A win is sweet, but revenge is even sweeter.
The men’s golf team captured first place this weekend in the ECAC Championships, holding off a late charge by Columbia to win by one stroke. The Lions had previously upset the Elis at last year’s Ivy League Championship, which saw the Bulldogs drop from first to second place during the final round of golf. Leading the team was Ben Wescoe ’10, who captured the individual title while shooting 4 over par over three rounds.
The Elis came into the tournament after a second-place finish to Oklahoma last weekend at the MacDonald Cup, which was hosted at the Yale Golf Course. With no major conference teams in the field this weekend, the path appeared clear for a first-place finish.
“We were extremely confident coming off of a second-place finish,” Tom McCarthy ’11 said. “We came close, and we weren’t going to take anything else besides first place.”
The journey to the Bulldogs’ triumph began with a strong first day of 36 holes of golf. The Elis lurked five strokes behind Monmouth after the first round, before asserting control over the field with a 288 team score in the second, which was eight shots better than any other team on Friday. Going into the final round, the Bulldogs were seven shots up on Bucknell and 10 shots ahead of Columbia.
With the tournament theirs to lose, the Bulldogs took to the course for Saturday’s final round. College golf is not like watching golf on television, however, and players did not know how close the contest was.
“We didn’t know where everything stood during the round,” captain Colby Moore ’09 said. “We knew we had a 10-shot lead over Columbia to start the day, but you can only judge yourself against your playing partners in your round.”
As the golfers began the back nine, though, several players sensed that the Bulldogs’ commanding lead at the beginning of the round might have been tightening.
“I didn’t know how Columbia was doing in the other groups, but I knew our fourth and fifth guys weren’t having their best rounds shooting in the high 70s,” Moore said. “I definitely felt like Columbia was making a charge.”
With all the score cards turned in at the end of the day, it was still the Elis who remained on top by one stroke over the Lions. Every stroke counted, illuminating several great shots by several Elis on the back nine in retrospect as clinchers for the victory.
“I had a par save on [hole] 17, while the Columbia player had a bogey,” Moore said. “That was a two-shot swing and a big difference-maker.”
Besides the Bulldogs’ team victory, the tournament highlighted Wescoe’s first individual collegiate title. Wescoe beat his closest competitors by two strokes, shooting 1-under over the final two rounds of the competition.
After tying for 23rd last week in the MacDonald Cup, Wescoe said swinging better was a key to this weekend’s victory. Once his putter got hot, Wescoe said, the birdies just started coming.
“It really is my dream come true to win as an individual [and] a team, and beat out an Ivy League foe,” Wescoe said. “I wouldn’t be happy unless we won the team title as well.”
In the midst of facing a battle for team and individual titles, Wescoe managed to keep his cool in this pressure-packed sport. Coach Colin Sheehan talked to him on the course, telling Wescoe to stay loose and focus on the present throughout the round.
Several of Wescoe’s teammates said they were very proud of his accomplishment, noting that it was a long time coming after all his hard work in practice.
“It was special to have Ben win,” Moore said. “He’s been a consistent ball-striker and putter, and I’ve always known Ben’s game was good enough to win.”
Also stepping up was Jeff Hatten ’12, a freshman who joined the traveling team for the first time this weekend. Emphasizing his contributions to the team, Hatten had his scores count every round for the Bulldogs. Each team counts the top four of five scores in each round.
“Having Jeff in this tournament was huge,” Moore said. “The fifth man has often been a weak point during my time on the team. He was definitely a difference-maker this weekend.”
Looking ahead, the Elis will wrap up their fall season with a trip to the warmer confines of El Cajon, Calif., for the Barona Cup. Once there, they will be greeted by another tough national field, including many nationally ranked teams. But the Bulldogs believe their recent success will continue.
“We played this course last year and had an OK finish,” McCarthy said. “Everyone who played last year is going back, so there is no reason why we can’t do well.”
Even with this weekend’s triumph over the Lions, the Elis know that the big test still lies in wait at the Ivy League Championships.
“We still have some unfinished business with Columbia,” Wescoe said. “We want to work really hard this offseason and through the spring to beat them in the Ivies this spring.”