MEN’S GOLF | Bernstein ’14 optimistic about Eli depth

The men’s golf team started off its season with a bang last weekend, emerging on top of a 14-team field that included three Ivy League schools at the Doc Gimmler Tournament in New York. Captain Sam Bernstein ’14 finished the tournament tied for seventh place with a 2-under 208 across three rounds. Bernstein sat down with the News to discuss his outlook on the rest of the season and the team’s ultimate goal of winning an Ivy League championship in May.

Q: Did you expect to be so dominant in the first tournament of the year?

A: I’m not sure you’d ever expect a great performance like that. I think certainly you believe in yourself and your teammates and we’ve definitely been putting up good scores in practice. … I wouldn’t say we were surprised but I wouldn’t say we were expecting it either. … A lot of the credit goes to Joe [Willis ’16], who played some really incredible golf. He got his first college victory and really led the team. It’s really great to see that, for sure, and it shows how deep we really are.

Q: How have the new freshmen on the team been doing?

A: They’ve been doing really well. Jon [Lai ’17] is the only one starting, and he’s been playing great. I’d say for the other two recruits, Li Wang ’17 and James Park ’17, it’s less so them playing poorly and more that we just have a really strong starting five right now and I’d say we have eight or nine guys who are really battling it out for the five starting spots. … Jon got off to a great start. He finished third in his first tournament, so that was really good to see as well.

Q: What other golfers on the team have been playing particularly well?

A: Joe had his first college win, and it doesn’t sound like a big deal to have his first college win, but in golf, the way it works is that anytime you win something individually, it’s a pretty monumental accomplishment. … Sean [Gaudette ’14] and Will [Davenport ’15] also started for us this week, and they’ve done really well. We also have Thomas Greenhalgh ’15, who’s traveling with us to Notre Dame next week. I think depth is definitely something we have working for us this year.

Q: Golf is a very individual sport, but what sort of teamwork do you employ on the course?

A: During the practice rounds we play together, and then we have meetings before each round to discuss the course and strategy. You can attack that part of the game as a team, but in terms of individual execution, that’s kind of on each player. Strategy, how you approach the golf course, where you tend to miss if you do miss — certain kind of thought process stuff like that. There are a few people on the team I feel like I can lean towards and say ‘Hey, do you mind looking at my swing,’ you know, ‘What’s up, I can’t really figure it out on my own.’

Q: Early on in the season, how do you think this team compares to last year’s team, which placed second in the Ivy League Championship?

A: We’re deeper than last year’s team. We lost one starter, Brad [Kushner ’13], who’s a really good player. We might not see too much of a drop off in the starting lineup, because we have three good recruits, so depth is going to be big for us. People are now going to be working hard not only to do well but also just to make it into tournaments and be in the starting lineup … which pushes everyone to work harder and get the most out of their game. I think that’s a really cool aspect that we have this year that we really haven’t had since my freshman year.

Q: What has been your leadership strategy in the beginning of the season?

A: Again, golf’s an individual sport, so there’s not too much you can do in terms of team leadership. I think of myself as an extremely hard worker, and in each tournament, even when things get off to a bad start, I always try to battle through things and get the most out of my round even if my scores not that great. So I think that’s hopefully an example that I set for people. And I also help with strategic things, like I said, when we go to the meetings before a round. Everyone on the team has played in tons of golf tournaments, so you don’t have to babysit anybody, but you can tell people at a certain time when it might be advisable to lay up on a hole, even if they think they might be able to drive a green.

Q: What team goals have you set for the season?

A: One goal is that we obviously want to win the Ivy League each year. Another thing that I’ve personally set as a goal for the team, really throughout my four years, is to be in the running for the NCAA at large bid. Part of that means that we’ve spent a lot of time working with our coach to try to improve our strength of schedule and play better teams more consistently over the course of the year. We’re going to Notre Dame this week, and that’ll go a long way. It’s very tough for a Northeast school to make the NCAA tournament consistently without winning your league each year, but it’s good being in contention, to have something else to work towards besides the make-or-break league championship.

Q: What Ivy League teams do you think will be especially strong this year?

A: Princeton won last year, so you obviously can’t count them out. One of their players won the Ivy League championship individually last year. Harvard played well this weekend and came in second, and they have three talented freshmen … Throughout the league, everybody has really stocked up and gotten a few good recruits. But especially in golf, where you can’t match up well, you just have to go play. It’s so easy to scoreboard watch, because there’s so much stuff that you can look at, and I’m as guilty as anyone in following live scoring, but I think it’s really important for us to just focus on what we’re doing and trying to get the most out of our own game.

Q: Other than the Ivy League Championship, what tournaments are you especially excited about?

A: Two of them. There’s this weekend going to Notre Dame, which will be a lot of fun with really good teams. It’ll be a chance to play against teams we don’t usually get to see. Then we’re going down to Georgia in March to play against a lot SEC schools in the Linger Longer Invitational. That’ll be really tough for us because we’ll be coming off of winter break and they’re going to be practicing all winter, and we’ll basically have been playing for two weeks. So that’ll be really big challenge for us but also a really good chance to enhance our resume for the NCAA bid.

Q: What are your expectations for the Notre Dame Invitational next week?

A: I, if anyone, am the biggest golf loser on the team. I’ll look at all the different schools and what they’ve been doing early on in the season and try to figure out where exactly we fit into that. Based on this field, I really do feel like we can win, especially given the strength of our team. Certainly there are some really strong teams playing, and a top-three finish would be really good for us.

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