To wrap up their 2017-2018 season, the Knox men’s golf team attended the Midwest Conference Championships last week, placing second overall. The men scored a team average of 316 strokes per round by the end of the three day tournament at Aldeen Golf Club in Rockford, IL, just 5.2 strokes behind the 2018 first place winner and Knox’s golf rival, Lake Forest College (310.8).
The team brought six golfers to Conference this year, including freshmen Luis Liendo, Josh Shumacher, Elliot Bainbridge, Jason White and Tijn de Jong, as well as junior Duncan Wheeler. The highest seasonal averages of the entire team qualified these six to participate in the tournament.
Wheeler not only placed fourth in scoring averages over the weekend with 77.8 strokes per round, or 4.32 strokes per hole, but was also one of three Knox golfers who went All-Conference, in addition to de Jong and White, tying with Lake Forest for most All-Conference players this year. Wheeler, who was coming off being named Men’s Golf Performer of the Week in the Midwest Conference last month, tied for sixth individually with a score of 227.
Wheeler’s status as the only Knox upperclassman at the tournament reflected just how strong the freshmen on the team are. Of 14 men’s golfers, seven are freshmen. Being outnumbered five to one at conference this year, Wheeler says the disproportion troubled him at first, but managed to contribute immensely to the team’s overall performance by the end of the weekend.
“I was nervous,” Wheeler explained. “Because I love my guys, but I remember my freshman year, I had a really up-and-down season, so I was really scared that [the freshmen this year] were going to be like, ‘oh no, conference!’ and shoot 80’s; but Tijn, he played awesome. I’m proud of him. Jason came in and kicked ass the first day and we played pretty well as a team.”
de Jong, who tied for third place individually with 226, averaging 75.3 per round; and White, who placed 8th with 229, averaging 76.3, were two of only four freshmen in the Midwest Conference who placed within the top ten this year.
“As a freshman, I wasn’t expecting a lot individually,” de Jong said. “But I did great, I got a top three, so that was good.” de Jong shot 78 on the first day, 74 on the second, and 74 again on the third, and he was followed by Wheeler and White as the best individual performers on the team.
White shot 69 on the first day of the tournament, averaging 3.8 strokes per hole, followed by scores of 82 and 78 on the second and third days, respectively. “I played really well the first day,” White affirmed. “I was leading the tournament by like three shots [on the first day] É and then I just blew up on the second day and then came back the third day to post a halfway decent score.”
Like many student athletes, coming from a multi-sport background is very common. Knox male golfers are no exception, with White having played baseball and football in his youth and both Bainbridge and de Jong having played soccer before finding their talent in golf.
“At first I was a soccer player,” de Jong explained. “And then when I was eight years old, my dad took me out to the golf course and I hit a couple balls and then [one of the] professionals at the golf course asked me if I wanted to play golf more competitively so I went to try that. From there, I quit soccer and kept getting better at golf, and actually my swing coach [now] is that same professional that got me into golf.”
“I started playing golf when I was about twelve, then I started playing it more competitively in high school, [so I] quit playing soccer. But I kept playing rugby, so I played rugby on Saturdays and golf on Sundays. [Then] I got recruited to play at Knox and I thought it would be a great opportunity to study abroad, have fun, and get to meet [my teammates].”
Knox competed against Lake Forest, St. Norbert College, Monmouth College, Illinois College and Grinnell College at the Midwest Conference Championships to eventually place second by the last day of the tournament on May 5. The team’s placement at the event would be their third second-place win this season, following runner-up designations at the Loras College Fall Invite in September and at the Illinois College Invite in March.
“I think that this season, I’d say we had a lot of close calls,” Bainbridge said. “There were about four or five tournaments where we got beat by one or two shots, so you have seasons like that and you have seasons where you win them all.”
In March, Knox men’s golf tied for first place at the Aldeen Preview, but placed sixth at the Blueboy Invite at Wheaton College the previous week and 16th at the Augustana Invitational the week before that. At their final tournament before conference, the Fighting Scot Invite at Monmouth College, the team placed fourth.
“We know that we’re good enough, we just need to work on consistency because we’ve always had, in all of those tournaments, leading scores on the first day and then [poorer scores] on the second day, so we need to work on consistency. I think that’s probably our main goal for next year, is just working on consistency.”
The Knox women’s golf team will go to their Midwest Conference Championships in the Fall.