When the LMU men’s golf season was suspended last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team did not know when they would get the chance to play again. That question has now been answered, as the group competed in their first tournament earlier this week in Monterey, California.
The Lions are one of five West Coast Conference (WCC) teams that will be competing this fall in a series of three conference-only tournaments. And while the training and competition is a bit different than usual, the group is just glad to be back on the course again.
“It was super nice getting back in that competitive groove,” said redshirt junior Gavin Cohen, who led the team last spring with a lowest average score of 72.14 before the suspension of play. “We’re proving to ourselves that we are able to compete, and we feel like we’ve been able to play as a unit.”
When the team learned of the suspension of play, fifth-year Head Coach Jason D’Amore encouraged the group to stay positive as they headed into the summer.
“We were in the middle of a team trip when we got the news,” said senior Matthew Carungay. “We were pretty bummed about it, especially for our seniors, just because we felt like we were trending in the right direction ... But our coach just kept pushing the narrative, [telling us] to stay optimistic, get ready for the summer, get ready for the fall, expecting things would be normal.”
And while “normal” hasn’t usually been the way to describe the current state of athletics during the pandemic, the nature of golf as a sport has allowed the team to practice and compete in a way that is familiar — though not without some differences.
In addition to scheduled COVID-19 testing and regular temperature checks, the team opted out of regular training on campus this fall, which mainly included on-campus weight training. Additionally, the group now practices at public courses that are thirty to forty minutes away from campus, says Cohen, as their usual private courses have restricted the team’s access to their facilities. Masks are required during practices, but not during tournaments, where competitors are spaced apart and socially distanced.
“It’s definitely been something new, but we just have to stay adaptable to what gets thrown at us and understand that we’re lucky enough to play the sport that we love," said Cohen.
And while the team is happy to be competing again, it comes as a bit of a surprise. The team received the news that practices and tournaments would continue — all while on a smaller scale — about a week before school began, says Cohen.
“The biggest question mark for us was what the quality of practice and quality of tournaments [were] going to be,” added Carungay. “Although [the tournaments] are conference-only, we know that the competition is just as good. If we show up and compete, we’ll be ranked really well.”
And the Lions faced that strong competition earlier this week. They finished in second place of the five WCC teams at the Pasadera Collegiate Invitational on Monday and Tuesday. The team notched 822 points, 26 behind Pepperdine University, who were ranked No. 1 in the country last spring, and finished 20 points ahead of Brigham Young University, who ranked No. 17.
And while Cohen and Carungay have their fair share of collegiate golf experience, a number of competitors on the Lions’ roster this year are competing in their first year.
“For them it’s been a while since they’ve played very competitively, and their whole expectation of college and college golf has been thrown out the window,” said Carungay. “I told them, 'you belong with us, you have the game to belong with us, and just be patient and confident. Don’t be distracted, and focus on what’s in front of you.'"
And while everyone on the team — new players and veterans alike — is happy to be competing in these early tournaments, Cohen knows their ultimate goal will come in the spring, and is confident that this current group of players can perform strongly.
“We’ve definitely been a work in progress as a team, but I feel like the team is the most complete that it's ever been [during] my time at LMU,” said Cohen, who transferred to LMU from the University of Arizona in 2018. “I really feel like we’re a full unit, and I think we’re going to have a really good run at winning our conference. I know Pepperdine has been a very dominant squad, but we really feel like we’re better and that we can take their title this year.”
"The little goals lead up to the big ones,” added Carungay. “[We need] to focus on what we have in the moment and stay present, but also have that big picture in mind.”
The team competes next on Oct. 19 and 20 for the La Purisima College Invite in Lompoc, California.