Men's golf preps for spring season and shot at nationals

With the season opener at Babson College looming nine days away, the men will look to answer that question and many more. Foremost among them: Can junior captain Justin Sharaf, sophomore David Litt and first-year Sean Jules repeat their fall success in the spring? Will another golfer emerge as a consistent fourth scorer? Were the high scores over spring break a sign of rust, or of a more insidious problem?

Amidst all this uncertainty, the Jeffs do know one thing, though: Any national aspirations they might have will rise and fall on the above triumvirate.

None of the trio seems particularly fazed by the prospect of carrying the team. “If the top three scorers can be as consistent in the spring as they were in the fall,” said Litt, “I would say we have a legitimate shot [at Nationals]. In the Northeast region, we are right there in the mix, behind Skidmore, to get that last slot. We probably need to finish no worse than second at any of our tournaments this spring to have a shot.”

Sharaf, Amherst’s Mr. Consistent over the last three years, is quietly eyeing another All-Region selection. If Sharaf and the Jeffs have a good spring season, it would hardly be far-fetched. His worst round last fall was an 81, and the vast majority of his rounds are in the mid- to high-70’s. He posted Amherst’s low score in three of six tournaments. And he’s seen it all before, having appeared in every tournament since arriving at Amherst as a first-year.

Jules is every bit as legitimate a candidate as Sharaf. The First-Team All-NESCAC selection shot a 76 at the NESCAC tournament, as well as a 73 at the WNEC Invitational, tying Litt for the year’s low round. After the first tournament of the year, in fact, Jules was one of Amherst’s two low scorers in every tournament in which he competed.

Litt shot 73 in his first round of the year and never looked back. He improved markedly on his rookie year, never placing outside of Amherst’s top three and finishing as the team’s low scorer twice.

But the big three can’t do it by themselves; the Jeffs need a consistent fourth scorer (and a fifth one, for that matter). Litt thinks it could be anyone-“we’re that deep”-but pointed to first-year Drew Russ as one golfer who “is imperative to the success of the team.”

Hampered by academic conflicts, the Maui, Hawaii native played in four of six tournaments in the fall, his scores counting toward Amherst’s aggregate three of those times.

“Drew didn’t get to play all that much in the fall,” said Litt, “but he has so much talent. And when he did play, we had two second-place finishes”-at NESCACs, where Russ earned Second-Team All-NESCAC accolades, and the WNEC Invitational, respectively-“which in my opinion were our best tournaments of the fall. If he can continue to play the way he did over spring break,” said Litt, “we have as good of a chance as anyone to get to Nationals.”

If Russ should falter, Amherst has depth and experience waiting in the wings. First-year Andy Bruns also qualified for four tournaments, posting his low round of 76 at the season-opening Duke Nelson Invitational.

Mike Valentine ’05 was inconsistent in the fall, but his stellar fifth-place finish at the NESCAC Tournament earned him a spot on the All-NESCAC First Team. With Valentine and Dan Altschuler ’04, who appeared in two tournaments in the fall, it isn’t a question of talent; it’s a question of putting it all together in a tournament setting.

The two highlights of the fall season were Amherst’s pair of second-place finishes at the NESCAC Championships at Williams College and the Western New England College (WNEC) Invitational. These two matches came back-to-back, on Sept. 29 and Oct. 9, respectively.

Consistency was paramount to Jeff success both weekends. All five Jeffs shot 80 or below at Williams, and four broke the mark at WNEC. In the league championship, Amherst’s aggregate of 312 put them just one stroke behind first-place Hamilton College. A victory over Hamilton and a District One championship the weekend of April 23 is very feasible for Amherst.

The WNEC Invitational marked Amherst’s best score of the season, however, as the Jeffs shot a smooth 304.

Jules led the team with a 73 with Sharaf close behind with a 75. Litt and Russ posted 77 and 79, respectively.

These two weekends contrast sharply with Amherst’s worst rounds of the fall, which came at the New England Intercollegiate Golf Association Championships on Oct. 22.

No Jeff shot below a 76 in the first round of play and in the second round, no Jeff was able to break 80. The team shot 655 over the two rounds with scores of 318 and 337.

However, this performance was atypical of the fall season, and if the Jeffs can shoot consistently low scores over the course of the spring, good things can and will happen.