Men’s golf rises, then falls far at Prestige

During his playing days, former professional golfer Greg Norman was known as “the shark.” The courses Norman has designed are as ruthless as his nickname. One course reviewer at caddy-shack.com opined: “The risk-reward ratio is highly correlated and those who spend strokes on safe shots may wind up feeling like shark chum.”

The Prestige at the Norman Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. proved to be a tale of two tournaments for the men’s golf team. On Monday’s opening round, the Eli squad proved it could swim with the big fish. A 295 team score left them tied for fifth among 18 of the best teams in the country, including several ranked in the top 25. Mark Matza ’07 led the Elis with a team year-low of 68 and tied for 44th overall.

But during Tuesday’s two grueling rounds, the course devoured the tired Bulldogs. After rounds of 319 and 317, the team fell all the way to last place, not only leaving them feeling like said shark chum, but more importantly, leaving them feeling that they had missed a golden opportunity.

The Prestige at PGA West boasted the strongest field of any tournament Yale has played or will play this season. With teams such as tournament winner UCLA, ranked No. 10 by Golfweek magazine, No. 12 Texas, No. 15 BYU, No. 18 Colorado, and traditional powers and tournament co-hosts Stanford and University of California, Davis, Yale seemed to be significantly outmatched coming into the event. Colby Moore ’09, who shot scores of 76, 79 and 83 over the two days, said the strong competition motivated the team in the first round.

“We had the mentality going in that we were underdogs,” Moore said. “And in the first round, we showed we could compete. We were ahead of BYU and Texas, both top 25 teams. We were encouraged that we can hang with the best teams in the country.”

Matza, a veteran of the tournament, posted scores of 68, 80 and 78. He said he appreciated the kind of opportunity that he felt was hard to find in tournaments in the Northeast.

“It’s always nice to play against the best competition,” Matza said. “We just don’t have the strength of schedule. If we were able to practice like they practice, train like they train, maybe we could beat them … [but] it’s a good way to match up with the best players in the nation.”

Monday’s opening round proved that the team could indeed match up. Along with Matza’s 68, Dan Levy ’06 shot 75, Taylor Hakes ’09 matched Moore’s 76, and Joe Hernandez ’08 shot 82. Levy, Hakes, Moore and Hernandez would all finish the tournament in the bottom 20 out of 90, but they showed that they could put a solid round together as a team before falling flat in the second and third rounds.

Weak later rounds have plagued the team all season. Moore said fatigue was a factor in the collapse at the Prestige, especially since the Elis had to fly across the country.

“Our trend over the year, our weak point, has been the second round,” Moore said. “Playing two rounds in a day is more an endurance test than a test of golf. We just got a little weak and tired down the stretch.”

After the second round was called Monday afternoon due to rain — the only rain in arid La Quinta over the last two months — the second round was moved to Tuesday morning.

Although Matza said the team felt very good about its standing during the delay, and bonded in celebration of a solid score at an important tournament, he said the leaderboard-watching may have affected the Bulldogs. After hoping to continue the solid play of Monday’s round and perhaps finish in the middle of the pack, he was disappointed with the team’s last place finish. But he also said he was pleased with the potential the team showed, potential that should be realized this spring within the less competitive Ivy League.

“We were definitely disappointed,” Matza said. “It’s too bad we didn’t finish the fall season stronger, but we showed we could play with them, and I hope it will give us an edge when we return in the spring.”

Hernandez shared Matza’s sentiment.

“I personally came away with the feeling that I take more positives than negatives from this tournament,” he said.

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