As Boston’s spring weather finally begins to settle in, two groups in particular are especially thankful: the Harvard men’s and women’s golf teams.
With snow still covering the ground late into March, the teams have had to adjust to practicing and playing away from their traditional home course at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
While the teams were able to begin on-course training around mid-February last spring season, this season they have relied more on indoor training, according to sophomore Michelle Xie. As a result, the groups have had to make the most out of their trips to more temperate playing conditions in the South.
“Our season started much later this year compared to the past,” Xie said. “We will see how this might affect us in our final few tournaments, but we definitely feel prepared to play in the Ivy League Championships.”
This season so far has seen two such trips for both teams. Over spring break, the men’s and women’s teams embarked on a week-long trip to Delray Beach, Fla., where they had an informal weekend match against Lynn University. Two weeks later, Harvard’s women’s team returned again to Florida to play in their very own Harvard Invitational at The Oaks Club in Sarasota.
“The purpose of our spring break trips is to be able to play in real grass and good weather,” said men’s captain Daniel De La Garza. “We always switch up the location every year and it is always great trip for us, especially when Boston is snowing all the time.”
As much as these weekend tournaments to the South have benefited the golf teams, maintaining high levels of performance during the winter months has come primarily through the teams’ state-of-the-art indoor training facility. Renovated in 2011, the indoor amenities include 24/7 access for varsity golfers to four hitting stations, a Trackman launch monitor to simulate real-life ball movements, and a 2,000 square foot putting green.
“The indoor practice facility is definitely helpful for our training,” Xie said. “The Trackman is really useful because when hitting off the nets it is difficult to judge where the balls would be going in real life. So being able to use the simulator rather than just hit ten yards to a net has really helped my game.”
In addition, the team went through intensive fitness and strength offseason workouts designed specifically for golf from the Titleist Performance Institute. These workouts targeted core strengthening, improving balance, and developing upper-body strength.
“Although we have very few practices in the winter, we continue to improve our games by working out and keeping our fitness in the gym,” De La Garza said. “Our season starts February 1st, but when the weather is an issue in the first few months we keep a strong mentality and make the most out of our opportunities.”
With these resources, the Harvard golf teams have done their best to mitigate the tough winter conditions. Even so, the inevitable Northeast storm or violently windy day can hit, often unexpectedly. In these circumstances, Harvard players have learned how to adjust their games and now consider it a part of their day-to-day lives.
For example, during the recent Princeton Invitational on April 8 and April 9, the men’s golf team faced more than an inch of rain in addition to gusting winds in their match at Springdale Country Club.
“I think we handled the conditions well, though the scores were worse for each team across the board on that Friday morning,” sophomore Aurian Capart said. “We powered through it, but given the weather, we did not know what to expect.”
Even with these difficult conditions, the Crimson finished second overall. Capart himself led the team, shooting a team-low 209 after three rounds and earning a second-place finish.
The women’s golf team faced similar situations throughout this spring season. In fact, the team made the last-minute decision to play at the Navy Invitational in Annapolis, Md., after their previous tournament was canceled due to weather concerns.
“We are definitely still competitive within our conference,” Xie said. “The weather is obviously one of the factors you have to consider playing here at Harvard, but overall it is still just staying focused on what you and your team are trying to accomplish during the season.”
Like Xie, who grew up in Southern California, the majority of both Harvard’s men’s and women’s golf teams learned and developed their games in warmer climates. Yet, these new experiences playing in the Northeast as well as facing opponents in tournaments in the South have improved their own versatility and mental toughness, according to De La Garza.
“Many people could see playing golf in Boston as a challenge or obstacle,” De La Garza said. “But our team actually becomes stronger mentally because of the weather. Here at Harvard, we don’t practice for quantity, but rather for quality.”
This type of mentality has propelled De La Garza, who is from Monterrey, Mexico, to become an important leader for the Crimson. On the golf course, De La Garza utilized the mental consistency to earn second-team All Ivy honors in his junior season. He believes that his positive attitude in dealing with the weather will be an important message to pass on to younger teammates as well.Overall, Harvard may recruit most of its talent from the South, but it has put in place important physical and mental tools to help these student-athletes adjust and excel at the collegiate level. The recent successes of both squads, including last year’s dual Ivy titles, are proof that the current formula is working.
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