Men's golf exudes talent, youth, depth

It has been a season of near-misses for the Jeffs-second-place finishes, erratic play, putts that wouldn’t drop. Nonetheless, Amherst’s one-stroke defeat at NESCACs and second-place tie at the WNEC Invitational, portend an even brighter spring.

To say that this season began with a host of question marks would be an understatement. Junior captain Justin Sharaf, the team’s only consistent scorer last year, was perhaps the only sure thing. Long-ball specialists Mike Valentine ’05 and David Litt ’06 showed flashes of brilliance during the 2002-03 season, but were plagued by inconsistency.

And to this volatile mix the Jeffs added three freshmen: Sean Jules, Drew Russ and Andy Bruns. All signs pointed to a year filled with rebuilding, with an eye on 2004-05, when Sharaf and Valentine would anchor a more mature team.

The season-opening Duke Nelson Invitational raised more questions than it answered. While Litt fired a breakthrough 73 en route to a ninth-place individual finish, Sharaf made the turn Saturday at 36-and then carded a 45 on the back. Jules and Bruns qualified for the tournament and had shaky opening rounds of 86 and 83, respectively, but each recovered to post a round of 76 on Sunday. The Jeffs would finish eighth despite a 308, their best score in over a year.

The next week, the Jeffs brought three rookies to Williams College’s Taconic Golf Club. Behind the strong play of Sharaf and Jules, who shot identical 79-78-157’s, they went home with a respectable 11th-place finish. The Williams Invitational marked the first time Sharaf and Jules had topped the Amherst leaderboard. It wouldn’t be the last. “Justin and Coach have really made it a great experience sharing their knowledge with me,” said Jules.

At the rain-shortened NESCAC Championships, Amherst turned its season around. Jules again paced the Jeffs with a 76, which placed him at third individually. Valentine qualified for his first tournament of the year, shooting 37-41-78 to join Jules as a First-Team All-NESCAC selection. Litt and Russ finished one stroke back of their teammate Valentine and one ahead of Sharaf. For the first time ever, the Jeffs placed all five golfers on either the first or second All-NESCAC team.

But that wasn’t the only first of the weekend. Amherst also lost NESCACs by one stroke-a first. Russ five-putted a hole-a first in the tournament play, one would guess.

Amherst looked to take that next step, from second place to the top of the scoreboard, at the WNEC Invitational, and it came close.  A team score of 304 left the Jeffs tied for second place with NYU, seven strokes behind Husson College (Maine). Even so, the Jeffs could be heartened by the familiar sight of Jules and Sharaf among the individual leaders, Jules’ 73 tying him for third place, Sharaf’s 75 for eighth.

Litt summed up the season thus far, saying “With only one poor finish, we’re in position to make nationals if we continue our strong play” in the spring.

The hit-or-miss quality of the Lord Jeffs’ last two tournaments is emblematic of their fall season so far. But on the heels of two performances which were more hit than miss, “it’s only a matter of time before our team really clicks and we win our first tournament,” said Litt.