At the Ivy League Championship over the weekend, the men’s golf team came up big—with, by far, the smallest score at the tournament.
Entering Sunday’s final round with an 11-shot lead over Yale, the Lions cruised to their fifth-ever Ivy title, finishing 12 shots clear of the second-place Bulldogs for the largest margin of victory in school history.
“Truthfully, I didn’t know [about the lead]. I make it a habit to actually not look at scores,” Columbia head coach Rich Mueller said. “When you know the results, you change the way you play and you change the way you coach. When you don’t know, your foot is always on the gas pedal.“
It was a surprising turnaround for the Light Blue, which, just one week earlier, had finished 13th at the Wolfpack Spring Open in Raleigh, N.C.
“We had one thing to fix going into this week, and that was, we knew if we played the first six to nine holes well of the tournament and of every round—but most importantly the first six holes of the tournament—that we would give ourselves a chance,” Mueller said.
Sophomore Harrison Shih, who was named first-team All-Ivy, added that the emphasis on early holes started with the Wildcat Invitational at the end of March.
“Between then and this week, we really focused in practice on putting more emphasis on the first three holes,” Shih said. “So if we were posting a score for the day in practice, our first three holes would count for triple, our second three holes would count for double, and then our final three holes would just be additives.”
Columbia shot a first-round 302 on Friday at Baltrusol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., and began Saturday in a tie for fourth. But first-year Christopher Chu, junior Brandon Jowers, first-year Tharsuyan Pillay, and Shih combined to go 2-under across the front nine on Saturday to put Columbia back into title contention. Jowers alone managed three birdies on his first nine holes.
On the back nine, Chu was the catalyst with a 2-under 34, as Columbia finished the round with 12 birdies and a collective 4-under 276. It was the best round for any team of the entire tournament by a whopping 13 strokes and also the third-best round in program history.
“There was no wind,” Mueller revealed. “The pins were still very tough, but we stuck to our game plan, which was to just hit the ball in the middle of the green.”
“You didn’t have that extra variable and added confusion if it was going to swirl, if it was going to stop, if it was going to kick up in the middle of your shot,” Shih added.
While Sunday’s final round of 302 was not as spectacular, it was more than enough for the Light Blue to claim its first win at Ivies since 2010. Combined with a one-shot victory over Army earlier this month, it also meant that the Lions posted their first two-win season since the 2005-06 campaign.
Jowers shot a final-round 5-over 75 to take home fourth place among individuals. Harvard’s Theodore Lederhausen shot a 5-over 215 across the 54-hole tournament to claim first place, three strokes ahead of Jowers. Jowers joined Shih, who finished tied for fifth, in the first-team All-Ivy group and was voted co-Ivy Player of the Year along with Yale’s Sam Bernstein. First-year Tharusyan Pillay finished tied for ninth, earning second-team All-Ivy honors.
With the Ivy title in hand, the Lions will now head to NCAA Regionals on May 15 at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. It will be their third appearance in the event under Mueller. Columbia’s best finish was a tie for 13th in 2010.