When the Loyola men’s golf team competed at the Derek Dolenc Invitational Sept. 24-25, the team finished 16th out of 17 teams — and played the last round without junior Justin LaFrance.
LaFrance suffered what was later diagnosed as back spasms midway through his second round, according to a press release. He was unable to finish the second round and didn’t play the third round, leaving the Ramblers with four of their five starters for the rest of the tournament.
In collegiate golf, teams have five starters, but only the top four scores contribute to the overall team score. The loss of LaFrance guaranteed Loyola’s other four golfers would contribute to the team score for the third round of the Derek Dolenc Invitational.
Of the six Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) teams in that tournament, Loyola finished sixth. However, nobody on Loyola shot an 80 or higher in any of their rounds. The par for the course was 71. Yamat (72-79-72) and Johnson (71-74-78) both finished tied for 41st individually.
Head coach Erik Hoops said he would keep LaFrance out of the Zach Johnson Invitational on Oct. 1-2 with the hope that LaFrance would be able to play when Loyola travels to Detroit for the Titans Motown Collegiate on Oct. 15-16.
“His back just doesn’t feel like it’ll quite be ready for this weekend and we figured giving him an extra week off would help out a little bit,” Hoops said. “Hopefully for his home tournament in Detroit in two weeks, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.”
Sophomore Ryan Magee replaced LaFrance in Loyola’s starting lineup. This was Magee’s second tournament appearance for Loyola this year, and he finished with Loyola’s fourth-best score (77-80-74) while tying for 40th overall out of 73 individuals. His third round was the lowest 18-hole score of his collegiate career.
Senior Orion Yamat said losing LaFrance was a difficult situation because it put more pressure on the other four golfers.
“I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t affect your mentality at all,” Yamat said. “It definitely does a little bit. In the back of your mind, you know your score will count, but it’s important to just focus on the shot at hand.”
This isn’t the first time LaFrance has dealt with back issues, according to Hoops. He said LaFrance missed some tournaments last year due to a back injury — including last season’s Zach Johnson Invitational.
“He’s kind of always had some back soreness issues where he has to stretch and does some special exercises and gets [electric stimulation therapy],” Hoops said.
Heading into this year’s Zach Johnson Invitational, Anderson said he was confident that he was capable of playing better than he had previously in the season.
“I was striking the ball so well, and I know what I have to work on,” Anderson said. “I think I’ll be able to carry that into this week, and if I can get the putter going, I think I can have a really good week.”
Anderson (73-69-72) finished first individually at the tournament for his first collegiate victory. Last season, Anderson averaged 78.6 strokes per round with a low round of 73.
Despite LaFrance’s absence, Loyola finished tied for fifth out of 12 teams. Yamat (76-81-71) rebounded from a rough second round, making a hole-in-one on the 14th hole in the third round.
Loyola has now finished in the top half of two of its first three tournaments of the season after only finishing in the top half of a tournament once last year.
Yamat said he credits improvement during the offseason as a key contributor to the Ramblers’ success. Only one senior graduated after last year, while Vance was the only new addition to the team. The Ramblers’ returned all five starters from last season’s MVC Championship.
“We all have the talent to shoot low scores,” Yamat said. “It’s just a matter of getting in that right mental state of mind. I think that’s what we all worked on over the summer.”
Loyola’s scheduled to compete in the Titans Motown Collegiate Oct. 15-16, hosted by University of Detroit Mercy.