After a strong two months of play in the fall, the Yale men’s golf team has resumed competition for the spring, facing a short sprint to the Ivy League championship in less than a month.
The Bulldogs will enlist a balanced nine-man roster in its efforts to dethrone Harvard, which won last season’s conference title and currently stands as the leader this season, according to Ivy League team rankings. The Elis have three players ranking in the individual top 15 in the Ivy League: third-place captain Li Wang ’17, fourth-place Eric Hall ’20 and 13th-place James Nicholas ’19.
“As captain I hope to cultivate a team atmosphere that is both competitive and fun,” Wang said. “We can push each other to elevate our games without losing sight of the fact that golf is just a game, after all. Our team is very talented this year, and I believe that we are capable of achieving great things this spring as long as we continue to work hard and stay motivated.”
The 2016–17 Bulldogs return to the course losing just captain Joe Willis ’16 from last year’s roster. The Lake Forest, Illinois, native was one of Yale’s strongest performers during the 2015–16 season and the recipient of the team’s Widdy Neale Award, given to the player who proves to be a leader both on and off the course, according the Yale Athletics website.
Following Willis’ graduation, Wang took over as captain and leads a squad highlighted by talented underclassmen in his senior season. The Sammamish, Washington, native was Yale’s top overall performer last year, finishing sixth overall in the Ivy League individual rankings. Wang was joined in the end-of-season top 20 by three teammates: Willis, Eoin Leonard ’19 and Jonathan Lai ’17.
“My mindset hasn’t changed much from last year,” Wang said. “Being captain has been a great honor, but at the end of the day, golf is an individual sport that requires each and every one of us to put in the necessary work in preparing for each tournament.”
Thus far into the 2016–17 campaign, which resumed last Friday, Yale has proven to be a championship contender in the Ancient Eight. The Bulldogs claim the lowest average score per round and the lowest individual team score, edging top-seeded Harvard in both categories.
However, the Crimson supersedes Yale in the overall rankings because of its team win at the Macdonald Cup, hosted by Yale on Oct. 1 and 2. Yale came in second, seven strokes behind Harvard. Wang finished at 7 under par, taking the individual runner-up spot after shooting an NCAA-record, 10-under-par score of 60 in the second round. Hall and Leonard both joined their captain in the top eight, shooting 1 and 3 over par, respectively.
Following a winter hiatus, Yale kicked off its journey to the Ivy championship with a trip to Ventura, California, to take on University of California, Santa Barbara. The Bulldogs fell 795–789 to UCSB, with final scores representing the sum of each team’s top-six golfers over two rounds.
The Elis trailed after the first round by eight strokes, with Wang and Nicholas shooting 69 and Leonard following with a 70. Yale narrowed the deficit by two strokes in the second round, led by Wang and Leonard’s team-best round score of 72. Because Lai suffered an injury midway through the competition, only the top-five scores for each team were counted in the second round.
With just three weekends until the Ivy championship on April 21 to 23 at the Stanwich Club in Greenwich, the Bulldogs will tune up their game with a pair of conference competitions. After traveling to Princeton for the Princeton Invitational in two weeks, the Elis host the Yale Spring Invitational on April 15.
Last year’s Princeton Invitational featured all Ivy League teams except for Dartmouth, plus Duke and Georgia Tech. Yale finished in a third-place tie with the Yellow Jackets and the Tigers, trailing the comfortably dominant Blue Devils and the runner-up Crimson.
The Ivy championship will be a three-day event in which Yale seeks to improve upon last season’s third-place finish to Harvard and Dartmouth. The Bulldogs climbed as high as second place in the team standings over the weekend — Yale trailed only Harvard by 10 strokes at the end of the second round — and rode a standout performance from Will Bernstein ’18 to their final standing. The then-sophomore shot a 70 in the third round, matching Princeton’s Eric Mitchell for the best individual round of the tournament, and finished 7 over par.
“The key to our team’s success thus far is our depth,” Nicholas said. “Everyone on the team is competitive and can go low. We just need to keep grinding and work on maintaining our solid play. I think we’re going to have a really solid spring season.”
The Elis now look toward the Princeton Invitational, which will take place on April 8 and 9 at the Springdale Golf Club.