Potential victory turned into agonizing defeat for the men’s golf team at the Ivy League Championships this past weekend.

The Bulldogs led Columbia by two shots entering the final round on Sunday but struggled throughout Sunday, finishing in second place, nine strokes behind the Lions. The Elis shot 315 for the third round, well over their scores of 295 and 299 in the first two rounds. Joe Hernandez ’08 led the Bulldogs, tying for fourth place individually, while Colby Moore ’09 tied for sixth.

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The Bulldogs’ heartbreaking collapse kept Yale from winning its first Ivy League Championship since 2003. The Elis won the New England Division I Championship the weekend prior and were confident that they could similarly close out this tournament.

“We felt like it was ours to give away [going into the final round],” Hernandez said. “We felt if we shot 298 or 300 [as a team], we had a chance to win.”

Those scoring goals were not met, however, leaving the team to search for answers on the car ride home from Galloway, N.J.

“We couldn’t put a finger on what went wrong specifically,” Moore said. “It was a bad round for everybody across the board.”

A lack of momentum seemed to be a common theme for Bulldog golfers as they struggled to find consistency throughout their rounds. Hernandez bogeyed four out of the first five holes in his third round while Moore bogeyed five of the last six holes on his front nine, also in the third round.

“I hit the ball night and day differently between the two days [of the tournament],” Moore said.

The weather may have played some factor in the high scores, as players reported windier conditions Sunday morning, leading to higher scores across the board for all teams. Another factor was the harder pin placements on Sunday.

“Regardless of course conditions, none of us hit the ball as well as we can [the final round],” Hernandez said.

A more likely factor was the pressure the Bulldogs felt to win the championship, particularly in coach Dave Paterson’s last year.

“There was definitely some pressure on us,” Moore said. “The team has not been in contention like that for the Ivy League Championship in a while.”

With their early struggles on the course, the Elis had to press to try to make up the lost strokes and regain their lead, which inevitably led to worse play. Whereas the Bulldogs had two players in the low 70s in the first two rounds, their lowest score in the third round was Tom McCarthy’s ’11 five-over 76.

“It was an uphill climb all day,” Moore said. “I started to try too hard, and my mind started to wander thinking about the results.”

Whatever the reasons, the Elis are not totally remiss about the lost chance of the championship and can take solace in their many successes this season, which include the team’s first victory since 2003 and an individual championship for Moore.

“While we finished second, the second-place finish is nothing to be embarrassed about,” Moore said. “We have gone from seventh to fourth to second at the Ivies [during my career].”

While they lose Hernandez to graduation, the Bulldogs bring in two new talented freshman recruits and, with the continued development of freshman McCarthy, look to be one of the favorites for the Ivy League Championship in 2009.

Hernandez said it best when putting the team’s second-place finish in perspective.

“We left it all out on the course, and that is all you can ask for in golf.”