The Elon University's men's golf team faced a 180 degree turn when it returned to the links this fall. The team of ten last year was made up of four seniors and two graduate students, and this year, it has just one of each that make up the ten man roster. Now, primarily made up of underclassmen, head coach Don Hill said he’s seen this year’s team bond in ways last year’s group did not.
“This group is probably the most cohesive,” Hill said. “I think having a team that is young, that are all very similar ages and going through similar experiences at the same time, helps that a great deal.”
Forced not only to adjust to a new college environment, the predominant youth of the golf team also meant adapting to a new cast of characters that represent the maroon and gold. With spring season starting, the team has come a long way in connecting with one another from where it started back in the fall, and now looks to take the next leap: securing a national title.
Six underclassmen make up the 10-man team this year. One newcomer, right swinging freshman Oliver Rotermund, said the team’s camaraderie made it effortless to find his comfort zone on and off the fairways.
Rotermund said transitioning from high school to the collegiate level was an adjustment, but the competition and playing with the university team is where he finds his drive.
“I played college golf and chose to do it because I love competing,” Rotermund said. “You’re playing for the university, so it definitely was intimidating at first, but I think the more experience that you have, the better you get.”
One underclassman has gone through a unique transition of his own. Right swinging sophomore Juan Callejo Ropero grew up playing golf across the Atlantic Ocean in his home Madrid, Spain. He said the difference in playing golf here in the U.S extends beyond the dog legs and pin placements of the courses he plays.
“It’s obviously different,” Callejo Ropero said. “Not only are the courses different, but the way the tournaments are prepared.”
In Spain, Callejo Ropero was accustomed to tournaments structured over four rounds, each round featuring a complete 18 holes of golf. On the contrary, the structure of golf in the U.S forced him to adjust to two full rounds of golf, 36 holes, in a single day followed by another 18 on the second.
Yet, Callejo Ropero said he did notice one similarity between golf on both sides of the pond: the caliber of the players.
“Golfers are good everywhere,” Callejo Ropero said. “But here, there are more.”
Callejo Ropero said one of the best parts about competing in the U.S is that he gets to match up against some of his former golf teammates and childhood friends from Spain. He said he will often see a familiar face when the team travels for a tournament.
“It’s fun to see them compete and see them in tournaments around here,” Callejo Ropero said. “It’s a real rivalry between us when we go out there. We try to represent Spain, too.”
Earlier this year, the entire team took an eight day trip to Scotland, giving it the chance to learn a lot about the history of golf at St. Andrews. However, the trip also allowed the young team to bond and learn about each other off the course. The experience allowed Hill to take off his coaching cap at times and get to know the team as young men, not just as players. The trip is something that Hill always looks forward to, but said that this year's group made the excursion extra enlightening.
Rotermund said its youth makes the Phoenix feel as if it has something to prove to the rest of the competition.
“We have a lot of talent and we are just excited to prove it to people and show not only our conference but every team in the NCAA that we are a legit team and we are ready to play,” Rotermund said.
Callejo Ropero said he hopes the team can go further than the Colonial Athletic Association championships in April.
“Our goal is to get to the national championship, step by step, tournament by tournament,” Callejo Ropero said.
Although the team is young, Hill believes the confidence they have will hopefully fill the season with success.
“The group that we have is so golf centric, and they will win and they want to be good,” Hill said. “We feel like we are on the cusp of something really special.”