A fluctuating roster, the graduation of a senior All-American, and inconsistent play during the fall season could easily have plunged the Linfield men’s golf team from first to worst in the Northwest Conference standings.
Though Linfield fell short of claiming the program’s third consecutive NWC crown, the Wildcats placed respectably among their conference brethren, overcoming the loss of All-American Alex Fitch, the midseason departure of key regular Connor Magnuson, and hot-and-cold performances during September and October to grab second place among eight NWC programs in the year’s final point standings.
“In the fall, we seemed to follow every good round with a bad one or vice versa,” said coach Greg Copeland, explaining the reason why Linfield found itself tied for fourth place in the point standings heading to the spring portion of the season. “After that, we ended up performing pretty consistently.”
Magnuson left the team for personal reasons in December, taking with him national-tournament experience.
Enter freshman Adam Ruben, who joined the team in January after beginning the school year at College of the Desert, a two-year program where he focused on improving his grades.
“Coming back from (fourth) in the fall to finish second was a very good accomplishment,” said Copeland. “Picking up Adam in the middle of the year really helped compensate for the loss of Connor.”
Ruben was instantly comfortable in the Linfield environment, both in the classroom and on the golf course. He ended up as Linfield’s low scorer in each of the four spring events he competed in, including edging NWC Player of the Year Ryan Kukula of Willamette by one stroke for medalist honors at the season-ending NWC Championships.
Ruben averaged a team-low 74.8 strokes per round, leading Copeland to call him “a great addition” to the program.
Sophomore Taylor Klopp was one of Linfield’s most consistent golfers, averaging 75.9 strokes to rank among the top 100 golfers in NCAA Division III.
Fellow Wildcats A.J. Taylor (78.1), Ryan Nolan (78.2), Taylor Pirnke (78.9), Kyle Hargraves (78.7) and Tommy Schmitz (79.8) were so close in ability that often the team’s lineup was not determined until a qualifying playoff the day before each tournament.
The competition for playing time kept players striving to play their best while helping Linfield elevate past several contending teams.
“We have a very good corps of players returning next year,” said Copeland. “But we have to get better as a team in order to continue to compete well against the other conference programs.”