Day two saves golf team from disaster

The Carnegie Mellon golf team’s string of four top-three finishes ended when they took fifth place at the Mid-Atlantic Regional this past weekend. Although the team played below its high expectations, the Tartans did not leave Hershey, Pa., empty-handed.

“I think our fifth-place finish was great after we struggled so badly the first day,” said senior A.J. Straub, referring to the team’s Sunday score of 331, which was good enough for eighth place after the first day. “It gives us a lot of confidence to know that even if we have a bad round one day we can turn it around the next day and catch back up.”

The team’s struggles on Sunday were due in part to the course’s setup. Challenging pin positions and fast greens made putting very difficult. “It was tough conditions, and for whatever reasons all of our guys played about the worst round they could probably play,” coach Rich Erdelyi said.

Senior Matt Simone, who had averaged 73 in his prior three rounds, shot 89, 18 shots over par. “I didn’t putt well; I didn’t hit the ball well; I didn’t really do anything well,” he said. “When you combine not hitting greens in regulation with the not putting well, that adds up to a pretty big score.”

Senior Blake Darby’s day-one performance also reflected the team’s putting inefficiencies. “The greens were just really tricky. They were playing faster than anything we played before,” said Darby, who putted 41 times on Sunday. “I was striking the ball really well, hitting greens in regulation, and just three-putting them. It was just really frustrating.”

First-year Alex Timmons, who shot 82, also felt the effects of the difficult course. “We really couldn’t get much confidence, because if you hit a putt too hard there’s a good chance you would have a longer
putt on the way back.”

While the team’s putting woes hamstrung them all day, the rest of the field also posted undesirable scores.

“If you look at the scores, they were horrifically high when you consider that these are the 15 best teams in five states. Allegheny [shot] 318 on the first day.” Erdelyi said, speaking of the 34-over par score posted by the number-one ranked team in Carnegie Mellon’s region. “I can’t remember in the last 10 years an Allegheny team that [shot] 318.”

Despite the eighth-place standing after Sunday, the Tartans approached Monday’s final round with optimism. “We talked, and we just said that we don’t have to shoot 295, but we gotta probably shoot under 310 just to try to get back in it. And maybe some of the other teams will back up and, sure enough, they did,” Erdelyi said.

By carding a 307 — the second-highest round of the tournament — the Tartans climbed the Monday leader board and finished fifth, just one stroke behind three teams tied with a 637 two-day score.

Simone’s 73, which included three birdies, led the team’s scoring.

“I thought it was outstanding. It was a great round of golf,” Erdelyi said of Simone’s round. “It was really a gutty performance. He improved by 16 strokes, and not that you think a kid’s going to shoot one or two over par every time, but that’s what he’s been doing the last three or four matches.”

Darby altered his approach to the tough greens by aiming his shots to land below the holes to avoid tricky downhill putts. The new strategy reduced his number of putts by 15, and he fired an even par on the back nine for a 75.

Timmons and sophomore Howard Smith each improved their scores by three strokes to card 80 and 79, respectively.

The strong turnaround gives the Tartans a boost as they contend with several teams for an invitation to the Division III National Tournament. “We could have easily have thrown up a mediocre round the second day and been in trouble, but the fact is we came back with the second-best round on Monday,” Smith said. “We showed that we’re just as good as all these teams.”

Although the team finished in the middle of the standings among the 10 teams at the Mid-Atlantic, the Tartan’s hopes for an appearance in the National Tournament remain strong. Since there is only a one-stroke difference between Carnegie Mellon and the three second-place teams, the fifth-place finish will likely not hurt the Tartans in the regional standings.

Still, some feelings of letdown resonated with the team. “It’s so easy to look back and think ‘I could have made a putt here, I could have made a putt there,’ so it is pretty disappointing to lose by only two strokes,” Timmons said.