Pouring rain and blistering winds couldn’t stop the Jumbos from placing fifth out of 17 teams at the Rhode Island College Invitational. The par-72, 6,458-yard Valley Country Club course was in good condition considering the inclement weather and recently melted snow. This was the first of three tournaments for Tufts this spring, and a solid finish in the other two could allow the team to compete to be the overall winner.
On Saturday, the Jumbos fought against winds in excess of 30 mph and, despite their excellent showing the day before, shot 337. First-year Taylor Nordan was the first scorer on Saturday with an 80, while sophomore Owen Elliott pitched in an 83. Junior Jay Wong and senior captain Alex Zorniger struggled, shooting 88 and 86, respectively.
“I think [for] the team right now in the season, regardless of the wind, it can be difficult to put together two solid rounds,” Wong said. “It’s really easy to lose focus in the wind because you can hit a lot of good shots and they just end up not at all what you expected them to do. I know myself, I hit four or five shots that I thought were perfect, right on the pin and [they] ended up not even on the green. We definitely didn’t play as well as we could have, but the wind was absolutely a factor that day.”
Wong led the Jumbos on Friday, shooting a 75 when the winds were less of an obstacle. However, pouring rain throughout the later rounds provided a different complication. The 75 was good enough to tie him for eighth overall on the first day, but an 88 on the second day, when the winds picked up, settled Wong at 25th. This was Wong’s first competitive round of golf since last spring. He had been abroad in Rome during the fall season and missed the NESCAC qualifier.
“Jay [Wong] shooting a 75 for his first round in a year is awesome,” said Zorniger. “I won’t be here next year but we will still have a lot of talent because I’ll basically be replaced by Jay [Wong]. I’m leaving, he’s coming in, so I think we will be even better.”
Nordan and Elliott both tailed scores of 77 on Friday — tying them for 14th on the day — and Zorniger was the Jumbos’ fourth scorer with an 81. Tufts’ 310 on Friday put them in third place, wedged between Rhode Island College (305) and Western New England (312).
Wong felt that Williams College and Rhode Island College had an advantage on Friday since they played early and missed the majority of the rainstorm. The teams ended up placing first and second, respectively.
“It poured rain literally our whole entire round and the team did a great job of staying focused and putting up decent numbers, at least for the start of the spring season when people don’t usually play as well because they haven’t been playing as much,” Wong said.
The Jumbos went on a training trip to Arizona over spring break, but because of remaining snow and adverse conditions back at Tufts, they were unable to practice for the two weeks between then and the Rhode Island College Invitational, which stalled any momentum they picked up over break.
After just barely missing the NESCAC championship in the fall, the Jumbos are refocused on improving and doing as well as they can in this three-tournament series.
“It was pretty motivating,” Zorniger said. “We realized we played pretty well. It wasn’t that we missed out on a shot we should’ve had. We played well and we didn’t make it. I think what the team took from it was [that] our best isn’t good enough yet, and that’s okay; we have to keep working. … [We] just realized we have to kick it into high gear to achieve our goals.”
Although the roster is composed of mostly first-years and sophomores, the Jumbos have been more successful this year than in past campaigns. Four years ago, when Zorniger was a first-year, he remembers the team’s struggles and its inability to escape the NESCAC cellar. Now, however, an influx of young talent has Tufts looking to break into the top tier of NESCAC competition and qualify for the championship tournament next fall.
“I actually think right now we have as much talent as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Zorniger said. “I think it’s been a constant slow build to this point. Unfortunately, I’m a senior, but I expect these results at this point in time. We feel that we are just right there below the top competitors in our league, and we weren’t there before. Creating that environment where people can get better and the team is consistently up there has been my goal as captain.”