without Donnie’s hand.

“A lot of the credit for Nick’s game goes to (Donnie) because he pushed him and taught him and brought him along to play with the older kids,” said Don, Nick and Donnie’s father.

Donnie is now 22 and in his fifth and final year at Florida Gulf Coast, where he is in the Professional Golf Management program. Donnie struggled with the decision to play college golf or not. He made his decision for the long term, and it turned out to be one that kept him in golf.

“It was upsetting at the time, but I got over it,” Donnie said of his choice to prioritize his degree over college golf. “I was thinking post-college.”

Besides, there are always tournaments to play. There’s always Nick to play, too.

From the other side of it, Nick always felt ready to play up an age division because of summer grudge matches with his older brother’s friends.

“They helped prepare me for when I do get older and playing with older competition and now college players or men’s players,” he said.

Nick was the third-youngest player in the Florida Open field this year but finished sixth and as the low amateur. The curtain has been falling on Nick’s junior career for more than a year now. The transition began when he won the Florida Match Play in August 2018.

“That definitely kicked off my career,” he said.

Nick is a strong match play player in part because has an uncanny ability to pull off a pressure shot just when he needs to – and usually when he’s down. Donnie has been on the other end of that several times. Asked for the most impressive shot in his little brother’s bag, Donnie names the high draw that Nick can hit on command.

“It turns into a hook after awhile,” he added with a grin, mostly for his brother’s benefit.

Nick knows he has to get better with his putter if he wants to be successful at the University of North Florida.

“If I can ever become a very good putter, I think that will be the point when my game is ready to move on to the next level,” he said.

Despite needing a few inches to catch up to Donnie, Nick stands at 6 feet, 2 inches tall, which is roughly five inches taller than when he was a freshman. With he gained height, he gained distance – though gradually. He had to learn to control it, too.

“The long arms compared to short arms, a lot of things can go wrong so you have to make sure you know what is going on so you can fix it,” Nick said.

Since his growth spurt, Nick has gradually added distance, to the tune of at least 10 yards each of the past three years.

As usual, Nick Gabrelcik is always growing and always looking ahead.

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