Rutgers prepares for unique challenges

<p>Junior co-captain Doug Walters lead the Knights to their upcoming tournament in Ireland. The weather conditions the team will face in Ireland are similar to those it encountered at the Hartford Hawks Invitational.</p>

Junior co-captain Doug Walters lead the Knights to their upcoming tournament in Ireland. The weather conditions the team will face in Ireland are similar to those it encountered at the Hartford Hawks Invitational.

Coming off arguably their most difficult road tournaments of the season, the Rutgers men’s and women’s golf teams return to practice and preparation for challenges ahead.

In its third event of the fall, the women’s team hosts the Rutgers Invitational on Oct. 5 and 6 at the Rutgers University Golf Course.

While pleased to finally play on their home turf, the Scarlet Knights also know the dangers of being too relaxed with the course they see more than any other.

Sophomore Kortnie Maxoutopoulis understands it as well as any of the Knights. She has steadily paced the team with two top-six individual finishes this season and won the Rutgers Invitational last fall.

“When you play at your own home course, it’s almost like, ‘Oh, well I know it too well,’” she said. “But you still have to play it as a typical golf round, find yards in every shot, factor in the wind. And you can’t just expect what you’re used to expecting on a typical day. You have to take every single hole as it comes.”

Staying in the moment factored into the youthful Knights’ struggles last weekend at the Yale Intercollegiate.

The team carded a disappointing 317 in the final round — 18 strokes worse than the previous round — to finish in ninth place. As head coach Maura Waters-Ballard noted Sunday, strong winds and inconsistencies with the team’s freshmen were crucial factors.

“It’s hard to stay focused through all [three] days,” Maxoutopoulis said. “Could’ve been that we lost the focus, could’ve been a little inexperience. Not sure really sure exactly what happened. We kind of fell back a bit, but I think that just comes as a learning experience.”

Senior co-captain Brittany Weddell also attributes much of the team’s inconsistencies down the stretch simply to the freshmen’s lack of experience in three-day tournaments.

“The freshmen aren’t really used to that yet,” she said. “I think a lot of getting better at the game is experience, and now that they’ve had two tournaments under their belts, I think they’re going to be ready to come back to a course that we play two to three times a week and do a lot better.”

The men’s team, meanwhile, has begun extensive preparations for a much different venue awaiting them at the Waterville Collegiate Classic on Oct. 15 and 16 in County Kerry, Ireland.

Like last week, the team practices again next week at courses outside of Rutgers with uneven and downhill lies that its home range does not provide.

The Knights also prepare Monday and Tuesday for inclement and erratic weather conditions they have not seen much of prior to the Hartford Hawks Invitational.

“[Hartford] was a good experience because it was our first tournament of the season of really battling weather elements, temperature changes,” said junior Doug Walters. “That’s really what is a necessity to adapt to over in Ireland.”

The Knights travel in less than three weeks to a peninsula coast in Waterville, where wind will naturally play a major role.

“Currently at the [Rutgers] range, we are specifically working on ball control and hitting different shots and fades,” Walters said. “We’ve got to find and hit that hold-off shot where it fights that wind and goes where our intended line is.”

Freshman Jonathan Chang sets his sights on improving his game following a disappointing finish to his individual performance at the invitational in Hartford.

After leading the Knights with a scorecard of 147 — sixth in the individual player field — through the opening two rounds Monday, Chang struggled with his rhythm in the final round Tuesday and never recovered. He slipped to 27th in the field and finished with a final score of 228.

“I couldn’t really get things going,” Chang said. “I hit four greens out of 18 holes [in the last round], and you’re not going to win with that. So, very disappointing on my part and I felt like I kind of let the team down.”

To return to being a catalyst for the Knights, Chang aims to get his full-range driving on track before the team treks to Ireland.

“I need to work on my ball striking,” he said. “That one kills me the most. I feel pretty confident with my short game all the time — always rely on it. But going in, I’m going to be working on the ball striking, keeping the ball low. It’s pretty windy over there [in Ireland].”

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