Golf team seek promising spring season with young talent

by Max Kanefield | 4/3/16 6:09pm

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Weijia Tang/The Dartmouth Staff

The Dartmouth men’s and women’s golf teams are entering into the full swing of their spring seasons, hoping to build on their strong fall seasons and continue on the path to respect and relevance in the world of Division 1 golf.

The fall season was one of strongest in recent memory for the Dartmouth men’s golf team. They won its home tournament, the second annual Quechee Club Collegiate Challenge, unseating Ivy League golf powerhouse Harvard University and defeating a field of Ivy League and solid northern competition.

The team then built on that win in the Connecticut Cup, where they fired the lowest known single day round in Dartmouth golf history, combining for a five-under-283. They went on to finish second in the tournament losing out only to Texas Christian University, who finished 10th at the 2015 NCAA Golf Championship.

“There really were not a lot of failures in the fall — we had a great fall season, probably the best one that we have had in my 11 years,” men’s golf head coach Rich Parker said. “We beat a lot of good teams and got a lot of good practice.”

In the winter off-season, the team honed in on its short game and putting as they remained confined to mostly indoor practice.

“Our coach has really emphasized short game around the green. Pitching, chipping putting. Its one of coach’s biggest focus points during practice,” John Lazor ’19 said. “He wants to limit stupid mistakes and focus on little things that you might not think about in the moment.”

The team will need to make good use of confidence from the fall and training in the winter because they will face one of the most rigorous travel schedules in Dartmouth golf history. They spent their spring break training and practicing in Vero Beach, Florida, and have upcoming tournaments scheduled in West Palm Beach and Kannapolis, North Carolina.

“[There’s] a lot of traveling this spring, it is different than what we’ve ever done,” Parker said. “We’re getting on airplanes a couple times this spring.”

Parker added that last year the team went to Lafayette, Princeton University and then Yale University. This year the team is flying down to Florida to West Palm Beach, before traveling to Charlotte and then Yale.

Parker recognized the strain increased travel might put on the team, but he is certain that access to courses in better climate and conditions will benefit the team, who would otherwise be playing at courses still experiencing the effects of winter. In addition, Parker believes the tough competition further south will help build confidence for the team before they head to the Ivy League Championships.

“We think its worth it to get into some good weather and get to play some good warm-weather golf,” Parker said. “We’d be playing some tournaments in New England where it’s freezing cold if we weren’t making these trips down South, so it looks like a great decision. We’re going to get to practice a lot more than we ever would in any other spring time.”

The team is led by two young stars, Lazor and Ian Kelsey ’18. Both helped carry the team to a successful fall and are expected to lead the team again in the spring season.

Parker pointed to Kelsey and Lazor as the team’s “two best players.”

“Its not easy to come right in here out of high school, jump right on the team and then win tournaments or be the low man for your team,” Parker said.

Just as young talent bolsters the men’s side of Dartmouth golf, the Dartmouth women’s golf program continues the long road to relevance and success in the Ivy League with the help of a young core that has head coach Alex Kirk excited about the program’s future.

“With all these freshmen and sophomores, it’s a new energy and a new caliber of play,” Kirk said.

In many ways, the success of the women’s program in the fall mirrored the men’s. Both young teams captured their home tournaments, with the women winning its home tournament for the first time since the 2011 tournament.

“I think the team is in transition,” Kirk said. “I mean we have a young team, mostly freshmen and sophomores who are starting and really making an impact. We’re creating a new culture and a new chapter from where we’ve been.”

A big part of the team’s new energy is the addition of Julia Calbi ’19. The freshman hit the ground running in the fall when she placed second at her first collegiate tournament. The highly touted freshman who ranked 30th nationally among her class of high school graduates turned down 12 scholarship offers, including one from perennial powerhouse Stanford University, to join the Big Green. Kirk highlighted the unique opportunity Dartmouth golf can offer top recruits considering top collegiate golf programs.

“I think it’s about building the opportunity here,” Kirk said. “I tell recruits all the time if you would like to come build [our program] and put it on the map, that can be a better feeling than going somewhere that’s already established.”

Just as the men’s team begins a tough traveling stretch in search of top competition, the women’s team is also preparing for a rigorous season that will pit them against better opponents. The team will play tournaments near Baltimore, at Bowling Green State University, and in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which they hope will lend credibility to its program.

“Golf is almost like a strength of schedule type sport where the rankings are based on who you are playing and who you beat,” Kirk said. “As a coach you’re networking to get into better tournaments, find better competition, and get to better weather. Those are all things we are working hard to integrate into our program.”

As the season heads into full swing, both coaches hope their investments in travel for better conditions and strong competition will pay dividends in the tournaments and ultimately help win each the men and the women an Ivy League Championship.