Courtesy of Steve Musco

Looking to follow up a historic regular season with a bang, the Bulldogs nearly defended their Ivy League title. But this weekend at Hidden Creek Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, the Elis fell just short on their quest to repeat last year’s Ancient Eight championship.

The Yale men’s golf team finished a mere two strokes behind Princeton in the three-day tournament. Columbia landed in between the Tigers and the Bulldogs, leaving the Elis in sole possession of third place. Despite coming up just short in the team standings, Yale still saw success this weekend with captain James Nicholas ’19 winning the individual title.

“I’m still proud of the Yale golf team,” head coach Colin Sheehan said. “The kids played their hearts out today, and we came up short. It wasn’t for a lack of competitive will, that’s just how golf goes. There was a lot of pressure on us, because we were trying to complete a perfect season. But in the end, the joy of being in the [thick] of it for the last three days: that’s why we hit all those golf balls. That’s why we spend all that time practicing. It’s for that moment.”

Throughout the spring season, Yale dominated the conference, going undefeated against Ivy teams in all of its 2019 competitions. The Bulldogs continued their control at the Princeton Invitational, setting a school-record score relative to par with 23-under and besting second-place Penn by 14 strokes.

However, this weekend, they were slightly edged out by Princeton and Columbia, who played surprisingly well. Princeton led by eight strokes after Friday’s play and maintained that lead after Saturday. Despite Yale’s comeback to grab the lead on Sunday afternoon, in the end, the Tigers prevailed.

“In spite of the result this weekend, this year remains one of the great years in program history,” Sheehan said. “This team has a lot to be proud about. They treated this event like every event they played. From last September, they were prepared, they sacrificed on behalf of each other, and that’s all you can hope for as a coach.”

Yale finished with a team score of 887, which is 25-over par, while Princeton’s winning score was a 23-over 885. Columbia was able to sneak into second place at 886, largely due to a final round one-under 283 — the lowest single-day round by any sole team throughout the entire tournament.

Though it was the clear favorite heading into the tournament, Yale could not capitalize on the par five holes in particular. The team’s 4.95 average on these holes, which resulted in a two-under performance relative to par, was the sixth-best score of the eight teams in the tournament.

Nicholas led the Elis with a three-day score of two-over or 215, which, despite atrocious weather conditions, was highlighted by a 2-under round on Saturday. Not only did he lead the Bulldogs with his individual performance, but also he earned his second Ivy League Individual Title with the lowest total score throughout the weekend.

“As for James, it’s a testament to his team-first attitude that winning the tournament as an individual was an afterthought and a consolation,” Sheehan said. “[Nicholas] was only concerned about the team result, and of course that was the narrow defeat.”

Fellow First-Team All-Ivy League team selection Teddy Zinsner ’21, who has been a large factor in this season’s success for the Bulldogs, finished the tournament at five-over. Zinsner led the tournament in par-3 performance, as his overall score on these holes of even-par was the best of any golfer in the entire tournament. He also scored a one-under 70 on the final day to give the Bulldogs their best chance at victory.

Zinsner had a stellar sophomore season that should leave his teammates and coaches optimistic about the future of the program. His season featured an eighth-place overall finish of one-under at the competitive Furman Intercollegiate, as well as a nine-under runner-up finish to teammate Paul Stankey ’21 at the Princeton Invitational.

Stankey finished at a 9-over 222 for the weekend. His even-par 71 on Friday was the lowest round of the day for the Elis, helping the team stay in contention. Yet Princeton got off to a strong start as its golfers posted scores of three-under and two-under on the first day.

“This was a great season,” Stankey said. “We played under great leadership with Colin and the seniors. But we were talking after the round today, and all the guys coming back, we were saying, ‘We’re going to remember what this feels like, and we’re going to use it as motivation so we don’t have to feel this way again.’”

The Elis faced adversity on Saturday, as senior Eoin Leonard ’19 was forced to withdraw in the middle of round two due to back spasms. However, he got treatment from Nicholas father, an orthopedic surgeon, and was able to return and contribute a counting score the following day.

This unfortunate injury dealt a forceful blow to the Bulldogs because of the format of the tournament: five golfers compete, and the top four scores count, leaving immense pressure upon the other four golfers if one withdraws. Yet Sheehan bestowed compliments upon his near-graduate for his attitude.

“In spite of the fact that [Leonard] was playing hurt, I knew that we were going to get his full effort and we got it,” Sheehan said. “What I saw out of Eoin today was exactly what I was expecting. Probably more than any player on the team, he personifies the character of a Bulldog.”

Coach Sheehan sang high praises of Zinsner, Stankey and Darren Lin ’22 for their contributions this season. These three golfers rounded out the starting five for the Elis for most of the 2019 season.

Lin— a first-year from Chino Hills, California — posted rounds of two-over on Saturday and Sunday. Lin said he has greatly benefited from his first collegiate season.

“I’m already motivated for next year,” Lin said. “My first year was a really good experience, because I’ve never played in the northeast. It really showed me what the academics and the tough weekends on the course are like, and I feel really prepared for next year.”

The Yale Bulldogs will resume play in fall 2019.

Reese Koppel | reese.koppel@yale.edu