Last weekend, men’s golf pulled away from three competitors during the final round of the NESCAC Championship, putting together a team score of 586 (294-292) to take the conference title. The Ephs successfully defended their home course, par-71 Taconic Golf Club, after earning the right to play there in the NESCAC Fall Qualifier.
The top four teams, Williams, Trinity College, Middlebury College, and Amherst College, all finished within two shots of each other in the fall, with Williams beating Trinity on a fifth man tiebreaker.
Six months later, the Ephs finished what they started, winning by 16 shots over Middlebury (299-303-602) and Trinity (301-301-602) and 32 shots over Amherst (309-319-628). The Panthers walked away with a runner-up finish by way of a second tiebreaker, the fifth man score on the first day.
On Saturday, tri-captain Ross Hoffman ’17 kicked off the tournament by sending his drive down the fairway on the first hole. The wind and a tougher course set up presented a harder test of golf than the field faced last weekend, and scores were slightly higher as a result. The four teams still played impressively, as all were below or around 300. Williams led the way with a team score of 294, Middlebury followed with 299, Trinity came next at 301 and Amherst found themselves with work to do after posting 309 on Day One.
Tri-captain Jacob Watt-Morse ’17 and Will Kannegieser ’20 powered their team into first, each firing rounds of 72 that tied them for the lead heading into Sunday. Middlebury’s Philippe Morin contributed a 73 to his team’s Day One tally that placed him in solo third. Following Morin was a trio of 74s from Middlebury freshman Jeffrey Giguere, Trinity’s Nate Choukas and tri-captain Grant Raffel ’17.5.
Raffel may have worked the hardest for his 74, making two double bogeys along the way and a few miraculous par saves. On the par-4 fourth hole, he took off his shoes in order to hit his approach shot from a hazard. His shot hit the green, and two putts later he was safely in for par. This came a hole after he found himself into the same hazard after yanking his approach shot. From there, he hacked the ball on to the green and drained the putt to save his par. Later in his round, three holes after surrendering two shots on the par-4 12th hole, Raffel drained a bomb for birdie on the 15th.
Sam Goldenring ’20, the gold medalist from last weekend’s NESCAC Spring Opener, rounded out the scoring for the Ephs with a hard-earned 76. Goldenring has made a reputation for himself as one of the best ball strikers in the NESCAC, but he could not convince the ball to go in the hole once he got to the green. The highlight of the day came from Watt-Morse. After hurriedly walking to the 15th tee following a three-putt bogey on 14, Watt-Morse proceeded to sling his tee shot left of the fairway where he was blocked out by trees. He then pulled of a high cut over the trees and onto the green, walking away with par.
On Sunday, conditions were less than ideal as players had to compete with cold and rain for much of Day Two. The wind stayed quiet, however, making club selection easier and allowed players to commit to their shots.
The top four individuals on the weekend were all Ephs, with the top 10 rounded out by a collection of Middlebury and Trinity players.
Kannegieser took home medalist honors after sharing the overnight lead with Watt-Morse. Kannegieser fired a smooth 73 on Sunday, making 10 consecutive pars on holes nine through 18 for a two-day total of 145.
Goldenring had the lowest round of the weekend on Sunday, a one-under par 70 to finish at 146. His under par round was in jeopardy on the 18th hole. After hitting his tee shot into a fairway bunker and hacking it out, he short-sided himself by hitting his approach right of the green to a tucked right pin. But he pulled off an incredible save, hitting a flop shot that clipped a couple tree branches before landing softly on the green and rolling to tap in length for par.
Watt-Morse came next at 147 after battling for a 75 on Day Two. Raffel shot another 74 for a total of 148. Hoffman was again the first one on the course for the Ephs, coming in with a 75.
Overall, the Ephs won with 586. Middlebury and Trinity finished with 602, and Amherst had a total of 628 for fourth.
“We had a great team effort,” Raffel said. “The fact that the top four individual finishers in the tournament were all from Williams is a testament to our consistency and depth as a team.
“Goldenring and Kannegieser really stepped up these last couple weeks. For the seniors, winning NESCACs is something we’ve been working toward for four years. The team has had ups and downs, but this year things have really come together.”
The title was the Ephs’ first since 2013 and qualified them for Nationals. The last time the team made it to Nationals, it finished 26th out of 41 teams.
This year, the event will be played from May 16-19 on the El Campeon Course at Mission Inn in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., a course that the team got to play during its spring break trip and where women’s golf won its national championship in 2015.
The Ephs will be making their 11th tournament appearance and are seeking the first national title in school history.