Although it’s early in the season — only three tournaments have taken place — two first-year golfers on the Loyola men’s golf team are already standing out for all the right reasons.
Rookies Nick Bonema and Justin LaFrance came aboard this year to help a team looking to steadily compete in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament. So far, they’re living up to the expectations set by director of golf Erik Hoops; Bonema leads the team with a 76.7 stroke average, while LaFrance averages two strokes more with a 78.7 average.
While the numbers show the two newest Ramblers are holding their own in their first collegiate season, Bonema and LaFrance have history together.
The pair grew up 30 miles away from each other in Michigan — Bonema is from Troy, and LaFrance is from Milford. While they didn’t know each other well, they often faced one another at tournaments.
The two are roomates, as well as teammates. Bonema said this helps them bond outside of golf.
Both Bonema and LaFrance said they had an interesting recruiting process. They were recruited by former director of golf Kyle Stefan, who left the program after their letters of intent had already been signed. With their intended coach gone, NCAA rules state that the two could further their golf careers at Loyola even with a new coach.
That being said, Hoops didn’t see Bonema or LaFrance in person until the first practice. Hoops, a former four-year letterwinner at Loyola, decided to have some fun with the newcomers at their first practice and played alongside them to see what they were capable of.
Hoops said he was more than satisfied with how they played, and he said Bonema and LaFrance have done well during their first two weeks. Hoops said he was impressed with Bonema, who was leading after the first round at DePaul’s tournament. While LaFrance’s numbers might not show it, the potential is there for him to accompany Bonema atop the leaderboard, according to Hoops.
“[LaFrance] is beyond his years … in his mental preparation,” Hoops said. “There are just a couple things we have to work on with his [physical] game.”
Hoops also said he thinks Bonema and LaFrance’s skills could be a lethal combination and soon prove dangerous in the MVC.
“I think they both are going to be impact players for the next four years,” he said. “Nick is very talented and will not miss a shot, and Justin’s mental game, again, is [very good].”
LaFrance said he’s doing quite a bit of work outside of golf to make sure he doesn’t lose stamina during tournaments, especifically when they play 36 holes in a day during tournaments.
“It’s tough playing 36 holes in one day,” LaFrance said. “I enjoy working out a lot, so I make time in my schedule for that a few days a week.”
Junior Garret Buckley — a fellow Michigan native — said he likes playing alongside his new teammates because they help him out, too.
“They get me to push myself and they’re always pushing me to stay after and putt with them,” Buckley said.
LaFrance’s putting strategy is benefiting Buckley, and it’s translating to his tournament scores.
“Justin’s taught me how to read greens better,” said Buckley. “Just watching him putt and how methodical he is on the greens has [helped me focus].”