After a disappointing showing this fall, the Loyola men’s golf team wrapped up the first half of its season at the Dayton Flyer Invitational on Oct. 19 and 20. The Ramblers tied for ninth out of 15 teams, climbing the leaderboard four spots from day one. This was Loyola’s best finish this season; the previous one being at the D.A. Weibring Intercollegiate tournament, where the Ramblers placed No. 14 out of 18 teams.
The Ramblers were rarely able to string together good rounds. While individuals performed well at times, Loyola never consistently played strong as a team, which resulted in a poor season with the Ramblers never finishing in the top half of a tournament.
With a roster made up of mostly underclassmen, inexperience led to inconsistency, according to director of golf Kyle Stefan.
“I think it was a good fall with a lot of positives to take into the spring,” said Stefan. “We played well in spots. I’d like to carry that over and play well all the time, but that’s the nature of our game.”
Senior captain PJ Riner said the competition was certainly difficult this season. The team faced a lot of tough Big 10 and Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams this fall, which contributed to the lower finishes in some tournaments. The team finished in last place at the Windon Memorial tournament, where the team teed off against Purdue, Northwestern and the University of Michigan.
“That was probably our toughest field,” said Riner. “There were a lot of strong teams with big names there. It was cool to see how we competed against them.”
The team’s rollercoaster year was attributed in part to the difficulty of some of the courses, according to Riner. The team played in a tournament held at Whistling Straits golf course, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Whistling Straits is a PGA tour course where the 2015 PGA Championship was held. Overall, the team finished ninth out of 10 teams at the tournament.
Although the course was difficult and the team as a whole struggled, there were strong individual performances. Riner shot 2-under-par in the second round, finishing in a tie for No. 17 in the tournament. Junior captain Michael Valletti shot 1-under-par in the second round, finishing in a draw for 13th place.
Riner has improved: He hit the ball a lot farther this fall and dropped his individual scoring average immensely, according to Stefan. Stefan said he believes Riner and Valletti were much better players this fall than in previous seasons.
“Michael Valletti played really good in probably the windiest conditions that you could play in at Whistling Straits. He wouldn’t have been able to do that a year ago,” said Stefan. “Even PJ shooting 70 that round — he called it the best round of his college golf career.”
With Riner being the only senior on the roster this year, and five underclassmen, the players gained a lot of experience during every tournament, which will benefit them in the spring. The Ramblers have three first-years on the roster; Orion Yamat and Zach Hoskins are two who play regularly on the five-man roster.
Stefan, Riner and Valletti all agreed that Yamat and Hoskins had an immediate positive impact.
“We integrated two freshmen starters by the end of this season that are going to play a lot of rounds of golf for us and contribute immensely,” said Stefan. “We think the world of [Yamat] as a player. Him being in the lineup makes us all better because of his golf IQ … his acumen [and] his work ethic and ability [to produce] low golf scores. And I think Zach Hoskins is in the same spot.”
Riner, Valletti and Stefan all agreed that in order to improve for the spring season the team needs to put the work in over the fall, whether that’s in the weight room or on the course.
“We need to keep working, keep practicing, bring [our] best attitudes to the workouts, bring [our] best attitudes and work ethics to practice, because we’ve got a plan for each kid to get better,” said Stefan. “And it’s an individual sport. A lot of it is on the golfer to put in the work necessary to improve.”
Loyola’s men’s golf team will next be in action on Feb. 15 and 16 when it kicks off its spring season in Santee, California, at the Carlton Oaks Invitational.