Nothing small about this hobby

Naugatuck native and mini golfer represents U.S., appears on TV show

Naugatuck native Pat Sheridan, left, and fellow contestant Madison Kaiser talk during an episode of ABC’s summer mini golf competition ‘Holey Moley’ that aired July 25. Sheridan, who has turned mini golf into much more than a hobby, was one of 12 mini golfers to represent the United States at the World Adventure Golf Masters in Sweden, in June. – ABC/ERIC MCCANDLESS

Almost everyone has been there — staring down a clown, mentally measuring angles around a windmill, deciding which starting divot to choose before taking a putt.

But few people have taken their mini golf exploits to the same level as Naugatuck native Pat Sheridan.

Sheridan, who has run a mini golf course review website called the Putting Penguin since 2001, recently represented the United States in an international tournament in Sweden and appeared on ABC’s summer mini golf competition “Holey Moley” in late July.

Not bad for a hobby that started as a last college hurrah before real life was set to begin 18 years ago.

“Right after I graduated college, kind of on whim after playing mini golf one night, a couple of my friends and I decided to see if we could play all the mini golf courses in Connecticut,” said Sheridan, a Naugatuck High graduate who lives in Manchester.

“We decided to review them as we were going along,” he continued. “We played some really good ones and some really crappy ones, so we thought it would be cool to tell people what our experiences were. After doing that for a couple of years, we expanded outside of Connecticut. We started putting it online and it became a hobby for us as we traveled to different places.”

Soon enough, he learned about various tournaments held in the region and across the country. His first tournament was the 2003 Mini Greater Hartford Open in Simsbury, where he finished second place for his first payday. Since then, he’s earned $3,430 in tournament winnings over the course of his 53 tournaments.

After years of traveling, playing, and reviewing mini golf courses — he’s reviewed courses in 24 states, Washington, D.C., the United Kingdom, Sweden and even a cruise ship — his putt-putt passion reached new levels this year.

In June, he was one of 12 mini golfers to represent the United States at the World Adventure Golf Masters in Kungalv, Sweden. In many ways the tournament was a mini Olympics of mini golf, complete with an opening ceremony, Team USA uniforms and the playing of winning players’ national anthems.

“Never in a million years did I ever think that I would represent our country in any sporting event, let alone miniature golf,” Sheridan said. “To have 18 years culminate in that, it’s like a drug. I want to be part of that team every year from now on.”

For those who might think they could hang with some of those players — it’s just mini golf, after all — Sheridan shares a cautionary tale.

“On an 18-hole course, the guy who won the tournament shot a 19,” said Sheridan, referring to Sweden’s Gunnar Bengtsson. “I was shooting 24s as my best score and I was still getting blown away (23rd of 34 mini golfers in his division).”

But that experience was only the second-highest peak of his extraordinary year in the world of mini golf.

On July 25, he appeared on ABC’s “Holey Moley,” a new TV show that takes traditional mini golf and super-sizes the sport, complete with announcers Joe Tessitore, Rob Riggle and Stephen Curry. Although he was originally targeted as a consultant to help the show get off the ground, he eventually earned a spot for the April filming.

“They were looking for people like me to promote the casting and get our friends involved,” Sheridan said. “They went to casting, and one of the guys was like, ‘Would you be interested in doing this?’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, absolutely.’ I went through the casting process and everything. They were looking for a mix of people, but they wanted some people from the more competitive community to come on the show.”

He was all in — even though he wasn’t sure exactly what he was getting himself into.

“I was a little worried going into it because they had pitched it as, like, ‘Wipeout’ meets mini golf,” Sheridan said. “I’ve seen ‘Wipeout’ a few times and I was like, what am I getting myself into? Luckily the physical stuff wasn’t quite as bad as the ‘Wipeout’ courses are.”

During his appearance, he played holes including “The Distractor,” in which he had to putt while facing an obnoxious paparazzi, and “Slip N’ Putt,” in which he had to climb a slippery mountain to putt through a polar bear’s legs.

“For somebody who runs a website called the Putting Penguin, getting to play a hole that’s got ice and a polar bear was kind of fitting,” Sheridan said.

Although he didn’t win the competition, Sheridan described the experience as a bit surreal.

“You don’t get to play every hole during the tournament, but I wish I could have played all of them,” said Sheridan, who will review the entire course for his website when the season ends. “Being on set to see what they built — seeing the windmill hole, and I’m like, I’ve played a million windmill holes, but this thing is life-sized. There’s all the lights and the people — you felt like a professional sports star in a stadium. You don’t usually get that with mini golf.”

Although his “Holey Moley” appearance might end up being the popular peak of his mini golf career, Sheridan is far from finished with his busy year. He’ll participate in a tournament in Farmington later this month, followed by a September tournament in Canton that he helps run. His competitive year will conclude at the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association Masters in Myrtle Beach.

It’ll be his first high-level tournament since becoming a minor celebrity — and helping to elevate the sport of mini golf on TV.

“Knowing that there was going to be a show on ABC,” Sheridan said, “and that your hobby, your sport, something you really love was going to be showcased over the summer was really fun.”