When the fall season drew to a close, the Jeffs looked poised to overtake perennial golf stalwart Williams College. At the NESCAC Championships, played at Williams’ own Taconic Golf Club, the Jeffs defeated the Ephs by a sound six-stroke margin, falling by a single shot to Hamilton College and NESCAC player of the year Brian Williams (a transfer from Ohio State University). All five Jeffs shot 80 or better; all five earned First- or Second-Team All-NESCAC honors.
But the flashes of brilliance were just that: flashes. David Litt ’06 and Sean Jules ’07, revelations in the fall, never got into a groove in the spring, leaving captain Justin Sharaf ’05 to shoulder the load.
Sharaf performed admirably under the strain of being Amherst’s only consistent golfer-after winning his first collegiate tournament, the Skidmore College Palamountain Invitational, with a 73-76-149, he was named a 2004 Cleveland Golf Div. III All-America Scholar and a Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) Ping All-Northeast Region golfer-but even he couldn’t do it alone.
Williams didn’t make Nationals for the first time in nine years, but instead of Amherst, it was Skidmore College, St. Lawrence University and New York University that filled the void.
For better or worse, the ’03-’04 Amherst squad was a young team. The Jeffs lost just one senior to graduation. The 2004-05 incarnation is a stable one. The roster is set to the point that three first-years are expected to compete for one open spot on the team. Unlike last fall, the leaves changing will not herald a changing of the guard.
The old guard-Sharaf, Litt, and to a lesser extent, Jules-will be complemented by Mike Valentine ’05, Drew Russ ’07 and Andy Bruns ’07.
Not unlike many other tall golfers, the 6’5″ Valentine has battled with his swing mechanics, but when his game is right, he is capable of posting scores in the 70s, as he did at NESCACs.
Russ, meanwhile, had scheduling conflicts throughout the spring, and never solidified a spot, as several teammates expected he would.
And Bruns, who struggled in making the adjustment to college golf, his college scores not approaching his high school ones, may have turned the corner at the season-ending Little Threes, where he teamed with junior Keith Zalaski to demolish Wesleyan University and edge Williams in alternate-shot match play and then beat Wesleyan and halved his match against Williams in afternoon singles play.
Said Bruns, “I feel more comfortable with my surroundings this year than last year, and I’m looking forward to competing for the five spots with the new guys and with the returning golfers. At the same time, since we’re so deep, you may not even see the same lineup twice.”
Amherst begins competition next week at the Skidmore Invitational. Williams and, of course, Skidmore will be there, making this a good early-season test for the Jeffs, and an even better one for their brash captain, who said he sees no reason why he can’t win a second tournament at Skidmore and the Jeffs can’t win the tournament as a team for the first time.