After a four-month hiatus, the Loyola men’s golf team started its spring season with a rocky opening performance and followed with an even worse performance in its second tournament.
The Ramblers got off to a slow start at the Bradley Spring Break Invitational March 13-14 in Dallas. Out of the six teams competing, Loyola finished in fourth place with a team score of 930 strokes, shooting 90 strokes over par.
First-years Nick Bonema and Justin LaFrance were Loyola’s top two finishers at the Spring Break Invitational, and both recorded career-bests. Bonema’s second-round 70 was four below his previous low and helped him pick up an eighth place finish, his first top-10 finish of the season. LaFrance’s third-round 72 was one better than his previous low as he picked up a 15th place finish in the tournament.
Following that subpar team performance, the Ramblers sank at the Twin Oaks Intercollegiate golf tournament in Springfield, Missouri, which featured four Missouri Valley Conference teams including Loyola. After finishing the first day in last place, the Ramblers were unable to generate momentum on day two and couldn’t move up in the rankings after finishing 85 strokes over par.
The team comes into this season with a notable absence on the roster. Junior Garret Buckley transferred to DePaul University over the winter, taking his 77.4 stroke average — second best on the team — with him to the cross-city rival Blue Demons.
Head coach Erik Hoops played the same five golfers for each tournament during the fall, and Buckley’s departure changed senior Michael Valleti, junior Kenny Mleko and sophomore Ben Olson’s competitive mentality, who didn’t see any tournament action during the fall season.
“When Garret left, it left a hole open,” said Hoops. “It really … motivated those three guys who didn’t play during the fall season to really get their game in shape over the winter.”
For the opening tournament, Hoops brought along all seven golfers on the roster. Olson took the fifth slot in the team’s lineup, while Valleti and Mleko competed individually.
With everyone going to Dallas, Hoops said there’s still some uncertainty regarding who will round out the top five for future tournaments.
“We’re still waiting to see who’ll fill that last spot,” the second-year head coach said. “And it’s going to come down to who outworks one another.”
Another change this spring season is how the team prepared during the winter. This winter was one of the mildest in recent history, and that allowed the Ramblers a rare chance to get outside and practice on the course once.
This allowed the team to be more prepared for being out on the course rather than inside with the simulator.
“There was obviously still some rust when we did get down to Dallas, but we were already at a good point … on the way down there,” Hoops said. “Instead of starting fresh, it was more of a continuation into getting us ready for competition.”
Bonema averaged 79 strokes per round during the fall season and represented Loyola in five tournaments. But he said he wasn’t satisfied with that number and worked hard during the winter to lower his score.
“I was not able to go outside … as much as I’d liked to [by myself],” Bonema said. “I just had a lot of work done in our indoor facility. Just working on things in the mirror [and] trying to get things right.”
LaFrance said his routine didn’t change despite the warm temperatures.
“We did the same thing I always do back home,” LaFrance said, “[We] just hit balls into a net and prepared the best that … we could as a team for the upcoming season.”
From a coaching standpoint, Hoops said he thinks the first-years played well during practice rounds, but something clearly clicked during the invitational.
“[I’m] really pleased with what the [first-years] did this week,” Hoops said. “Their games were sharp all week, and when we got into competition, they looked even better.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to head to Dayton, Ohio, on April 3-4 for the Wright State Invitational.