Since joining the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), Loyola’s men’s golf team has found little success. The team has placed in the bottom half of leaderboards at every tournament this season, while being led by senior PJ Riner and first-year Orion Yamat.
However, this year is considered a building year for the golf program. In January, the Loyola Athletic Department introduced a new director of golf, Erik Hoops — a 2012 Loyola graduate who led the golf team for four years. Although Hoops has headed the golf program for less than four months, his years as a Rambler make him familiar with Loyola Athletics.
Hoops said he’s working to make changes in the golf program and make Loyola a winning team, but that can’t happen overnight. He’s recruiting new talent and restructuring the program from the ground up, he said. Hoops explained that when he first took on his new position, he met with his players both individually and as a group to find out what practice and coaching methods work best for them.
“In my opinion, the best coaches don’t always force people to fit a system that you believe [will work],” said Hoops. “The best coaches [pick] their system that they think the players are going to get the most out of. I was able to structure my coaching style to them.”
But despite his efforts, even the team’s best players are still ranked low in the conference.
Yamat, Riner and sophomore Garret Buckley hold average scores of 75.5, 76.2 and 77.6, respectively, in the 20 rounds and seven events they have played this season. Yamat owns a team low round of 69 with Riner and Buckley not far behind at 70 and 71, respectively. But even Yamat, the team’s best golfer, is ranked at only No. 28 in the MVC player standings, according to the computer-generated rankings.
With the MVC Championship tournament four weeks away, it’s still possible the Ramblers can make a turnaround. Hoops said the team is continuing to craft its skills in practice every day.
With Yamat, Riner and Buckley locked in for the conference tournament, the team’s next three tournaments will help decide which Ramblers will fill the next three spots for Loyola.
The three leaders are expected to carry the Ramblers at the conference tournament, according to Hoops.
“Garret, Orion and PJ have proven that they can really step their game up when it comes to tournaments and bring their game up when it really means something,” said Hoops. “These are the three that would really give us a good chance to win.”
Hoops said the team is looking to improve on its most recent performance at Redhawk Invitational in Washington, where the Ramblers finished in last place out of 16 teams. Loyola shot 128 over par.
The Ramblers are next scheduled to compete in the Bradley Spring Invitational in Peoria, Illinois, on April 10 and 11.