March 22, 2019 | 48° F

Senior gets back into swing for Rutgers after injury

Photo by Luo Zhengchen |

In sports, bad breaks and misfortunes occur on the daily. Good teams are always able to work through the calamities and not let the off-field distractions dictate the way they compete.

A little more than nine months ago, disaster struck in Piscataway as the Rutgers men’s golf team lost one of its top players due to injury. Then-junior Jonathan Chang was unable to play in the foreseeable future.

Although the odds were stacked against the Scarlet Knights in its inaugural Big Ten season, the golfers did not permit the loss of Chang to destroy their year. The team put together a solid spring and earned successful finishes in tournaments.

The senior made his highly anticipated return to his home course last Friday at the Rutgers Invitational.

“Great to be back,” Chang said. “It’s been nine ... 10 months since I’ve competed, so it feels great. Expectations were good, so it was good. It was great, long day.”

Chang finished the tournament in a tie for 20th place with a total mark of 219. He shot a 70 in the first round and added a 76 and a 73 in the second and third rounds of the competition. 

With Towson winning the event after posting an 838 team score, Rutgers put forth a complete showing and finished in second place with a six over par, 858.

“Well, it was great to have Jonathan (Chang) back,” said head coach Rob Shutte. “I mean, he’s a great personality, he’s a great leader. He didn’t play his best, so he’s disappointed. But even though he didn’t play his best, his attitude was awesome and that’s huge for us. You know, for him to have a great positive attitude, like right now you can see him, he’s smiling and laughing even when he didn’t compete as well as he would’ve wanted to. That’s huge for us going out the rest of the way.”

Although he's back to playing golf again, Chang is still working to heal his body from ailment.

“Did I play well? I mean, there’s a lot of positives,” he said. “I just changed swing coaches right before I came back to school so I’m working on a lot of new things and still trying to get healthy with the back still and trying to work with bench here and trying to get my body to feel good, so that the swing kind of matches up with what I’m doing.”

A positive energy on the course from the returnee has a ripple effect on his teammates. This past weekend awoke a renewed appreciation for his presence.

Sophomore Toks Pedro echoed the sentiments of Shutte and was glad to have Chang back in the lineup.

“It was nice to have him back,” Pedro said. “We definitely need him. He’s a great player and he can definitely be a great edition to our squad. He has the ability to shoot really low scores at any point so that’s a great thing about him.”

Chang may not have played his best golf, but he wants to focus on the positives of his first outing back and get his game up to the high level it was normally at.

“A lot of positives,” Chang said. “I’m just glad to be back and competing again so getting the rust off early and hopefully the next couple tournaments coming up get really solid.”

Despite a successful career as a Knight, Chang's family does not get to see much of his performances.

The fourth-year golfer has been competing a long way from home during his collegiate career. Chang’s hometown of Valencia, California, is 2,759 miles away from the Rutgers Golf Course. Due to the long distance, it would take more than six hours to fly back to Valencia.

“I guess, you know, when the holidays come around, like Thanksgiving,” Chang said of the difficulties the distance poses. “I went back last year, but this year I think I’m going to stay (at Rutgers). ... I definitely miss my parents a lot, I miss my brother, so probably family is the main thing that I miss.”

Chang may not be able to visit his blood relatives often, but he has his Rutgers family on campus to support him.

“But I have a great group of friends here, (and a) great coach," he said. "We're all about Rutgers family, so that keeps me moving all the time."

Most great golfers began to play the game at an extraordinarily young age, and Chang is no different. His father took him to the course for the first time when Chang was just three years-old.

“First time I went golfing was with my dad, (I was) three years-old,” Chang said. “He took me out to a golf course in Valencia — my hometown — and then kind of just fooled around with a couple hobbies here and there but I would say I really started taking the game seriously at probably seven or eight (years old), when I started playing competitive tournaments and then from there, (I) just didn’t stop.”

Chang had an exemplary golf career at Valencia High School, where he was named most valuable player as both a sophomore and a senior. He gained valuable experience playing at the high school level, which helped prepare him to become a Knight.

“It’s a little bit different because high school. … it’s all 18, 18, 18 (holes) and yesterday, we played 36,” he said. “You don’t really have many tournaments like that besides the U.S. Open qualifying or U.S. Am qualifying where you have to play 36. But most of the college tournaments are 36 ... so other than that, the competition is still the same but it kind of gets stepped up.”

Although it serves as a solid background, there are distinct differences between golfing at the high school and collegiate levels. 

Aside from the heightened level of competition, college play also boasts stronger incorporation of the team aspect to the game.

“One notch, you kind of see everyone get filtered out playing D1 golf (and) D2 golf,” Chang said. “It (high school career) set me up pretty decent, definitely, seeing different teams and stuff like that. Everyone is playing individual and now to kind of be on a team on a college level is a different experience and going to hotels and eating food with the team and traveling, wearing suits on the plane, you know, those things we’re all learning.”

Chang chose to become a Knight with the hopes of venturing outside his comfort zone to prompt both personal and athletic growth. 

And Rutgers proved to be the ideal place.

“Well, when I did my official visit here with Coach Shutte, it was just such a different culture,” Chang said. “It was something that I wanted to experience and pretty much kind of grow up as well. My parents said, ‘I think it’d be good if you were just kinda by yourself and, you know, did your own laundry, make your time schedule, all that stuff.’”

Aside from the school itself, coaches and players play an intrinsic role in an athlete's decision to commit. In Chang's case, Shutte made the decision easy to make.

He credits his coach as one of the main reasons in why he chose to become a Knight.

“Visiting New York was fun with Coach,” he said. “I really liked Coach Shutte a lot. I think he’s a great coach. So a lot of those things and when I came here ... my freshman year and now I’m a senior, every day, I’m still learning new things and that’s what I like. So, when I go back to California, when I come back here on the East Coast and play, I’m still gonna remember all of the tournament experiences that I had with (Coach Shutte). It definitely set me up for a great life experience.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s golf team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Evan Bruno

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