The men’s golf team started its conference season off last weekend with a middle of the pack finish at the first two rounds of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament at Tukwet Canyon Champions Course in Beaumont.
The six-man team battled in high winds and torrential rain to shoot a two-round total score of 619 (27 over par), that placed them fourth behind Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Redlands and Cal Lutheran.
Despite the challenging conditions, junior Jake Littlejohn said that the tough conditions were no excuse for the team’s poor play.
“We have a very talented team, but at the moment we are too negative and worried about screwing up,” Littlejohn said.
Littlejohn posted scores of 76 and 80 and believes their lack of focus is where he and his teammates faulted.
Like it has been for many recent seasons, maintaining a positive mentality during matches has been an overall team focus.
Sophomore Nathan Stepanski, who was the Leopards’ best-placed individual with rounds of 75 and 77 to finish tied for ninth, speculated that the team suffered from mental blocks this weekend over certain shots.
“You are standing over a shot that may look intimidating and you feel like you don’t have the self-confidence to pull that shot off, when you really should be going in there with confidence and giving yourself the opportunity to do that,” Stepanski said.
The Leopards are the reigning SCIAC champions, though at this early stage are a significant 35 shots behind conference leaders and main rivals Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
“Claremont is obvious favorites right now and rightly so, but if they slip up, we will be right on their tail,” sophomore Connor Dunlop said.
Dunlop, who shot scores of 75 and 80, tied for 13th individually and finished as La Verne’s second-best performer.
Dunlop said at this point, the team knows they are no longer the favorites, but are now the underdogs trying to regain their title.
Even though the Leopards have not started off to the ideally in defending their conference title, head coach Eric Riehle says it’s normal for the golf program to start off slowly and improve as the season goes on.
Riehle believes the team needs to improve some technical parts of their game, especially in the short game department but refers to what he calls the “Leo Way” as being the best way to get his team back on track.
“The Leo Way is grinding, it’s toughness, it’s better internally than externally, and it’s team over individual,” Riehle said.
Junior Pitiluk Phanomchai by his own standards had a very disappointing tournament with scores of 78 and 79, landing him a 21st place finish.
Matching those scores was last week’s SCIAC Athlete of the Week, freshman Zane Mularski.
Freshman Aaron Yoo rounded up La Verne’s total with scores of 81 and 83.
The men’s golf team is back in action at the OC Tri-Match at Tustin Ranch Golf Club on March 13.
Charles Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.