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Bulldogs Bid Farewell to Four Seniors

From left: Jake Leffew '19, Eoin Leonard '19, captain James Nicholas '19 and Matt Smith '19
From left: Jake Leffew '19, Eoin Leonard '19, captain James Nicholas '19 and Matt Smith '19

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The collegiate careers of four members of the Yale men's golf team officially came to a close when the Bulldogs' season concluded at the NCAA Stanford Regional in mid-May. The quartet of seniors helped the Elis achieve seven total tournament victories as well as an Ivy League Championship since the start of the 2015–16 season and all walked across the stage to receive their degrees at Yale's 318th Commencement. 

"On Monday, May 21, we said goodbye to an amazing 2019 class," head coach Colin Sheehan '97 said. "And I’m not even talking about their golf games."  

Jake Leffew (Vero Beach, Florida) received a B.A. in History with honors. He was also a Yale Journalism Scholar who successfully applied for a coveted spot in Bob Woodward’s seminar. Jake cracked the very first line-up of his freshman fall, a team that would win the 2015 Doc Gimmer. He was also part of the “Team Two” unofficial win at the 2016 Yale Spring Invitational. Jake always had a very fundamentally sound, on-plane swing with an elegant tempo. And he was “sneaky” long in spite of his slender frame.

Jake was also among the leaders on campus. He was instrumental in helping start-up the student group SAY (Supporting Athletes at Yale) and he served as president of the Sigma Nu fraternity—popular among golf team members since the middle 1990s. blog/2017/12/06/if-you-can- play-you-can-play/

A week ago Tuesday, Jake moved into his sister’s Brooklyn apartment while he pursues a career in journalism. His first job will be working as a writer for a start-up that focuses on helping the elderly craft and publish their memoir or autobiography. 

Eoin Leonard, an Irish national who grew up in Ascot (Surrey), England, stands as one of the finest Yale golfers in the modern era. He started nearly every tournament in his career, including all four Ivy League Championships. With a resilient, dogged attitude on the links, he was medalist on four occasions during the past two years: the 2017 Doc Gimmler (St. John’s event that included John Pak and the rest of Florida State’s line-up), the 2018 Yale Spring Invitational (with Tennessee and Virginia in the field), the 2018 Ivy League Championship, and the 2018 Cornell Invitational. Along the way he contributed heaps of quality rounds whilst always playing his best when the conditions were most challenging. Eoin was part of all six team wins during the past two years: 2017 Macdonald Cup, 2018 & 2019 Princeton Invitationals, 2018 Cornell Invitational, 2018 Ivy League Championship and 2019 Yale Spring Invitational.

During the summers, he achieved a very high standard for an Ivy League golfer, notably his domination at the Boyd Quaich in July of 2017 where his 21-under-par 265 over 72 holes on St. Andrews Old & New courses set a new tournament scoring record by 13 shots! Eoin closed out that tournament, which he would eventually win by nine strokes, with a bogey-free 65 on the Old Course and the chance to pose with the trophy on the Swilcan Bridge. BoydQuaich/status/ 882974291616202752/photo/1

Eoin shined remarkably bright during the summer of 2018 when he finished fifth in the Porter Cup, reached the finals of the Irish Close Amateur at the European Club and capped off that amazing summer by reaching the round of 64 in the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach.

The reason Eoin had a knack for winning is he had the type of game that would be expected from a UK golfer: he was marvelous at flighting and shaping the ball and using the ground game whenever needed. Both of those elements naturally came in quite handy in the northeast in the fall and spring. Eoin exhibited an especially refined wedge and short game so that he almost never wasted a stroke around the greens.

Eoin graduated with a B.A. in the History of Science, Medicine & Public Health. He won the Nicholas Adamo prize given to the Silliman senior who excelled in athletics and academics. He has returned home to England where he plans to spend the summer playing various events, including the St. Andrews Links Trophy, the British Amateur and other qualifiers, along with representing Ireland in international matches and competitions. Eoin plans to turn professional sometime this later year or early next year in order to embark on a path to the European Tour’s Challenge Tour with the hopes of advancing up the professional rungs from there.

James Nicholas (Scarsdale, New York) was a standout high school athlete in ice hockey, football and golf. He came to Yale with the intention to split his time between football in the fall and golf in the spring. After joining the team for the 2016 March recess to Northern California—along with the playing the rest of the spring semester where he made great strides in his game—it became apparent that golf was his primary interest. He spent that 2016 summer playing a dozen tournaments in the New York Met section and from there, he focused exclusively on golf and made the most of the last three years. He won the only three F.A. Borsodi Student Championships in which he competed, including some very low individual round and tournament totals: 2016: 65-75 (even); 2017: 64-73-68 (-5); and in 2018: 73-63-68 (-6).

He was part of the six team wins in the past two years along with the 2017 Yale Spring Invitational his sophomore year. Ultimately, James would win five tournaments individually, two during his junior year and three his senior year. The first was the 2017 Cornell Invitational where he sank a 45-foot birdie putt on the final green—in front of 50 players, coaches and spectators—to win by one. The next was the 2018 Yale Spring Invitational (tied with Eoin and a player from Tennessee). That following weekend he lost in a sudden death playoff to his teammate Eoin at the Ivy Championships, after the team had already run away with a 22-shot win. Following that 2017-2018 year, James narrow edged out his teammate Eoin for Ivy League Player of the Year.

This past year was one of the most dominant of any Yale golfer since Bobby Heintz ’92. He finished with the ninth lowest unadjusted scoring averages in the nation while winning three times: The Doc Gimmler hosted by St. John’s; followed by the Macdonald Cup, during which he set a new individual tournament scoring record of 15-under par (64-64-67, 195); and finally, the Ivy League Championship at Hidden Creek. In the past two years at Ivies, James’s only individual head-to-head loss was to Eoin in the playoff at Stonewall. Following Ivies this spring, James was unanimously elected Player of the Year by the Ivy coaches—the first Yale golfer to win that award back-to-back since Sam Bernstein ’14 did so in 2013 & 2014.

James worked tremendously hard to refine his swing and game as he transitioned away from football. He has both a power game common to elite college golfers and an increasingly polished short game. He is capable of reliably shaping any shot on demand and he only seemed to get better when the stakes were greater.  

He graduated with a B.S. in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. He wrote his thesis on CatSper, a Ph sensitive calcium channel necessary for proper male fertility. The work he did was published in his post doc’s article that will appear in the medical journal Nature. His GPA improved each year and he finished this past spring semester with a perfect 4.0 (and a 3.84 for his senior year)! Like Eoin, James is going to play a full slate of prestigious national tournaments, including the Sunnehana, the Western Amateur, the Player’s Amateur and the Northeast Amateur among others before turning professional in time for the Met Open at Piping Rock August 20-22.

Matt Smith (Wilmington, Delaware) joined the team in a full-time capacity in April of 2018, towards the end of his junior year. After trying out unsuccessfully his freshman and sophomore years, Matt remained dedicated to his game and involved in the 1701 Golfing Society, Yale’s club team. (He was named their captain after the end of his junior year.) It was during April of 2018 when I invited him to join the varsity team in order to compete in the Yale Spring Invitational. Matt fit in effortlessly and after that spring season, he was invited to join the varsity roster for the remainder of his time at Yale. His first event of the 2018-2019 year was the Ryan T. Lee Memorial and after just getting his medical and compliance cleared on the afternoon of the practice round, Matt played beautifully in the 36-hole event and found himself in a tie for medalist with a player from Sacred Heart. Though he would lose on the second sudden death hole, what a story that was! With baseball as his primarily sport in high school, Matt swung the club like an athlete. He would set the club quickly in the takeaway and turn his body back and through the hitting area. The relatively few moving parts served him well in tough autumn and spring conditions.

Matt received a B.S. with distinction in Physics. In August, he will move to San Francisco where he will become a consultant at Simon Kucher & Partners.  

"I wish each of the four members of the class of 2019 well as they embark on the next chapter of their careers," Sheehan said. "Indeed, they all have tremendously bright futures." 

The Bulldogs bring back eight golfers heading into the 2019–20 season. 

Report filed by Joey Kamm '20, Yale Sports Publicity –