An unremarkable September has led to a slow start for the Yale men’s and women’s golf teams, as both teams are still looking to find their rhythms in the fall portion of the season.
The Yale men’s team stayed just behind the daily leaders throughout the two-day, three-round Cornell Invitational, where the Bulldogs ultimately tied for third place in the field of 14. Meanwhile, the women kicked off their year with some strong individual performances but a last-place finish at their most challenging match of the season, the Mason Rudolph Invitational at Vanderbilt University.
“I feel like the team overall struggled for the weekend,” Jonathan Lai ’17 said. “Finishing third place for the second week in a row is definitely a disappointment.”
Coming off an identical finish at the Doc Gimmler tournament, the men’s team stayed near the top of the pack on the first day of competition. The Bulldogs overcame rough weather during the first round to finish the day in fourth place with a score of 595, just one stroke behind Penn and Cornell, the latter of which would go on to take first place in its home tournament.
Lai led the Elis all weekend, ending the first two rounds with a total of 143 (+1), including a score of one-under-par in his afternoon round. He was aided by notable scores from Jordan Weitz ’20, James Nicholas ’19 and captain Li Wang ’17, who finished Saturday six, seven and eight strokes over par, respectively.
“Lai played well this weekend,” Nicholas said. “He carried the team and finished third in solo. He’s been clutch for us in the past, so it was no surprise.”
The final round wrapped up the tournament on Sunday morning. Lai shot par to bring his individual score to 214 (+1), earning himself third place in the standings. The Bulldogs’ last round was their best, with a score of 289, pushing them into a third-place tie with Siena College, which dropped from the top spot after the second round.
The team attributed some of the challenges of the weekend to both weather and the condition of the course.
“The course itself wasn’t a particularly tough track, but the rough summer in Ithaca made the conditions of the course less than ideal,” Lai said. “We all struggled to make putts, so that really reduced our ability to score well this weekend.”
The men’s team will be returning home to New Haven with the hope of returning to form on its own turf. Yale will host the MacDonald Cup, a two-day event that begins on Oct. 1.
For Nicholas, September has been a stepping stone for a team that he said has both talent and potential.
“[I am] not really proud of anything this weekend,” Nicholas said. “We all need to get better and better each week. If we can do that, then we will have a great season.”
While the Eli men are still awaiting the most competitive field they will see in the fall — the Autotrader.com Classic in Atlanta — the women started off with some of their most talented opponents right at the start of their season. Hosted by Vanderbilt, the Mason Rudolph was a three-day event that included Alabama and Northwestern, two teams that finished last season ranked No. 3 and No. 8, respectively.
“I like playing with people and teams who are just as good or better than us,” Elisabeth Bernabe ’17 said. “It really pushes you to rise to the occasion … You can then incorporate what you learn from good teams into your practice regime and see if it benefits your game.”
While the Bulldogs remained near the end of leaderboard throughout all three rounds, individual golfers had some success in 90-degree heat and intermittent thunderstorms. Yale’s performance was highlighted by two scores of 75, just three over par, by Felicia Chang ’20 in the second round and Bernabe in the third.
According to Bernabe, a strong freshman showing and consistent scores from upperclassmen were positive takeaways.
“It was our first tournament of the semester, so although we were a bit rusty, we really kept our games together and finished strong,” Bernabe said. “We persevered through some tough weather conditions and had good mentalities on the course.”
Chang had a particularly promising start in the Yale uniform. The freshman tied Bernabe for the team lead with four birdies and earned the lowest Eli score in both the first and second rounds.
Despite a 15th-place finish out of a field of the same number, captain Sandy Wongwaiwate ’17 saw the Mason Rudolph as an opportunity for growth that will help contribute to better scores when Yale returns back to its usual competition.
“This weekend was a wake-up call and a good learning experience for all of us,” Wongwaiwate said. “It was helpful to see how the top teams in the nation perform. Looking ahead, we want to try to be more strategic in our practices and prepare ourselves better for the rest of the season.”
The women’s team will compete next at the Nittany Lion Invitational at Penn State on Saturday.