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For complete sports coverage, visit the official site of the Skidmore Thoroughbreds.


Thoroughly thoroughbred: Golf team offers tough competition throughout the lineup


Team spirit and morale are among the major challenges this year for Skidmore golf coach Tim Brown. Not because the team is failing, but because it’s so exceptionally strong.

Three freshmen and a sophomore transfer student joined the team this fall–and immediately made their presence felt. At the season-opening Skidmore Invitational, the Thoroughbreds took first and second place, as freshman Ben Bates ’03 and transfer Joey Pohle ’02 tied with one-under-par 71s to lead the first-string "green" squad to victory, immediately followed by 76 shooters Tom Brewer ’03 and Brian Clark ’02 at the head of the second-string "white" squad. Brown told the Saratogian that achieving both first and second place was "a great way to start. It’s been a few years since we’ve had the depth to do it." Along with the newcomers, the roster consists of three returning sophomores, just two juniors, and senior captain Jared Tendler ’00.

With 10 capable players, as Brown told the Saratogian, "there is a lot of room for advancement. No one has any spots sewn up . . . ." Take Brian Gropler ’02. He went from being one of the top 20 Division III players in the country last year to getting bumped down to the second string by a hot freshman recruit this fall. Says the forthright Gropler, "I started the fall poorly, my average went up, and I lost my place on the A team by a fraction of a point." He admits, "For about a week I was real angry and disgusted with myself," but he soon refocused on "working my tail off and trying to improve my numbers." But whether his slump turns around or drags on, he says, "I’m not mad at the guy who won my spot. Everybody’s trying to improve their game and move up, and that’s what makes the team so strong."

Brown agrees. Supportive, team-spirited competition, he argues, is a great performance enhancer even for a solo sport like golf. So he works on team building every day. To start, he gathers the team on campus more than a week before classes begin in the fall. His players enjoy the preseason not only for its intensive practice on several courses, but for its way of bonding team members old and new. "One trick I use," says Brown, pokerfaced, "is to have our team meetings with all 10 guys in my office, which only holds six. We all have to crowd in there, and it helps everyone get to know each other and get close." The meetings, held at least once or twice a week all season long, "sound like a big family: we make fun of each other, praise each other, share advice about how to play the various courses." At tournaments, he adds, "We huddle up and say a few words and then each guy goes off to play. And when the first golfer finishes his 18 holes, he doesn’t pack up and go get a sandwich. He waits there, to lend support as his teammates play their rounds."

Because golf is so much a mental sport, Pohle says, "you gotta stay positive, and that’s where the team can help. It eases some pressure to know that the guys have confidence in you and you have confidence in them." Pohle grew up playing golf with his dad, who’s the coach at Williams College, with his dad’s friend Tim Brown, and with Brown’s son Denver, so it’s no surprise he won a golf scholarship to a Division I school, the University of Rhode Island. But he’s delighted with his transfer to Skidmore. He says, "The approach to practices is actually better here–more serious, like homework. I wanted to improve as a golfer, and I knew Tim could guide me. I have certain goals for this year–number one is to be first-team All America, and also for us to go to nationals and win." Yet, he adds, "Golf isn’t the only thing in my life, though in Division I it can seem like it is." A business-mathematics major, Pohle says he also wants to be involved in intramural hockey, his campus job as a sports-information assistant, and other activities.

Ben Bates ’03 is another sharp-shooting newcomer whom Brown watched growing up. The son of Skidmore Admissions Director Mary Lou Bates, he also grew up playing golf with his dad and the elder and younger Browns. And he also could have aimed for a Division I college, but he says, "The education I could get, the people I could meet here–no other school compared to Skidmore. It had what I wanted." A state-tournament qualifier in high school, Bates says he was welcomed into the Thoroughbreds with "a good team feeling." But he adds, "Here the team is so much better, I know I have to bear down and concentrate."

Brown is keenly aware that "these kids were all number one at their high schools, and here some of them find they’re number seven or eight on the team. It can be hard. But again, that’s where the team support comes in." As Gropler notes, "Players of our experience have our physical technique pretty well settled, so Coach focuses a lot on the mental aspects of the game–confidence, planning, staying within yourself to play your best game. At this level, the guy who’s got it together mentally is usually the guy who’ll win."

So far, Brown’s delicate balance of competition with solidarity seems right on: it’s his guys who won five of the first six tournaments this fall. Pohl finished first in four contests, Gropler tied for third in the Skidmore Fall Classic, and Bates finished in the top quarter of three major tourneys. As Brown warned earlier, "No one has any spots sewn up," and that fact is keeping a sharp edge on the entire team as it looks to the spring season and a run at nationals.

 


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