golf

Following last year's disappointing eighth-place finish, Penn men's golf came back with a vengeance this year to edge Princeton by one stroke in the Ivy League Championship.

On the back nine in the final round of the Ivy League Men’s Golf Championships, Penn knew it was going to be close.

What the Red and Blue might not have realized was just how close it would be.

On Sunday, after three rounds of exciting play, the Quakers won the Ancient Eight crown by just one stroke with a total score of 885 over Princeton’s 886.

After starting the final day four strokes behind then-first-place Princeton, the Red and Blue knew they would have to play their best to keep pace with the Tigers. Although uncertainty swirled around the exact scores of each team throughout the round, senior captain Austin Powell made one thing clear to his coach.

“I’m not going down without a fight.”

And Powell wasn’t the only Penn golfer with this resilient mentality. Over the course of the final nine holes, the Quakers’ top four golfers combined to go seven-under-par, including two eagles from sophomore Dane Walton on the 10th and 13th holes. Powell and fellow senior Ben Cooley each notched four birdies on the last nine as well.

Despite electric play from the Quakers, it was difficult to tell where they stood during the round.

“The whole day we were guessing,” coach Bob Heintz said. “What was very obvious was that Quinn [Prchal, Princeton’s top golfer] was playing really well, so it was looking a little bleak about halfway through.”

In fact, the situation might have been even bleaker than Penn thought as Princeton had a seven-shot lead at the turn. Nevertheless, the Quakers focused more on playing their best game than on the score, and it paid off.

“We wanted to have a shot coming down the last couple holes which we did, and we played really well down that stretch,” Powell said. “We just wanted to have fun. ... We felt like if we were loose and like ourselves we would have a good chance.”

After the round finished, the entire Penn squad, which had been staggered in different pairings on the course, learned that it had clinched the Ivy League title by one stroke, a margin that has only occurred three times in Ancient Eight golf history.

“It was probably one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” Powell said of winning the title. “It was just pure elation.”

There is no doubt that last year’s disappointing result made this victory even sweeter. After a tough 2014 season filled with injuries and missed chances, the Red and Blue finished dead last in the Ivy League Championship.

So what changed?

This year’s amazing comeback was certainly not by chance. In fact, with four of last year’s five starters returning, the Quakers’ success can be attributed to countless hours of work on and off the course.

“I think one of the biggest things is that we all got better throughout this last summer and offseason as we worked hard on our games, and I think we also developed into our roles a little more,” Powell said.

“This year, we knew we could lean on each other.”

The players quickly found that they could lean on each other during the competitions and when play had ended. Earlier in the season, when the Quakers were not seeing the results they wanted, instead of giving up, the team banded together, something Heintz says he greatly admires.

“We had some really crappy tournaments early in the spring,” he said. “They just kept on training in practice and believing in themselves. I think they showed a lot of resiliency.”

This resilient effort was undoubtedly lead by the seniors. Both Powell and Cooley have served as role models for the team in the gym, in the practice facilities and on the course, raising the expectations for the underclassmen.

And for these seniors who have dedicated so much to the program over the past four years, there was no better way to go out.

“It was one of those things where you work all year, and you talk on August 27 when we have our first meeting as a team and say this is the main goal of the whole season,” Powell said.

“You put in the workouts in November, in the offseason and to finally see it come together at Ivies is a pretty cool feeling.”

When these seniors walk across the stage at graduation in a few short weeks, they can confidently know that they have left far more behind than this Ivy title for Penn golf.

They have changed the culture of the team and proved that a little hard work can go a long way.

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