Great golfers muster strong scores on tough courses.
At this weekend's Navy Invitational, windy, rainy conditions forced the men's golf team to improvise, piecing together the best score possible with the given ingredients.
Sunday, the first hole gave junior Rob Hays a major headache. With no chance to reach the 440-yard par 4 in two, Hays left his second shot in the fairway below the elevated green. After hitting a solid chip within four feet of the cup, he could only watch as his ball trickled off the green, back into the fairway.
This weekend, Princeton, as a team, persevered through similar difficulties to capture a seventh-place finish in a field of 27, the strongest it will face this spring. Two-time defending Division III champion Methodist clipped the Midshipmen on their home course, 603-605. Penn State followed at 615 shots.
Finishing just six shots out of third place, the Tigers set an encouraging precedent for the remainder of their season. From what the players saw in themselves this weekend, the outlook for Ivy League play appears positive.
Princeton found itself rubbing elbows with James Madison and Georgetown, both of which bested the Tigers in the fall season in several tournaments. More importantly, Princeton finished more than seven strokes above Penn on the final scoreboard.
When the Tigers head to the Ivy League Championship April 16-18, it appears that the competition for the team title will come down to Penn, Princeton and Yale. In the fall, the Quakers placed above Princeton both times the two teams found themselves in the same tournament. The Tigers will meet the Elis for the first time this year at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton event next weekend.
The Navy course, designed by William Flynn – he also created the Tigers' home course, Springdale Golf Club – sets up as a tight, 6,600-yard layout with small, hard greens, thick rough and significant elevation changes. These factors made the course a challenge for Princeton's golfers, who are still in the early-going of their season.
"It is a thinking course," Hays said. "In the early season, when you're not thinking about everything, you can put up some big numbers on thinking courses."
Junior captain Ben McConahey led the Tigers in the tournament. By thinking his way around the course, he was able to record two solid rounds amid the wind and rain.
Freshman Max Gage scrambled to shoot 76 Saturday, hitting only five greens in regulation and getting up and down repeatedly to save par. Sunday, he found himself hitting the ball better and standing over more birdie putts, but he could not piece together his shots into a good score.
Freshman Peter McWhorter faced some difficulties hitting the green this weekend, leading to some mediocre scores.
"The iron shots to the greens were tough coming out of the thick rough," McWhorter said.
Though Hays played well, solidly putting and chipping, he struggled to record low scores. A mental slip on the 17th hole Sunday earned him a round-deflating double-bogey 5.
The H-Y-Ps Saturday will give Princeton its final tuneup for the Ivy tournament. The team anticipates victory heading into the next two weekends of competition, as it rides a wave of confidence that it has built over the past few weeks.