With the graduation of only one team member, Daniel Altschuler ’04, and the return of the entire core lineup, including two-time Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA)/PING All-Northeast Region honoree captain Justin Sharaf ’05, the team will look to build off an impressive 2002-03 campaign that included consecutive second place finishes in the NESCAC Championships and the Western New England College (WNEC) Invitational.
In order to do so, however, the Jeffs will clearly have to improve on last weekend’s play at the Div. III Northeast Preview, where they shot a composite 646, 56 shots behind tournament winner and host Skidmore, and only good enough for ninth place out of the 10 teams competing. In addition to Sharaf, the team sent senior Mike Valentine, junior Keith Zalaski and sophomores Andy Bruns and Sean Jules. Junior David Litt, who was a strong contributor to the team’s success last season, typically playing in the number two position, failed to qualify for the tournament during qualifying rounds earlier in the week. His presence was clearly missed as Amherst finished well behind rival Williams College and nowhere near the top three of Skidmore, New York University and Husson College.
Bruns expressed the squad’s general sentiments after the first week of competition. “I don’t think we’ve met expectations so far,” he said. “It has been a little disappointing.”
Part of the reason for the disappointment was the team’s trouble with the narrowness of the second day’s course, McGregor Links in Saratoga Springs.
“The second day was on a course that had out of bounds on just about every hole, so you can put up some big numbers pretty quickly,” said Bruns, who shot an 85 on day one and a 77 on day two to finish in 34th place, the second-best performance for Amherst. Every member of the team, with the exception of Bruns, shot a second-round score that was equal or higher than the first round, including Jules who followed a stellar first-round 79 with a sub-par 88 the next day.
One bright spot of the weekend was the continuing excellence of Sharaf, who tied for third place individually with a first-round 73 and a second-round 75, putting him just five shots behind individual winner Stuart Drahota of Skidmore. In addition to garnering his second consecutive GCAA/PING All-Northeast and Second Team All-NESCAC honors last year, he also had the team’s lowest score in six of their 11 tournaments.
However, Sharaf cannot win tournaments by himself. The Jeffs need Jules to find and maintain the level of golf he was playing at last year, when he paced the team at two of the year’s most important tournaments in consecutive weeks with scores of 76 at the NESCAC championships and 73 at the WNEC Invitational. The team will also need the consistent contributions from Valentine-who finished in 43rd with an aggregate score of 171-and Litt that they were able to rely on last year.
The team takes to the links on Saturday at the Williams Invitational at the Taconic Golf Club. The Jeffs will have to show a much better performance on the greens then they did last weekend, as the Taconic greens are known for being especially fast, provided the weather remains dry. The tournament will provide a perfect opportunity for Amherst to avenge its first-week performance and prove that preseason expectations for another solid year and perhaps contention for a few tournament titles were not out-of-line. With four tournaments left to play in the fall, the Jeffs can surely put this weekend’s performance behind them.