Entry Five: Knights make a Comeback
Entering the final round, my teammates and I were faced with a steep slope. We had to climb to make up from yesterday’s benign round that consisted of many uncharacteristic scores from the team’s leaders. Many questions needed answers going into today… How would the Scarlet Knights respond from a 22 stoke deficit? Who would respond, and in what fashion? Could the weather be any worse than what we experienced in the 1st round? Would the course record be in jeopardy? Could Eileen’s beef stew out do her other stupendous cooked dinners at the club?
Blue skies and calm conditions welcomed us to our final morning at the links of Waterville. Like we did in the prior mornings, we went through our pre-round routine. It consisted of getting loose on the practice tee, hitting a few chips/bump and run shots near Payne Stewart’s statue and also rolling some putts in the final preparation for the round. Conditions were perfect yet again for the majority of the day, until the wind picked up for the final holes of the tournament. Similar to yesterday, we were in good position at the turn and when the wind picked up, we kept hold of the wheel and kept grinding We finished the back nine with tournament low scores. Our starting five made a big improvement, shooting a tournament best 298, but the effort was not good enough to place among the top two teams.
Jonathan Chang made the biggest individual improvement. He followed up his first round score of 92 with a 73, one over par. Not far behind Chang, I came in with a 74, improving my first round score by 16 shots. My round from yesterday consisted of a back nine score of 57 with two blow up holes, and today I got my revenge by shooting a 35. I can not describe how proud I was of making a birdie on the 11th hole, which yesterday I made a 12 along with finishing the back nine at two under par. The highlight of the day goes to Jonathan Renza, who had 34 strokes in his back nine, which complemented to his front nine of 37 to total to a one under par 71. His round flirted with the course record, coming up short to Graeme McDowell’s round of 70 that he shot in 2010.
We can attribute our great team score not only to slightly better weather conditions, but also to the experience that we had yesterday. We knew going into today’s round that we would have to execute certain shots and to trust our game plan. I could not be more proud of the way my teammates and I responded. We did what we could do to possibly win, but the top two teams also played well enough to fend off our surge. Having our last dinner at the course, which was personally made up by the chef Eileen Murphy and her staff, concluded our day. The dinners that she prepared for us and the other teams from nights before were delicious, but tonight’s meal, beef stew-spring rolls-chocolate mousse cake, was arguably the best meal.
Our trip here to Ireland has come and gone. As we make the journey back home early tomorrow morning, we have definitely made the most of the trip. We will cherish the memories that we have made here in Ireland, which was one of the origins of the game that we love so dearly.
Entry Four: A humbling day
Today did not unfold as we expected. Prior to the first round, the tournament committee made necessary adjustments to the course’s yardage to account for a strong anticipated westerly wind, which is the common wind for this part of Ireland.
We showed up to the course this morning expecting the wind to come out of the west. However, we had another morning with calm and sunny conditions. The environment was perfect for scoring and to get off to a good start to the tournament, which was exactly what we did as a team. My teammates and I made several birdies and pars through the first nine holes, but once the majority of the competitors made the turn, so did the weather, but for the worse. The wind picked up out of the South and did not let up, along with consistent rain showers that drained away our great front nine scores. The back nine at Waterville is known to be the easier side by locals, but if you just saw the scores from today you would think differently.
Waterville has penalizing fescue that seems to be everywhere on the course. I can personally account for it a number of times, having had my shots end up in the high grass. My playing partners and I could not find the ball, or if we indeed found it resting deep in the grass, therefore taking a penalty for relief.
The players that managed to control their shots in the rain-soaked 25 mph winds, that would feel like 40 mph at times, came in with the lower scores today. We each have personal gains, but also lessons to learn from our experience amidst the battle with the “true” Ireland weather conditions.
Even though the conditions were very tough, most of us cherished the moments from our rounds. Like what we learned from the wounded warriors, life could always be worse and always embrace the situation.
An important lesson that we will take away from today is to expect the unexpected and be ready to compete regardless of the circumstances. Even though we do not stand in the place that we want to be in as a team after the first round, we believe we have the talent and mindset to start off well again tomorrow. Keep hold of the wheel and be ready for the challenge that the day presents to us.
Entry Three: Living in the moment
Prior to today’s practice round, we had an opportunity to listen to the head golf professional at Waterville, Liam Higgins. He enlightened us about the great history of the golf course, the players that have endured Waterville’s challenging links and also quite a bit of his personal golf experiences. Mr. Higgins is a man in his 70’s. He has been at Waterville for nearly five decades and he and the rest of the golfers at the course today experienced something that he has never experienced before at Waterville. For the duration of the first six holes this morning, there was not a breath of wind and a plethora of sun engulfing the rolling hills of the course. Waterville, along with the rest of the country, has its reputation to have very windy and cloudy weather conditions. This morning my teammates and I practiced in benign local conditions, which was what we are more accustom to back home at Rutgers. Although we had prime playing conditions for today’s round, the forecast for the next two days does not look so promising. Winds are projected to pick up and accompanied by rain showers.
At the conclusion of the round, the staff at the golf course welcomed my teammates, coaches and I to continue to practice and play more golf. We were very appreciative to have the opportunity to not only play another round at one of the country’s best courses, but also to get more preparation before the competitive rounds begin.
Dinner for all the teams was held at the golf course, where we ate a home cooked lasagna dish, and an appetizing bowl of ice cream topped with fresh fruit. Following our meal, we were pleasantly surprised with the presence of guest speakers who had some inspiring personal stories to share with us. They were US war veterans who are members of the wounded warrior program enjoying a trip to Ireland. The two gentlemen who spoke to us about their life threatening experiences in service to our country told us to never take anything for granted and to always follow our goals and aspirations. These men played golf today with not only amputated limbs and burned nervous systems, but also the memories and journey of fighting from the edge of death and being able to live their “normal” lives again.
The squad has grown accustomed to the time change from our home, as well as the conditions of the link style golf course. We are ready to compete no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.
Entry Two: The trip of a life-time day
Today felt like the longest day that we have ever endured. That’s saying a lot coming from athletes who often play 36 holes in competition in a single day.
From the time we departed the RAC at 2:00 p.m. ET on Friday, we have accumulated a total of 28 straight hours of traveling / practicing. Sleeping opportunities were on the six hour plane flight, along with the three hour bus trip from the airport to our Waterville destination.
When we landed in the city of Shannon, we loaded up our travel golf bags and luggage into an undersized coach bus, with the company of fellow competitor Washington & Jefferson University. It really was a tight squeeze, with luggage spread throughout the bus.
After some time on the bus, we decided to try and stop somewhere to grab a quick breakfast to nourish and energize our jetlagged bodies. My teammates and I soon realized that simply stopping off in the small and quiet towns here in Ireland to get a quick breakfast would not be as easily realized. We drove through four towns before we finally found something to our interest, and that was a deli that offered us Danishes, donuts and scones. They really hit the spot and gave us energy to keep trekking on our journey.
While the bus trip from the airport was long, cramped and bumpy, it was worth it. We got to see the rolling terrain and spectacular views that our newly acquired Irish land had to offer us.
Our arrival to Butler Arms Hotel was just a small thrill in our day. It meant that we could quickly unpack and throw on our golfing gear and head to the Waterville Golf Course, which is a short drive away from the hotel.
Surprisingly, our travels were welcomed with comfortable temps and sunny conditions. While running on adrenalin, we went to the Waterville’s first tee to begin our practice round.
The golf course has so much to offer, let alone the history behind it.
My teammates and I will be taking full advantage to prepare for the tournament now that we are finally settled in. One important shot that we need to fine tune in our golf games is the bump and run. It’s the bread and butter shot for many of the locals, because the ground on the course is very firm.
Arriving back to the hotel after a successful practice along with a freshly home cooked Irish meal, we will be catching up on some well-deserved rest for another practice round and competition rounds to come.
Entry One: Awaiting Irish Culture
More than midway through the fall campaign, we are looking to build off past experiences and embrace a “Trip of a Lifetime” that awaits our team in Ireland. Our program, led by the Tournament Director and Women’s Golf Coach Maura Waters-Ballard along with Men’s Golf Coach Rob Shutte and team captains John Fagan and myself, travels to Ireland to host the inaugural Waterville Collegiate Classic at the Waterville Golf Club.
We recently concluded our inaugural PGA Major Championship, which is an intrasquad tournament that Coach Shutte implemented. Coach brought this idea of playing four Major tournaments amongst the team in an effort to amp up the competitive atmosphere. It’s based upon the four major championships, Masters-US Open-British-PGA Championship, that the Professional Golfers strive to win each year. The program is developing players who not only have the abilities to play at the next level, but to also have the mental toughness to compete under the pressure simulated situations that these Championships offer.
Freshman Jonathan Chang was the first Knight to slip on the “Scarlet Jacket” and hoist the trophy with pride. The final round was held at Rutgers University Golf Course this past week.
Coach is providing every opportunity to compete against one another and I think these Major Championships will definitely elevate the competitive atmosphere.
Ireland presents yet another opportunity to compete against three other universities from the United States. The weather in Ireland is a little cooler and windy compared to the weather in New Jersey. The members of the trip will be experiencing more than just golf on their travels. Under NCAA rules and regulations foreign trips can take place once every four years.
The team will endure a long first day of travel. The plane departs at 6 p.m. Eastern on Friday and is expected to arrive in Ireland at 6 a.m. local time. Then we take a three hour bus trip to Waterville, where we will be playing the first of two practice rounds.
The journey awaits…