The Loyola men’s golf team is off to a slow start this season after finishing last in its first two tournaments. With three tournaments remaining in the fall schedule, the team looks to get out of the cellar and move up the leaderboard.
The season began Sept. 5 at the Crusader Collegiate tournament, hosted by Missouri Valley Conference (MVC)-newcomer Valparaiso University. After only one Loyola golfer broke 80 shots in the first round, the Ramblers came back to shave 27 strokes off their score in the second round. But that wasn’t enough of a rebound — they finished in fourth place out of four teams. One week later, the Ramblers finished last out of 16 teams at the University of Wisconsin’s Badger Invitational.
The rough start is due, in part, to changes to the Loyola lineup. Nick Bonema left the program after his first year to pursue a degree in architectural design to build golf courses after graduation, a program Loyola doesn’t offer. Bonema ranked third on the team with a 77.7 stroke average last season, and his loss created a hole at the top of the lineup. The top two golfers from last year, junior Orion Yamat and sophomore Justin LaFrance, are the only two golfers returning to this season’s starting five. The final three starters consist of one transfer student and two first-year students.
Head coach Erik Hoops said the lineup needs some time to adjust to collegiate golf and shake the nerves to finish better on the leaderboard.
“We’ve got five guys that play in a tournament and three of them … are guys that [had] never played in a college golf tournament before,” Hoops said. “Say what you want, they have all the talent in the world, but it’s new to them. They’re nervous [and] they want to prove something. It [was] their first time seeing tough golf courses like that.”
Yamat is the Ramblers’ leading scorer, averaging 76.5 strokes per round. He finished second at the Crusader Collegiate, shooting two-under-par 70 in the second round and tying his career-low of three-under-par 69 in the third round. Despite the last place finishes, he said he feels the tournaments were instrumental in getting the newcomers ready for the rest of the season.
“It’s good these [first-years] have two tournaments under their belt already,” Yamat said. “I’d say it was really good competition [and] really good to see players of that [high] caliber and play next to them and see what they do. It’s really good for the [first-years] to get that experience and get that confidence under their belts going forward to the next three.”
LaFrance ranks second on the team, behind Yamat, with a 77.8 stroke average. He said the first tournament gave the new team members a taste of the collegiate golf atmosphere and routine, but they will need some time to adjust.
“The start that we had at Valpo was … getting back into the mindset that we have to be in,” LaFrance said. “The three new guys just need to get used to what it’s like to be out there for 36 holes … early mornings and being ready to go right when they have to.”
The rest of the fall portion of the schedule consists of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville’s Derek Dolenc Invitational, Drake University’s Zach Johnson Invitational and Northwestern University’s Windon Memorial. After the Windon Memorial, the team will take four months off for a winter break before the spring portion of the schedule starts in February 2018.
Hoops said the Windon Memorial will put the team up against Big Ten Conference schools, much like the Wisconsin tournament did, and will test how the team will perform alongside better golfers. The tournament will be at Evanston Golf Club in Skokie, which is where Loyola sometimes practices. Despite the familiarity of the course, Hoops said the tournament will not be easy because of the competition the Ramblers will be up against.
“The golf course is going to be set up tough and it’s going to feel like a major championship, in some ways, for us,” Hoops said. “So that’s going to be … one more chance to take [the team] out of [its] comfort zone and see where [our] games kind of [stack] up under pressure and against some really good competition on a tough golf course.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to head to Madison, Illinois, to compete in the Derek Dolenc Invitational Sept. 25-26.