Despite graduating some talented golfers last year, the Yale men’s golf team has enjoyed a strong start to the 2017–18 campaign. It has done so in the only way it knows — one shot at a time, with contributions coming from up and down the roster.
Although the team is young, the Bulldogs have capitalized on depth this fall. They have either won the tournament or had a Yale golfer finish in the top individual spot in all three of the tournaments so far.
In the Elis’ season opener at Doc Gimmler, Eoin Leonard ’19 finished at the top of the individual rankings for the first time in his career, while Yale came in fourth. The next weekend at the Cornell Invitational — where Yale lost by a single stroke — fellow Eli James Nicholas ’19 finished atop the leaderboards once again. Two weeks after that, playing at home in the Macdonald Cup, the Bulldogs rallied to earn a first-place team finish in a one-stroke victory over Stirling, a Scottish team. This past weekend, the Elis demolished Brown in a head-to-head.
“It’s pretty crazy that this [Macdonald Cup] tournament was decided by one shot,” Henry Cassriel ’18 said after the home tournament. “Like the Cornell event, it highlights the importance of each and every shot.”
Last spring, the Bulldogs graduated senior captain Li Wang ’17 along with Jonathan Lai ’17, both of whom were accomplished golfers for Yale. Lai was both an All-Ivy golfer and was named to the Division I PING All-Region Team during his senior season.
Wang was one of the lowest-scoring golfers in the conference for much of his senior season, though the highlight came in last October’s Macdonald Cup, in which his second-round 60 set the record for the lowest round recorded by a Division I golfer. Following the graduation of Wang and Lai, the 2017–18 season forced returning Elis to step up to fill the void and first years to contribute right away, in order to deliver positive early-season results.
This fall, the Bulldogs began their season at Doc Gimmler with a fourth-place finish, edging out Harvard by two strokes. Leonard captured the top individual spot, while Nicholas tied for 13th place and rookie Sean Yi ’21 tied for 15th.
The next weekend, the Bulldogs established a first-day lead at the Cornell Invitational, just one stroke ahead of Dartmouth and two ahead of Temple. On the second day, Yale shot one over as a team and was eclipsed by tournament winner Temple by one stroke. In his final shot, Nicholas held onto his strong start to finish at the top of the individual rankings and record his best performance in a Yale uniform.
Despite coming up short in Ithaca, Yale’s 11-man roster showcased its depth at the tournament. Nicholas’ win was rounded out by three other Eli finishes in the top 20. Cassriel and Yi both tied for 13th, while captain Will Bernstein ’18 recorded a tie for 20th.
Two weekends later, the team sought to capitalize on its first home match of the season. The Bulldogs hosted the annual Macdonald Cup with a 14-team field. Following the first two rounds of play, Yale sat at the top of the leaderboard, leading Stirling by just two strokes. The Elis’ depth again proved crucial — with 36 holes played, two Stirling golfers tied for first, but Leonard, Cassriel and Nicholas took three of the top 10 individual spots to give Yale its lead. Yale’s B-team, which included only first years and sophomores, closed out the first day of competition in eighth place.
With the team facing stiff competition from Stirling, Bernstein noted the importance behind every swing. The captain finished 20th overall at the Macdonald Cup in the 2014–15 season and 13th in the 2015–16 season.
“We knew it was tight and every shot would be important,” Bernstein said. “While we knew every shot counted, everyone stayed relaxed and played their game as best as they could.”
In the third and final round the following day, Cassriel and Nicholas recorded the Bulldogs’ best scores, 213, and Yale clinched its first victory of the season. The Elis defeated Stirling, which placed three golfers in the top five, by a single stroke and won the Cup for the first time since 2014. Yale’s triumph was propelled by strong performances across the board, as all five of its scoring players, including the rookie Yi, finished within four strokes of each other and in the top 13.
The B-team rose four spots on the second day of competition to finish in fourth place, ahead of several Ivy League competitor’s A-teams. Eric Hall ’20 and Perry Xin ’21 posted scores of 220 to tie at 20th, Jordan Weitz ’20 and Paul Stankey ’21 finished tied at 29th and Leonard led the Elis in 18-hole scores with a 69 in the second round.
Historically, Yale has thrived at the Macdonald Cup, winning five times in the past 15 years. In that time, Yale has finished in the top three 10 times. In addition to Wang’s performance last fall, Yale has also had two individual winners: Taylor Hakes ’09 in 2006 and Tom McCarthy ’11 in 2009.
Reflecting on the team’s overall positive results from the Cup, Nicholas emphasized the importance of brotherhood among his teammates. The former Yale football player has a strong history of succeeding at invitationals, highlighted by his finishes of eighth, 11th and third at the Cornell, Princeton and Yale Springtime invitations last season, respectively.
This past Saturday, in the team’s first one-on-one match of the season, the Bulldogs trounced Brown, finishing in the first nine spots. The Elis’ next opportunity to build on their strong fall will be in Atlanta at the Autrotrader.com Classic, where they will face strong national competition.
“We have all been working really hard,” Nicholas said. “I can’t wait to see how we match up against some of the best teams in the country when we head to Georgia.”
The Autotrader.com Classic is hosted by Georgia Tech and begins Monday.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauren Cueto | email@example.com