For the first time since the tournament began in 1997, the Harvard women’s golf team is at the top of the Ivy League.
The Crimson shot 890 (297-288-305) at the Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield, N.J., to take home the trophy, topping defending champions Columbia and perennial powers Princeton and Yale.
Harvard dominated the first day of play, scoring the low team mark in both rounds and building a 10-stroke lead going into Sunday’s final round. And the Crimson held on yesterday to capture the first title in team history.
Princeton junior Susannah Aboff won the individual crown, but three Harvard players followed her on the leaderboard. Junior Emily Balmert, sophomore Claire Sheldon, and senior captain Jessica Hazlett finished second, third, and fifth, respectively.
“It’s really satisfying to see the fruits of your labor, and to have the feeling of being called Ivy League Champions,” coach Kevin Rhoads said. “It’s awesome.”
The first day of play could hardly have gone any better for the Crimson.
Balmert (68-72-78-218), winner of the individual title her freshman year in 2006, followed up an incredible first round of 68 with a solid second round of play to put herself in great position. It was the first time Balmert had ever shot in the 60s.
Matching Balmert’s 68 in the second round was Sheldon (74-68-81-223), who bounced back from an up and down first round.
Helping the players were calm conditions, described by Balmert as “very manageable.” But it was not the sunny Saturday weather that the team was admiring.
“It was nice to see the pair of 68s on the scoreboard,” Balmert said. “That was beautiful.”
The two scores of 68 were the second lowest rounds of the entire weekend.
As if that was not enough, the highlight of the day came from Hazlett (76-74-75-225), whose hole-in-one on the second to last hole of the day led to huge cheers from those in attendance.
“Jessica’s hole-in-one is emblematic of the whole tournament,” said Rhoads. “We holed a bunker shot, we had chip-ins, we had real long puts, and it’s just the way things went this weekend.”
Following the impressive second round, in which Harvard’s team score of 288 was the lowest mark of the championships, the Crimson had built up a 10-stroke lead. History, it seemed, was in the team’s grasp.
“Even a 10-stroke lead is not safe, but the girls were pretty loose Saturday night,” Rhoads said. “They were comfortable and joking around like their normal selves.
Under much windier conditions Sunday, Harvard got off to a fast start and did not look back.
“We were definitely nervous [on Sunday],” Hazlett said. “But we went out there, performed well, and did the things we needed to do to maintain our lead.”
All five Crimson competitors finished in the top 15 and contributed to the victory, in a tournament where a team’s score each round is the sum of the scores of its top four players in that round. Junior Ali Bode shot three solid rounds of 79, 74, and 76, and sophomore Sarah Harvey (82-75-76-233) rebounded well from a tough opening round.
Extraordinary depth was a characteristic unique to the Harvard squad, and something that was central to the win. No other team had all of its players break into the top-20 overall.
“Golf is usually such an individual sport where you’re only responsible for yourself,” Rhoads said. “But this is one time where having a close team, and having it be so deep and balanced...this is truly a team title.”
While Balmert and Sheldon may have fallen back from Aboff in the final round, they did enough to take the silver and bronze, edging out a pair of Columbia players. Hazlett’s 75 was the team’s best third-round score.
Next up for the Crimson will be the regional finals.
“We’re just going to continue to work on our games and prepare for the next step,” Hazlett said.
That is not to say, though, that the team is already forgetting about its accomplishment.
“Harvard has a lot of history, and to do something for the first time, and achieve something like this, is really special,” Rhoads said.
—Staff writer Jay M. Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.