Vignettes and observations from the NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships by retired Greensboro News & Record reporter Jim Schlosser '65
The University of La Verne sounds like a college in France or elsewhere in Europe. It's actually 35 miles east of Los Angeles, but its golf team has an international flavor that complements the school's name. The team's 10-man roster includes players from Thailand, Germany, England, and Norway. Two other players only sound like they might be from outside the United States, Aaron DiGiamarino, and Hisham Hussein. They are both Californians, although Hussein's dad is originally from Lebanon.
On Wednesday, La Verne freshman Pitiluk Phanomchai of Thailand, thin and small, rocketed his tee shot long and straight on the 10th hole.
Earlier, while waiting to hit his tee ball, Phanomchai explained succinctly why he enrolled at La Verne. "I wanted to play golf and learn English," he said.
And how he has played. He was recently named the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Newcomer of the Year.
These foreign players didn't enroll at La Verne by chance. Golf coach Eric Riehle decided two years to go international in his recruiting.
"Northeast Los Angeles is an attractive place for internationals to come and play golf year-round," he said. "The important thing that's developed from this is these players have brought a good mix of culture, personality, and different experiences."
They also arrived knowing the importance of teamwork.
Riehle said that during the last two years his players have shown "the best team unity ever."
Riehle is in his second stint at La Verne, having coached the golf team from 2009 to 2012 before returning in 2015. He says since about 2000 the golf team has enjoyed success, nearly always qualifying for Division III Championship. It was runner-up in 2007 and 2009.
La Vern is a private school founded in 1891 by Church of the Brethren members from Germany. It has 5,804 undergraduate and graduate students. The school's mascot is foreign, the African leopard, it's mascot, Leo the Leopard. It's best-known sports alum is American, the late Dan Quisenberry, one of best relief pitchers of all time. He played from 1980 to 1990 for the Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants.
Coach Riehle loses only one player to graduation. With all his foreign players returning, the team next year will be even more international.
"We are bringing in players from Canada and another from Thailand," he said.
It's Not Easy Growing Greens
The long, cold winter, with a late snowstorm, did a number on the greens at golf courses in the Greensboro area. Sedgefield Country Club, site of a PGA Tour stop, is closed for green repair. The Greensboro Country Club's Farm Course is having to redo the Bermuda greens that were put in only last year. Fairways and fringes at the club's Irving Park Course are bare in places.
And then there are Grandover Resort and Spa's two courses. Considering the tough winter, the fairways and greens suffered damage on only a few holes. Students in this week's NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships are praising the conditions. The West Course, with its bent-grass greens, looks as good as ever. The East, which installed Bermuda greens recently, has some bareness on the third, ninth and 12th holes, but grounds crews are working on them as the tournament progresses.
"We didn't cut enough trees on the East Course," says Jared Millikan, who works in the Grandover pro shop. The trees blocked sunlight from reaching the sensitive Bermuda greens. The putting surfaces on the East Course are hard, but at least they are covered with grass, unlike nearby Sedgefield and the Farm Course across town.
New Kids On the Block
The University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, isn't named for George Washington's wife. Her name was Martha. Until the 1930s, there was a college named for her (Martha Washington College) in Abingdon, Virginia. The campus is now a lovely inn.
Mary Bell Washington was George's mother. She was a resident of the old city of Fredericksburg. Like the now-defunct Martha Washington College, the University of Mary Washington was founded as a woman's college, in 1908. Men first enrolled in 1972.
In 2016-17, the school finally started a men's golf team, and it didn't take long for the Eagles to get good. They finished third this season to Virginia Wesleyan University of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in an intercollegiate tournament that attracted Division III and Division II schools in Virginia. The Eagles won the Capital Athletic Conference Tournament by 24 shots over Christopher Newport University. That victory automatically qualified the Eagles to make the drive down I-85 from Fredericksburg to Greensboro for the NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships played this week at the Grandover Resort & Spa.
Sophomore Phillip Manceri came all the way from Boca Raton, Florida, to Fredericksburg to be part of something new.
"It's been great," he said. "We're all young and we're going to gel."
The team has four sophomores and a freshman, the latter coming from France to be part of the new program.
Sadly, the Eagles were far back in the field of 42 teams during Wednesday's second round and were in danger of missing the 36-hole cut. Only 18 teams will continue for the final 36.
Still, watch out for next year and the next.
"We're going to get better," Manceri said. "We all have the same goal."
"This is the end for me," said Bill Downes, golf coach at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts.
He's 81 years old and after 33 years as the school's golf coach - he started the program - and 51 years at the college in many capacities, he's retiring.
The timing is right for him because one of his players is graduating, his grandson, Mike Metcalf.
"That's him, the redhead," Downes said. He pointed to one of the five Western New England players hitting balls on the practice range at Grandover Resort & Spa Wednesday before they joined with the other 212 golfers in a shotgun start at the rain-threatened NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships.
It's been a busy half-century for Metcalf at Western New England, which was founded in 1919 and has 3,955 students. He coached soccer, basketball, baseball, and golf, and served as director of physical education; not all at once, but almost. Some years, he coached soccer and baseball and was assistant basketball coach (later elevated to head coach).
Soccer baffled him, "Didn't know anything about it," he says, "but I had great players." The team finished fourth nationally one year.
Of all the sports he coached, he says golf is toughest.
"You have to be mentally tough to play golf; more than any other sport," he says. "The players have to know how to handle adversity."
Unlike soccer, he knows the ins and outs of golf. He plays the game, and, after this week, he'll have more time to tee it up.
We Are…. Penn State
This gets confusing. How do you tell the difference between the Penn State Berks Nittany Lions and the Penn State Behrend Nitty Lions?
Both schools are playing this week in the NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championship at Grandover Resort and Spa. You can't tell the difference by checking out their colors. Both schools wear navy blue and white.
Behrend is in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Berks in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Both branches of the Penn State system, the main campus of which is nationally known, that football powerhouse, the Penn State Nittany Lions in State College, Pennsylvania. All the branches draw their name, colors, and nickname from the flagship campus.
"There are a bunch of branches," says coach Rich Bausher of Penn State Berks. To be precise, there are 19 undergraduate and four graduate branches. There's: Penn State Altoona, Penn State Harrisburg, Penn State Lehigh Valley, and Penn State Abington to name a few. Many of the branches play athletics in the NCAA Division III, for schools that don't give athletic scholarships.
Fortunately, only two branches qualified for the Greensboro tournament. If five or 10 had made it here, it would have been visual chaos.
The schools share much in common, except for companionship.
"We see maybe three of them in a season," says Jacob Siegfried, a Penn State Berks student-athlete from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Berks is in the North Eastern Athletic Conference. The only sister school that belongs is Penn State Abington. Behrend competes in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference. The only other Penn State school in the league is Penn State Altoona.
One reason there are so many branches may be because it's so much of a challenge to gain acceptance as a first-year student to the main campus at State College, which has 46,000 students and a freshman acceptance rate of about 23 percent. The branches offer small classes and small student bodies. Berks has 2,800 students, Behrend's enrollment is 5,000. The branches serve as preparatory schools for the main campus. Any student in good academic standing at one of the branches can transfer after two years and be accepted at the main campus.
At one point, only 20 percent of the students at the branch campuses stayed for four years. But now, 35 to 40 percent remain, according to Bausher and Siegfried of Penn State Berks.
"The branch campuses are nice," says Siegfried, a sophomore who plans to play golf at Berks for two more years.