Just because Chris Nallen's beloved New York Rangers aren't playing anymore this season doesn't mean he hasn't been watching the NHL finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Watching hockey is one of the things that he says keeps him sane.
"I'll watch any hockey game, it doesn't matter who is playing," said Nallen, 28, who is in his seventh season on the Nationwide Tour and is putting together one of the best streaks of his career.
Nallen, who was born in Queens, N.Y., became a huge Rangers fan growing up and even though he lives in Arizona still follows them religiously.
And he knows hockey, predicting the Blackhawks will win their first Stanley Cup since 1961. "They'll win in five games," he boldly said on Monday just a few hours before Game 2.
While he's not shy about predicting the outcomes of hockey games -- the Blackhawks now lead 2-0 -- he becomes reluctant to predict how the rest of his season will go.
"I'm off to a good start, but there's a lot of the season left," said Nallen, who will be competing Thursday in the Melwood Prince George's County Open presented by Under Armour at the University of Maryland Golf Course in College Park, Md.
In seven starts on Tour this season he's made six cuts and was runner-up to John Riegger in the last stop at the Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh. The tournament was reduced to 54 holes after heavy rains came in on Sunday, but Nallen put together rounds of 67-65-66 and is in a great frame of mind.
"Last week was a huge confidence boost," said Nallen, who won his first Nationwide Tour tournament in his first appearance in 2004. "Every week I'm just trying to play more consistent. That's the biggest thing guys are looking for out here."
He comes into this week ranked 19th on the money list. He also tied for 10th at the Stadion Athens Classic at the University of Georgia.
Nallen says that it was "a long time ago" when he took the Nationwide Tour by storm after just getting out of college at Arizona, where he was an All-America.
Nallen Monday-qualified into his first tournament, shot an opening-round 60 and led wire-to-wire to win by eight shots at the Gila River Golf Classic in Arizona. But since then he's played in 134 Nationwide Tour events and is still searching for that elusive second victory.
He admits that he didn't think the Tour was easy when he won, but it had an opposite effect on him.
"I thought I had to work even harder on my game and I think I tried to be even more perfect," Nallen said about his outlook after the victory.
He says that things are falling into place this season thanks to some changes in his game and his overall outlook. He's working again with a former swing coach, Roger Anick, and has the help of Dr. Nick Molinaro, a sports psychologist.
"He's helping me be kind of more at ease and helping me relax," Nallen said. "You can't be thinking about golf 24 hours a day."
Nallen says he reads a lot more and is getting out of his hotel room more during those long stretches on the road. "I used to kind of just sit in the room and think about golf, but that's not good to do," he said.
Nallen says that things are a little easier this season, and admits that having been around the Nationwide Tour for awhile has given him plenty of experience to lean on.
"I'm happy with the stuff that I've changed and the way things are taking shape," Nallen said. "I'm really just not being so hard on myself because I've always been the type of person who wants perfection in every swing."
Looking at his career on the Nationwide Tour Nallen has been consistent -- making 63 cuts in 135 tournaments. He's made a combined total of $530,000 with his best season in 2007 when he was 38th on the money list.
He's only played in five PGA TOUR events, but can get to the TOUR full-time in 2011 if he stays within the Top 25 on the money list at the end of this season.
Nallen isn't going to fall into that trap of looking too far ahead, though.
"That's the biggest thing, don't get caught up in what might happen because it's a long year," he said. "You kind of have to pace yourself and not push too much. I can remember in past years thinking all the time 'Man, I've got to have a great week this week.' You just have to let it come to you."
In past seasons Nallen said he fell into a bad habit of finishing in the top 10 one week, then missing the cut the next week. "I've learned a lot in the last few years out here and I'm still learning," he said.
He admits it has taken a lot longer than he thought it would to win again. "I want to keep moving up and the goal is to be the top money winner on Tour," he said.
Staying at that level of consistency he has enjoyed of late can be done. "I'm just trying to get everything to fit together, get myself relaxed and let it happen," Nallen said. "If I can do that I'll be all right."
John Dell has covered golf for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina for the last 16 years. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.