For the first time ever, Loyola’s men’s golf team earned votes in a Golf World/Nike Coaches Poll. While the two votes may not seem substantial compared to the 500 or so votes that the top teams received, they are a great indicator of the strength of the program this season.
In four out of the last six tournaments during the fall semester, Loyola finished in the top three, the crown jewel being a team victory at the D.A. Weibring Intercollegiate in Normal, Ill. The tournament featured six Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) opponents including the host, Illinois State University.
Director of Golf Kyle Stefan points to the win at the Weibring Golf Club because it displayed the team’s ability to compete and outperform other golf teams in the conference, but is hesitant to make too much of it.
“The Missouri Valley Conference is very competitive, so it’s certainly not something to take for granted,” Stefan said. “And it certainly is not something we should get a false sense of security about just because of one tournament win.”
Individually, the Ramblers are led by an outstanding start from junior Nick Dennis and the steadily productive play of senior Alex Cusumano. Both golfers are averaging around 73 strokes per round, which generally translates to one over par.
Dennis, already twice an MVC Scholar Athlete of the Week, was named MVC Golfer of the Week after winning the Cleveland State Invitational in Aurora, Ohio. He received medalist honors, the title given to a tournament champion, for the first time in his col- legiate career.
“I had a couple of really good runs, I think I had four birdies in a row twice,” said Dennis, explaining his success at Barrington Country Club. “I made a lot of putts, which was the key.”
His three-round total of 206, including a six-under par second round, was three strokes off the school record set by Thomas Greene in 2009.
While Dennis may be the one taking all the headlines, Cusumano’s consistent play seems to be the driving factor behind the Ramblers’ success. Having finished in the top 15 in four of the six fall tournaments, he said he believes his consistency has been mainly due to having three years of collegiate golf under his belt already.
“Just being a senior, golf’s a sport where experience means a lot,” Cusumano said. “Building in practice and having tournament experience has led to this year.”
However, Cusumano is quick to compliment the strong play of the team’s other golfers.
“We have a very deep team. We have five guys that can all be the low guy in any single 18-hole tournament. I think this is going to be our best year we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Unfortunately, the momentum killer is looming: After the Flyer Invitational in Ket- tering, Ohio, on Oct. 14 and 15, the golf team closes up shop for one reason.
Winter is coming.
And for golfers in the Midwest, that means they won’t be walking on any fairways or greens for a few months, which is mostly due to the physical impossibility of doing so, since they are generally covered with several inches of snow.
All the team can do is prepare as much as possible for the spring season. Offseason practice includes hitting off the tee at driving ranges and putting at indoor facilities, according to Dennis.
This forced offseason is unfortunately somewhat of a reset button, though, according to Cusumano.
“You really kind of lose it all for the winter,” Cusumano said. “You stop, reset, take a mental break and then start preparing in January to get going again.”
But based on the Ramblers’ performance thus far, Stefan says he thinks they have a good shot to compete for a conference title when play resumes in the spring.
“I like our chances if we keep developing our game, working hard in practice, working hard to get in good position for the conference tournament.”