A little over a month after donning its first Ivy League Crown since 1997, the men’s golf team finished second to last at the NCAA East Regional. With such swings behind them, the Elis are preparing for a fall season that they hope will put them on their way to another regional tournament in the spring with better results
In the Ivy League Championship tournament at Ridgewood Country Club last spring, the Elis shot a white-hot 914, an 11-stroke advantage over second-place University of Pennsylvania. Four weeks later, the Bulldogs carded a dismal 941, 77 over par at the Auburn University Club, one week after the end of final exams at Yale.
“We did not do very well [at the NCAA East Regional tournament], that would be safe to say,” Yale head coach David Paterson said. “We talked about how we could better handle going into final [exams] and continuing to prepare for regionals at the same time, so the next time around we would be ready.”
This season, the Elis will have an added incentive to be ready: the 2004 NCAA East Regional tournament will be played at the Yale Golf Course. But the hazards have only gotten more menacing. This season’s regional tournament will be played from May 12-15. Exams end on May 13.
Despite the uncertainties about playing the regional tournament itself, the Elis are confident that they will make the trip out to the clubhouse.
“I’m not expecting the players to feel any added pressure about making the [regional] tournament [given the fact that the tournament will be played at Yale],” Paterson said. “We’ve played in seven of the last eight regionals. We’re early confident we’ll make it again.”
A quick glance at the roster will tell anyone that Paterson has plenty of clubs to back up that bold prediction. The Bulldogs return all but one of their top five players from last season’s championship squad. Among those returning will be last year’s freshman sensation Brian Kim ’06. Although the rookie did not make Yale’s top five until November, he finished first overall at the Ivy League Championship, shooting 71 on the final day and 222 for the tournament.
“Brian [Kim] is a very talented player,” Paterson said. “He’s stable emotionally and he’s a great tactician on the course. He has a very composed, very controlled game. It’s kind of hard to see how he’s playing by the way he’s reacting. Other guys’ll be tossing their clubs after a bad shot, but looking at Brian you would never know how he’s doing.”
But the lone loss for the Bulldogs will also be a costly one. Former captain Neel Williams ’03 was a rock for Yale last season. Other than the Yale Spring Open and the Ivy League Championship in which he finished one stroke behind teammate Kim, Williams led the Elis in every tournament last spring. Breaking with the poor play of his fellow Bulldogs at the regional tournament, the former captain shot a seventh-place 210, only one stroke away from clinching a berth to the NCAA national tournament.
“[Williams’ graduation was] obviously a very large loss,” Kim said. “He was a great player, a great leader and a very consistent player. In terms of the overall quality of golf for the team it is going to suffer. But in terms of our individual performances, I don’t think it will hurt us.”
Filling Williams’ spot may not be easy, but there is plenty of firepower waiting in the wings. Besides returning four out of the top-five finishers from last year’s team, Yale also adds four freshmen, all of whom Paterson anticipates will make an immediate contribution to the team. Additionally, Paterson believes that sophomores Rick Reissman ’06 and Jason Shin ’06 are players on the rise.
“I don’t see [filling Williams’ spot] as a problem at all,” Kim said. “The depth of our team is so great right now, there are very few secure spots. Right now all five top spots are open. Quite honestly, it may not be filling that one spot, it may be trying to find a way to fill all five that gives us some problems.”
With so much depth on the team and such an even field fighting for the top five spots, the Elis may have more competition within its ranks than without.
“There were some issues [of intra-team competition] last year, but we’ve been working on it,” Paterson said. “I’m trying to encourage all the players to think of this as a team effort and I’m hoping that that will keep everybody working on behalf of a team effort. It is very competitive but I think I like it that way.”
With all the expectations for success and all the talk of strengths, are there any chinks in the Eli armor?
“Right now I don’t see any glaring problems,” Paterson said. “But gauging our guys with the best players in the country, I think our wedge work, the approach shot entering the green needs a little work.”