The Jumbos capped off an epic weekend Sunday, punching a ticket to their second conference championship appearance in as many years with a fourth-place finish at the NESCAC Qualifier. The two-day tournament, hosted by Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield, Conn., saw 10 schools competing for a chance to attend April’s championship event. With a third-place finish last year, Tufts qualified for the NESCAC Championship for the first time since the new qualifying format was instituted in 2007. After a relatively slow start this year, the Jumbos came back with a vengeance to clinch the fourth and final qualifying spot, proving that last year’s success was no fluke.
Tufts posted a first-round score of 304 to sit fifth overall, five strokes behind fourth-place Williams. Traditional NESCAC powerhouses Trinity (291), Hamilton (292) and Middlebury (293) topped the leaderboard after Saturday, while Tufts led Amherst and Bowdoin, who were tied at sixth, by 10 shots. While the Jumbos’ performance had them in position to qualify on Sunday, coach George Pendergast knew his team could perform better.
“Fifth place — we knew we had to play better,” Pendergast said. “And sure enough, we did. We really smoothed out our consistency.”
Sure enough, Tufts bounced back on Sunday, surging ahead with a brilliant score of 291, the lowest mark of the day among all 10 teams. Four of the five Jumbos improved on their first-round scores. First-year Mac Bredahl and sophomore Harry Theodore led the charge with matching scores of even-par 72. Bredahl improved by two shots after a 74 on Saturday, while Theodore bettered his by four after shooting 76 in the first round. Senior co-captain Justin Feldman lowered his score significantly on the second day with a 1-over 73, down from his 12-over 84 from the first round. Meanwhile, sophomore Henry Hughes dropped one shot from a 3-over 75 on Saturday to a 2-over 74 on Sunday.
Feldman explained that having 18 holes of experience on the course was crucial to his success in the second round.
“On the second time around, I could really improve on the holes I made mistakes on previously,” he said.
Despite its remarkable Sunday performance, Tufts’ duel with Williams for the fourth and final qualifying spot came down to the wire. The Ephs ultimately finished with a total score of 596, just one stroke shy of the Jumbos’ mark of 595.
Pendergast was thrilled by the team’s performance, which proved that it could be competitive with the conference’s top teams. Middlebury finished on top with a score of 587, just eight strokes ahead of Tufts, while defending NESCAC champion Trinity (588) placed second, just one shot back. Hamilton faded slightly with a Sunday score of 300 to finish third, three shots ahead of Tufts. Trinity senior Will Rosenfield posted the best individual score of the weekend with a 5-under 139.
The Jumbos’ second-round mark of 291, a 13-shot improvement from the previous day, was the result of a bolder approach on the course. After the team took a conservative strategy on Saturday, Pendergast stressed that it needed to be more aggressive from tee-to-green, challenging pins on its approach shots and taking advantage of slow greens. The new approach was on display on the 18th hole, when three consecutive Jumbos hit the green with spectacular approach shots.
Tufts will not compete in the NESCAC Championship, hosted by Middlebury, until April, but Feldman and the team have already begun to prepare. Ralph Myhre Golf Course is notably short, so the Jumbos will likely employ another aggressive strategy.
“The winning team always has a ridiculously low score, so we know we need to take risks,” Feldman said. “Things need to break our way.”
Tufts has just one event left in its fall season, as it travels to Brewster, Mass. for the New England Intercollegiate Golf Association Championship on Oct. 21–22. Last year, Tufts finished seventh out of 19 teams at the same tournament. Junior Brandon Karr was the Jumbos’ leading performer last year, firing a 3-over 147 to finish fourth overall, while Hughes tied for 30th with a 12-over 156. Husson senior co-captain Daulton Wickenden posted the lowest score in the field with a 2-under 142.
For now, the athletes can take much heart from their performances and look back on a successful tournament and fall season so far, knowing their dedication and performance has brought Tufts golf a long way.