May 19, 2004
The Course at Yale has been recognized as one of the toughest in the country, and 27 teams in the NCAA East Regional will face its punishing character starting Thursday. No team knows the course as well as the host Bulldogs, who made the field as the No. 25 seed. Coming on the heels of a disappointing spring season, the Elis recognize the Regional could help them end on a high note.
"We'll definitely be more comfortable," junior Steve Gray noted of the home course advantage. "That's a huge part of playing well."
The Bulldogs' best finish in their three spring tournaments came at the Ivy League Championship April 17-18, where they finished fourth. A week later they shot a 625 at the URI Invitational to finish eighth, then had to wait and see whether they would even make the tournament that they were already committed to hosting.
"We didn't finish the way we wanted to," observed freshman Mark Matza.
But on May 10, the Elis got word that they had made the field. And with final exams wrapping up around that same time, they suddenly found themselves in an ideal practice situation -- plenty of time on their hands, and with the NCAA Regional course right in their backyard.
The first challenge was selecting the five golfers who would represent Yale. A playoff between three golfers for the final two spots was held last week, and the final lineup was announced Saturday May 15.
|Mark Matza and Head Coach Dave Paterson enjoy a laugh during the practice round for the NCAA East Regional at The Course at Yale|
Matza was one of those selected, providing the local product (Southbury, CT) with a chance to reap the benefits of some hard work. He has come a long way since the fall, thanks in part to all the time he spent on The Course while the team went to Scotland this spring (no freshmen were selected for that trip).
"I didn't play that great in the fall," he noted. "But I practiced over spring break and now my game has really come around. This is my first tournament this spring, and it's awesome to be able to play it at this course."
In fact, Matza and fellow Regional selection Jason Shin are both part of Yale's five for the first time this spring. It's a sign of how far they have come individually, and of what the future might hold for the Elis. All five of Yale's Regional golfers return next season, with Gray selected as team captain. He and Andrew Vitt are the only current golfers to have participated for Yale in last year's Regional, so Matza, Shin and Rick Reissman will gain some valuable experience.
"I told them to just play it like it's practice," said Gray, whose 246 was third for Yale in last year's Regional at Auburn. "Just rely on what you've worked on the last couple of years."
A strong showing at the Regional, as part of a field that also includes No. 1 Florida and defending National Champion No. 2 Clemson, would be a good sign for the Bulldogs in light of the many new faces in the mix.
"This is a very different team than we've had all year," noted Gray. "I'm going to tell them that this is the beginning of next year."
The first Bulldog tees off at 7:57 AM on Thursday, starting on hole 10. Matza will be followed by Shin, Reissman, Vitt and Gray, with one teeing off every nine minutes. Each is in a threesome with players from Army and LIU-Brooklyn.
In round two on Friday, Matza tees off on the first hole at 12:36 to start the day for the Elis.
Tee times for round three on Saturday will be determined by the order of finish on Friday.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity Department