Rutgers opens season with tourney
The Rutgers men’s golf team returns to its home course in Piscataway for the Rutgers Invitational on Friday morning. The Scarlet Knights hope that all of the time and energy spent on the greens this summer will help them capture their first victory of the fall season.
"I’m really looking forward to it," said sophomore Toks Pedro.Just to see where I can perform, how I can shoot. I think my scores are definitely gonna drop this semester and I’m very, very excited for about what’s to come.”
Earlier in the week, head coach Rob Shutte and his team received some excellent news as three players were named Big Ten Men’s Golf Players to Watch for this season. The three esteemed Knights are senior Jonathan Chang, sophomores Matt Holuta and Toks Pedro.
“Well, it means we’ve got good players,” Shutte said. “I think the conference probably recognizes the talent of some of those guys. It’s what we do with it though. It means we’re doing a lot of good things in our program. It's just another sign that we’re doing good things and we’ve just gotta go ahead and kind of look up to those considerations.”
Pedro had a fantastic freshman season as a Knight and was honored to be named to the watch list as a second-year golfer.
“Yeah, it was a great honor,” Pedro said. “I’m looking forward to the season a lot but, you know, obviously that doesn’t really matter unless I perform, and I’m confident that it’s going to be a good season for us because we’ve put in the work. I put in the work and I’m feeling great about my game.”
Chang, who spent last spring away from competition due to injury, had a similar reaction when he found out he was given the recognition.
“It feels really awesome,” he said. “I feel good about the game so it should be a really good year."
The Valencia, California, native is in the lineup for the Rutgers Invitational and will play in a collegiate golf tournament for the first time since his return.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m still even coming back, still struggling a little bit,” Chang said. “I’m just really trying to stay in the process and trying to stay positive and just know that it’s not just one tournament. This is a long term thing for me so I gotta keep plucking along and keep your head up pretty much and keep going.”
Chang’s presence in the lineup will further bolster Rutgers’s chances of securing some event wins and high finishes.
“He’s really talented,” Shutte said of the decorated senior. “Last year, he was our best player so when he was out, it means you’re looking for your sixth best player to have to be contributing as opposed to your first so it’s a big swing, huge swing really. Especially when you’re only counting four scores, it’s a huge swing … It’s just another year of experience too. His experience, maturity, combined with talent, you know, we’re obviously depending on him to be good.”
Despite this being the opening event of the season, Pedro thinks the team’s nerve levels will remain normal. With five of the eight members of the team being upperclassmen, the experience the players collected last year should help keep pre-tournament jitters to a minimum.
“We’re a little older team than we were last year,” Pedro said. “Very slightly, but we have a little bit more experience. I think we’ll be able to handle the pressure of playing in the tournament. Last year, my first year, the first couple tournaments I was more nervous than usual and it was a little bit more difficult. I’ve been through a lot of tournaments, learned how to handle the nerves … and I’m excited, more excited than nervous.”
Thirteen schools will participate in the Rutgers Invitational, including in-state programs Monmouth, Rider and Fairleigh Dickinson. The teams will have a long day ahead as two rounds, or 36 holes, will be contested. The third round will begin on Saturday morning.
After evaluating his players since their return to campus, Shutte has decided on his lineup for today’s event.
“It’s gonna be Toks (Pedro), (Jonathan) Chang, (Matt) Holuta and then we’re gonna have Chase (Wheatley) and Jack (Panagos),” he said. “So those guys, there’s some good play. You know, the one freshman has played better every single round, Matthew Mourin. He might end up winning the tournament if he keeps that going, that trend. … He’s getting better every round but we’re just not quite ready to put him in the lineup.”
Shutte said the competition among the players to get into the lineup has been extremely tight.
“We got Ryan (Rose) and Michael (Howe), some guys who have played in the lineup but are not going to be in the starting lineup but could be ready to go for the next tournament,” he said. “So, it’s been close but there’s been enough separation that those guys deserve to be in there.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s golf team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter