Top Four Finishers from Fall Qualifier Converge for Shot at 2009 Title
HADLEY, Mass. – Middlebury College will be in pursuit of its second conference title in the past three years when the Panthers host the 2009 NESCAC Golf Championship this weekend at the Ralph Myhre Golf Course in Middlebury, Vt. All four teams from last year’s championship return this spring, as Middlebury will be joined by Trinity, Hamilton, and defending champion Williams, the top four finishers from the NESCAC Fall Qualifier, for the two-day, 36-hole event. The first group will tee off at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 25, with the final round getting underway on Sunday, April 26 at 10:00 a.m.
The Panthers will be in search of their third NESCAC crown (1999, 2006) this weekend after coming up short during last year’s championship. While Middlebury was in second after day one at the 2008 championship at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Kensington, Conn., the Panthers could not overcome a stellar pair of rounds by Williams and eventually finished in third (603) as Hamilton earned second on a tie-breaker. Middlebury put its home course to good use back in September during the 2008 Fall Qualifier, as the Panthers not only hosted the event at Ralph Myhre but also won it by shooting a two-day total of 593, just one stroke ahead of second-place Trinity. During the two-day tournament the Panthers were led by sophomore Jim Levins (Rutland, Vt.) and senior Michael McCormick (Oak Park, Ill.), both of whom earned NESCAC All-Conference First Team honors. The tandem finished in the top five, with Levins carding a two-day total of 145 (+3) for third while McCormick was right behind in fourth with a score of 146 (+4). This spring, the Panthers have competed in three events so far in preparation for this weekend’s championship. Middlebury was fourth at the four-team Sunshine Invitational on March 26-27 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (637), and was also fourth at the 13-team Palamountain Invitational hosted by Skidmore on April 12 and 13 (646). Most recently, Middlebury faced Williams in the annual Colonial Cup on April 18-19, a two-day Ryder Cup style match with the Ephs winning 50.5 to 21.5.
The only squad among this weekend’s foursome to have never won a conference championship is Trinity. The Bantams have put together some fantastic fall performances over the past few years, coming oh-so-close to winning the NESCAC title in the fall of 2006 but losing out in a tie-breaker to Middlebury, then winning the first-ever Fall Qualifier a year later and earning the right to host the championship. Trinity was unable to convert the first place showing into a title last April though, as a rough Saturday at Shuttle Meadow proved too much for the Bantams to overcome on Sunday, finishing fourth. This season, Trinity trailed Middlebury by two strokes after day one at the Fall Qualifier, then managed to gain a stroke on the Panthers to end up one back (594) and 12 strokes ahead of third place Hamilton. Pacing the Bantams at the Fall Qualifier was junior Reid Longley (Atlanta, Ga.), as he was the only linksman to complete the tournament under par with a score of 141 (-1). The performance earned Longley NESCAC Player of the Year honors for the second time in three years (2006) along with All-NESCAC First Team honors for the third consecutive year. Heading into this weekend’s championship, Trinity will have a tune-up at the Worcester St. Invitational on Tuesday after placing first at the 14-team UMass Dartmouth Invitational on April 10-11.
Hamilton enters the weekend in pursuit of a NESCAC title for the first time since the fall of 2003 when the Continentals claimed the league championship during a rain-shortened event. Last April at Shuttle Meadow, Hamilton had the lowest day two score of any of the four teams with a 297, edging Middlebury via tie-breaker to finish as runner-up to Williams. This past fall, the Continentals finished 13 strokes behind Middlebury at the qualifier to place third. Senior Jeff Corbett (Stoneham, Mass.) carded an even 142 for the two days, as he finished second among the 50 competitors and earned All-NESCAC honors for the third year in a row by being named to the First Team. Also receiving All-Conference accolades from Hamilton was sophomore Brad Roche (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.) after shooting 151 (+10) to place ninth. The Continentals have been busy this spring, participating in the Palamountain and Kravetz Invitationals while also hosting an event of their own on the Tuesday prior to the championship. Hamilton finished in second (638) behind host Skidmore at the Palamountain on April 11-12, then came in fifth (632) out of six squads at the Kravetz on April 17-18.
Although Williams finished fourth at the Fall Qualifier with a score of 611, just five strokes ahead of fifth-place Bowdoin, the defending champ Ephs will not be sneaking up on anyone this weekend. Williams put together one of the most impressive performances in recent championship play a year ago en route to its sixth title this decade and 10th overall, firing a stellar 291 on day one at Shuttle Meadow for a 12-stroke advantage before adding to it on day two for a final score of 590 - 13 strokes ahead of second-place Hamilton. One of the Ephs’ greatest assets has been its depth, and determining who will represent Williams this weekend will pose a challenge to head coach Rich Pohle. At the Fall Qualifier at Ralph Myhre, the Ephs were led by senior Tyler Zara (New Canaan, Conn.) and sophomores Jack Killea (Ridgefield, Conn.) and Jacob Wagner (Wilmette, Ill.). Killea recorded a team-best performance of 150 (+9) to finish tied for fifth and earn All-Conference First Team recognition. Zara, a Second Team honoree, wasn’t far behind with a score of 153 (+12; T-11) while Wagner was one stroke off at 154 (+13; T-18) to rank third among his teammates. After a shaky showing this spring, the Ephs will need to have a solid performance at the championship in order to defend their title. Williams placed third at the Sunshine Invitational, then earned a 10th-place showing at the Palamountain Invitational (677) before the Ephs downed Middlebury in the Colonial Cup this past weekend.
The origin of the Ralph Myhre Golf Course traces back to the 1920’s, with the construction of the original nine holes taking place before the end of the decade. During the Great Depression the land was mortgaged and the course was not used at all during World War II. After the war, the property was leased to Middlebury College before it was eventually purchased by the college. Ralph Myhre took over management of the course in the 1960’s and led the development of the current layout with work commencing in 1974 and finishing in 1978. Located in a scenic setting on rolling terrain adjacent to the Middlebury athletics facilities, the course features fairways that are wide open and small greens that are either elevated or multi-tiered. The back nine was formed around the original nine and demands shot accuracy along with a significant amount of patience. The scorecard for the course, which has a rating of 70.8 and a slope rating of 124, is a par-71 that totals 6,379 yards.
The team that wins the championship round this weekend will receive the conference’s automatic bid to the 2009 NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship in May. Results for the NESCAC Golf Championship will be available at the completion of each day at www.nescac.com.