After a very impressive fall portion of its 2016-17 season, the Cornell golf team still has some rust to shake off in the early stages of the spring campaign.
Competing at the Towson Spring Invitational in Grasonville, Md., the Red placed near the middle of the 22-team field. Despite the finish, most of the players were just happy to be out on the course hitting off of real grass as opposed to the indoor confines Ithaca winters forced the team to settle for.
“Overall, it felt great. Hitting off turf is much different than taking divots on grass,” said senior captain Luke Graboyes. “It was nice to have to use our golf skills to manage our way around a course again. … It’s easy to forget about all the different factors to consider before hitting a shot after spending two months playing simulator golf.”
The tournament got underway early Saturday morning as the Red sent its contingent to the Prospect Bay Country Club to compete alongside a diverse mix of schools from Fairleigh Dickinson and Robert Morris to Ivy foes Penn and Columbia. Cornell was one of very few teams not to have prepared for the tournament in a warm climate, so expectations going in were not particularly high.
“Our overall finish was almost irrelevant because we were the only team at the tournament that had yet to travel someplace warm to prepare for the season,” Graboyes said. “It’s easy to look outwards and compare your team’s score to another, but that wasn’t our focus this week. After we have a solid week of preparation in Florida we will be more concerned with [that].”
Cornell’s five man squad predictably got off to somewhat of a rough start on day one. The team’s top four scorers — Graboyes, his younger brother, Mike Graboyes, and newcomers Mike May and Jack Casler — put together a combined score of 22-over par.
Mike had Cornell’s best score on the day with a 75 — including four birdies in a six hole stretch — and May was a close second after carding a 76. After one round, the team sat in 16th place and would need to play nearly perfect on Sunday to be in contention.
“There was a ton of rust,” Luke acknowledged. “[But] I think each player had positives to take away from the weekend that will boost our confidence heading into spring break, and it was great to get outside … to understand exactly what we need to work on when we have a week of warm weather ahead of us.”
Although not perfect, Sunday was certainly a much improved day. Thanks to Mike’s 74, Luke’s 75 and another impressive 75 from May, the team combined for a much more respectable 15-over par, good enough for a 12th place finish.
“I think the main positive from improving seven shots was that we are quickly shaking off the rust,” Luke said of his team’s second round performance. “A seven shot improvement, in addition to harder conditions, is encouraging.”
Mike finished the tournament tied for 18th individually with a two day total of 149, seven strokes behind medalist Daniel Brennan of Bethune-Cookman. Luke had a team-high 14 pars on the day, tied for the second most in the entire field. The senior and defending medalist in last year’s Ivy League Championship felt good about his own game too.
“It was fantastic for the last 16 holes of the tournament,” Luke said specifically on his performance off of the tee. “This is the weakest part of my game, and to be excited about it this early in the season is a great sign. All the other pieces will fall into place with hard work, but to see my driving come together was extremely encouraging.”
The Red flies down to Florida this weekend for several days of fine tuning before heading to New Jersey for the Princeton Invitational. Last year, the tournament’s formidable field was more than enough for Cornell to handle who finished in just 13th out of 15. That being said, the team won the Cornell Invitational this fall and finished second, third and third in its other three events before competing in Maryland this past weekend.
“As an experienced New Jersey golfer, I know the conditions can be hit-or-miss this time of the year. The key … is to ignore these factors and focus on the overall trend of your game and make steady improvements,” Luke said. “I think if we do this, we’ll contend at Princeton and be on course to compete for the Ivy League title.”
The Princeton Invite begins on Saturday April 9 at the Springdale Golf Club, the Tigers’ home course.