Final-round troubles sour title hopes

Despite prime positions through two rounds, Quakers falter in championships

· April 25, 2011, 4:36 am   ·  Updated April 25, 2011, 12:00 am

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It is safe to say that the road home from New Jersey this weekend was not a celebratory one for the Penn men and women’s golf teams, both of which lost footing on Ivy League titles in the third rounds of championship tournaments Sunday.

The men, who finished last year in third place, ended this weekend’s Ivy League Championships in Galloway, N.J., in the same spot.

Through two rounds on Saturday, Penn was in first place and a title appeared within reach, but a stellar third-round performance by Yale and a strong one by Columbia left the Quakers “running into a buzz saw,” as coach Scott Allen described it.

“Yale just played great golf,” he added. “We teed off and they started to pull away from us, and I think that hurt our focus a little bit.”

Junior Scotty Williams, last year’s individual champion, also gave credit to Yale.

“I tip my hat to them,” he said. “They just played smarter golf.”

On the other hand, Allen explained that Columbia, which finished in second place, was able to use its earlier tee time to evade the pressure exerted by the Bulldogs, and “just get a number on the board.”

Before the tournament, Allen spoke about the difficulty of Galloway’s course and, certainly, this weekend was not an exception.

“This was not a good golf course to be aggressive on and not a good golf course to come from behind on,” Allen explained. “The greens were so tricky. You had to be so delicate.”

The inability to come from behind in the last round may have been the breaking point for the Quakers, who had relied on the rebound for the first two days of the tournament.

“Today, when we started to struggle, Yale just put the nail in the coffin and buried us,” Allen said. Yale finished with a +56 and Columbia just three ahead of Penn at a +76.

But it was the women, the defending Ivy League champions, who suffered the biggest upset. Headed by coach Mark Anderson, the women have been battling both inclement weather and fierce in-league competition all season to maintain their position at the front of the pack. Yet with a score of 58 shots over par and a series of three-putts and double-bogies, the Quakers finished the weekend fourth in the league, losing out to Yale, Harvard and Princeton.

With three freshmen and three sophomores, Anderson’s team, like Allen’s, is young. In fact, it was the freshmen who seemed to keep things rolling for the Quakers this weekend ­— Michelle Lee and Rui Li finished fifth and eighth overall, respectively.

Particularly notable was Li’s performance. Until the third round, Penn’s low-scorer from the fall was showing strong potential for seizing the individual title. She finished Saturday’s round tied for second with the Crimson’s Mia Kabasakalis.

“I’m so proud of Michelle and of Rui and how they played in their first Ivy League championship,” said Anderson, “Now they have a year of experience under their belts, and I know next year they’ll play even better.”

Nonetheless, the team knows that it has a lot to work on before it resumes play this fall. Of utmost importance, said Anderson, will be eliminating three-putts. This is an issue he has returned to all season.

“You give away shots so easy when you have a couple of three-putts in a round,” he said.

The Quakers did not leave their tournaments completely empty-handed, though. Williams ended the weekend with All-Ivy Honors, as did Lee (first team) and Li (second team).

Williams said he plans on working on his putting — after a little break.

“I’m going to get through finals here, so I’m going to put the sticks away for a little bit,” he said. “But a lot of the guys are playing in a bunch of top level summer tournaments. That should be good. We should get ourselves prepared for the fall so we can start off with a bang.”

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