Seeking to improve on its last-place finish at the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship last season, the Loyola men’s golf team started fresh this season with just one senior on the roster.
With two first-year additions, the squad seeks to take a step forward after Loyola failed to place higher than third to last in tournaments last season.
The team is without former Ramblers P.J. Riner and Ben Holm. Riner graduated and Holm decided to leave the team, and left the program with stroke averages of 76.5 and 79.9, respectively. Head coach Eric Hoops said he hopes first-year golfers Nick Bonema and Justin LeFrance, both Detroit-area natives, will help to create a solid foundation for the team.
“We have two really good freshmen that came in, and we have guys that really improved over the summer,” Hoops said. “I think we’re going to have a much deeper team this year.”
Hoops said sophomore Orion Yamat needs to assume a leadership role now that Riner is gone. Last season, Yamat finished with an average score of 76.7 and carded a low score of -3 (69) at the Folino Invitational, which earned him MVC Men’s Golfer of the Week honors for the week of Feb. 10-17.
Hoops said Bonema, LeFrance, junior Garret Buckley and senior Michael Valletti will also make strong cases for the top spot. This will make Hoops’ job more difficult when it comes time to decide which five players go to tournaments because he expects everyone on the team to card low scores.
“It’s not really cut-and-dry who my best [player] is, or even who my best five are right now,” Hoops said. “[Bonema and LeFrance have] been some of our low [scorers] in these practices we’ve been having.”
Yamat emphasized that the first-year players will also make the team better.
“I’d say the team has definitely improved overall with the two freshmen,” said Yamat, a Niles, Illinois, native. “Our goal last year was that the No. 5 guy beats the No. 1 guy, and I think we have a good shot at that this year.”
Buckley said he agrees with Yamat and is happy with the scores in qualifying.
“We saw low rounds from everybody,” said Buckley. “Whoever is in the lineup has a chance [to medal] no matter if they’re [No.] 1 or [No.] 5.”
Both golfers said they aren’t concerned with getting to the top of the leaderboard, but they both think a positive attitude is the key to winning. Yamat said keeping the team’s confidence high is his primary goal for the team this year.
“Sometimes people get too down on themselves if they aren’t playing the way they want to,” he said. “[It’s important to] just keep people stable mentally.”
Although golf is in many ways a mental game, the physical game is just as important. Buckley said he seeks to improve his short game so he can get more birdies.
“I just want to eliminate as many bogeys as possible on holes that shouldn’t be bogeys,” said Buckley. “[I] just need to clean up the short game.”
This year, Loyola hosts the MVC tournament — the most important event of the season — April 24-25, and the Ramblers hope the home-course advantage will help them become a top team in the conference.
The Ramblers saw action at the John Dallio memorial tournament hosted by DePaul University this week. The men placed 11 of 13 after the first day and finished in the same spot after day two, shooting a +80 over three rounds of play.
The golf team will be back in action Sept. 25-26 at the Northern Kentucky Fall Classic in Batavia, Ohio.