The Yale men’s golf team traveled to Princeton over the weekend to compete in their penultimate competition leading up to the Ivy League Championship. Thanks to a strong final round, the Bulldogs finished in fifth place in a field of 14 teams.
In a three-round, five-player format, Yale finished with a score of 873 (+21), trailing Seton Hall, Harvard, Princeton and Minnesota on the leaderboard. The Elis finished within four strokes of fourth place, and 20 strokes behind the Pirates. Jonathan Lai ’17 and James Nicholas ’19 were the top-performing Bulldogs, finishing three and four over par, respectively.
“The golf course is pretty straightforward and James and Jon really took advantage of the easy scoring conditions,” Jake Leffew ’19 said.
After tallying a 296 in both the first and second round, Yale’s third-round 281 was tied for the third-lowest round all weekend by any team, only behind Seton Hall’s third-round 276 and Minnesota’s first-round 279. Four of six competing Bulldogs had their best round on Sunday.
Lai’s 67 in the final round was the third-lowest score all weekend in the field of competitors. Only the top two performers at the invitational — Seton Hall’s Lloyd Jefferson Go and Harvard’s Aurian Capart — posted better rounds than Lai. After the back nine gave him trouble during the first two rounds, Lai dominated the same stretch in the third round, hitting five birdies in nine holes.
The senior was joined near the top of the field by Nicholas, who finished just a stroke behind his teammate. The former member of the Yale football team scored a 149 through the first two rounds to keep pace with Lai before finishing strong with a 68. Nicholas was consistent over the last 18 holes, tallying four birdies and only a single bogey.
Captain Li Wang ’17 uncharacteristically did not finish atop the leaderboard despite his dominance this season. The captain finished eight over par at Princeton but remains the lowest-scoring golfer in the Ivy League. Wang ended his weekend on a high note with an eagle on the 18th on Sunday.
“Our biggest challenge for this upcoming season will be time management,” Wang said. “Our spring season is short but very hectic and intense, so it will be imperative to manage our schedules well and to stay on top of our work. Knowing when to train hard and when to take a rest day will be important in allowing us to perform our best when it really matters.”
Two other Bulldogs finished on equal footing with the captain: Leffew and Will Bernstein ’18, the latter of whom competed outside of the team’s scorecard as an individual. Eoin Leonard ’19 finished a few strokes behind them at +13, rounding out the Bulldog lineup for the weekend.
The Elis demonstrated a clear trend during the tournament, performing as one of the best teams on par-3 and par-4 holes, while struggling on the par 5s. Yale also finished with the fourth-most birdies as a team thanks to 12 from Lai and nine from Nicholas. In addition, Leffew, Nicholas, Leonard and Bernstein all finished in the top seven in terms of pars.
The Elis have just one weekend before the Ivy Tournament and are poised to do some damage as a top contender. In terms of individual scoring in the 2016–17 season as recently as last weekend, Wang is joined in the top 13 by four teammates: Lai at five, Eric Hall ’20 at six, Nicholas at eight and Leonard at 13. As a team, Yale has the second-lowest average score this season in the Ancient Eight, narrowly trailing Harvard.
“This is a very focused and determined squad,” head coach Colin Sheehan ’97 said. “All eight players have worked hard in the offseason, and they utilized the spring recess very effectively to the point where each of them were playing to a very high level. They are acutely aware of the opportunities available to them during the first three weeks of April. They are motivated to contend in each of those three events with the stated goal of reaching the postseason in May.”
In the last play before the Ivy League Championship, the Bulldogs will compete next Saturday on their home course for the Yale Spring Invitational, at which they performed well at last season, placing third.