September 28, 2007

Cornell Hosts Invitational

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“A swing and a drive.” While most associate this classic sports phrase with baseball players sending balls over the fence, some picture a polo-clad Cornell student driving a slightly smaller ball 200 yards onto the well-groomed fairway of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course. With the nation’s attention turned to the close of baseball’s regular season this weekend, the golf team will focus on playing host at the Cornell Invitational
The Red return home coming off a third-place finish at last weekend’s Leo Keenan Invitational held at St. Bonaventure. After a shaky Day 1 ended with the Red in seventh place, Cornell’s five golfers collectively dropped 15 strokes from their first round total to jump into third place, finishing only seven strokes behind the first-place St. Bonaventure. Sophomore Robert Cronheim led the second-round charge, shooting a two-under 68 to finish tied for second.
“Although we played a nervous first round of the year, we rebounded on the second day and demonstrated what I knew we were capable of,” said senior captain Bret Perry, who finished 14th at St. Bonaventure and second at last year’s Cornell Invitational. “Shooting the [third-lowest] team score of the tournament and demonstrating that type of resiliency is very encouraging. It’s given us all a boost of confidence going into this weekend that will make us tough to beat.”
Cornell will welcome several teams — including St. Bonaventure — to East Hill for 36 holes tomorrow and another 18 on Sunday. According to the golfers, the field will be more competitive than what they saw at St. Bonaventure.
At the 2006 Cornell Invitational, the Red finished third behind Rider and St. Bonaventure. This year, the title is up for grabs, as defending champion Rider will not be visiting Ithaca. This also means that Rider senior Tyler Brewington, last year’s winner at Cornell and last weekend’s winner at St. Bonaventure, will not be in the field. All things considered, the Red has high hopes.
“We have very high expectations,” Cronheim said. “Third place isn’t bad coming back from seventh, and we can’t be disappointed. But the goal is always to win.”
At last year’s invitational, Cornell ended the first round in second and only one stroke behind the leader before eventually falling off the pace and finishing six strokes back in third place. This week, team, as well as individual consistency, will be the key to victory
“The goal is always to win and play the best we can play,” Cronheim said. “This weekend we definitely want to be able to put it together for a few rounds.
Senior captain Robbie Fritz, who placed 33rd at St. Bonaventure, was also among those who sees room for improvement and hopes for a higher level of consistency around the greens this weekend
“I am not satisfied with the way I played last weekend,” Fritz said. “I hit the ball well both days but had trouble around the greens.
For Fritz, a weekend at home on the course he knows best may prove vital in returning to true form.
“I am confident with the way I am hitting the ball, all I need to do is fine tune my short game,” Fritz said. “I expect to perform much better around the greens, considering I know the greens at the Robert Trent Jones golf course very well.
While Fritz — who has placed second and third, respectively, at the Cornell Invitational in previous years — is hoping that this weekend will help him get back on track, his teammates are hoping to keep the momentum rolling at home.
“We’re so lucky to get to play on a course as spectacular as the R.T.J.,” said senior captain Austin Lord. “They really get it firmed up and rolling well for the tournament, so knowing where to hit it, especially on the greens, is a big advantage.
“Obviously we know the golf course well,” Cronheim said. “We know where we want to hit the ball and where you don’t want to hit it. There are some awkward shots, but we are all confident hitting them, whereas our visitors are not so confident.”
The importance of having a home-course advantage this weekend could not have been stressed more by the players. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Course is the Red’s practice course, and is viewed by many opponents as one of the most difficult courses to play on each season
“[Playing at home] is important,” Perry said. “Every tournament we go to, teams are always asking us about the condition of our course because it’s one of the best and most challenging courses we play throughout the year. The ability to practice every day on our course is a significant advantage.”
Hopefully the advantage of playing at home will translate into success for the team’s four seniors playing competitively at Robert Trent Jones for the final time
“We’re looking for a strong performance this weekend,” Lord said. “For a lot of us, it will be our last home tournament, so that gives it a little more significance. I expect us to go out and compete for first place.”
Even though the Red will be backed with golfers who have experienced success at this tournament, the squad does not want to have to settle for the silver this weekend.
“We should win this weekend,” Perry said. “Despite the fact that this is one of the best fields we’ll compete against all year, I still think that the talent level we have on the team now, our current mindset, and our course knowledge give us a good chance to defend our home turf.”