By BOB YORK –
Deerfield Academy spent a lot of time at the Western Massachusetts Family Golf Center earlier this spring, but for a place that boasts fun activities for all, it was nothing but business for the Big Green. After all, this year’s golf team knows it has a reputation to uphold as the defending champion of the Kingswood-Oxford Tournament, the Newport (RI) Invitational Tournament, and as the team that knocked off 22 of the 23 teams it teed off against during regular-season play. So, figuring its predecessor left it little room for improvement, this spring’s squad ignored the batting cages, strode right past the paintball venue, never gave the mini golf a second thought, and made its way directly to the driving range.
Mother Nature doesn’t give mulligans on golf schedules just because the game is best played in golf shoes, not snowshoes. The latter would have been an essential part of the wardrobe this year, however, as the Big Green’s home course—Crumpin-Fox—had the “Closed” sign up until mid-April.
“It’s certainly been a crazy spring,” said Big Green golf Coach Nick Albertson of the long-lasting snow pack that negated Deerfield’s home-field advantage until minutes before it faced off against Taft on April 19. What’s even more chilling is the fact that it was supposed to be the Big Green’s third home match of the season.
“Our first home match (April 9) took place at Oak Ridge Golf Club in Feeding Hills, where we hosted Northfield Mount Hermon and Avon,” explained Albertson, whose teams have not lost a match at Crumpin-Fox since 2009 when Brunswick School took Deerfield to task, “and a week later, we played host to Williston and Wilbraham and Monson at the Ranch in Southwich.”
To be honest, Albertson’s charges haven’t seemed the least bit affected by the fallout from this winter’s “Big Chill.” Whether they tee it up at home (1-0) or on the road (6-1), they’re off to a 7-1 start, which, for the Big Green, is about par for the course.
This is an elite prep school golf program that has won the Kingswood-Oxford tourney—which annually lures 23 teams and serves as a Western New England Championship for its competitors—five times since the turn of the century. As for the Newport tourney, Deerfield owns it. The Big Green finished atop the eight-team field this past weekend for the fourth consecutive year and has now won the tourney title five times during the seven years it has been enrolled. Tabor and Taft finished a distant second, both posting a score of 314.
It doesn’t take the sight of tournament hardware on the 18th green to get Deerfield’s golfers into the swing of things, however. The Big Green’s regular-season records speak for themselves. In fact, since the day Co-captain Josh Kim ’14 made his debut four years ago, Deerfield has chalked up a record of 67-6. There hasn’t been any slacking off during the time Sam Lafferty ’14, the Big Green’s other co-captain, hopped on the bandwagon, either. During his three-year stint at Deerfield, Lafferty and Kim and the rest of their teammates have crafted back-to-back 22-win seasons, and are well on their way to making it three straight this spring.
“We’ve been blessed with having some outstanding golfers here at Deerfield throughout the years,” was Albertson’s explanation for the consistent success his program has attained year in and year out. “The kids love the sport … they love to compete … they know what it takes to be successful.”
“I feel fortunate that during my time here at Deerfield I’ve had teammates who not only could play the game at a high level but have had a real passion for the game as well,” added Kim, who’s 84 played a key role in Deerfield’s victory in Newport this past weekend by tying the school record score of 299, which it set last year. “I played with three such golfers my first three years here. They’re members of the Class of 2013 … James Park, David Buoymaster, and Dan Blohm. I came here to Deerfield with what I felt was a real passion for the game but after playing with them … that passion’s really intensified.”
Another teammate whom Kim has come to greatly respect over the past three years is Lafferty, his fellow co-captain, who finished fourth this weekend with a 76, just three strokes behind teammate Brandon Woo ’15, who tied for individual honors at 73. Last year, Lafferty left Newport with a 73, just one stroke off the winning pace and during the Kingswood tourney, Lafferty registered a sixth-place finish, just three strokes (75) off medalist honors.
“Sam’s not only an outstanding golfer,” said Kim, who now has four Newport titles on his resume, “but he’s a phenomenal captain and team leader and I’ve learned a great deal from him … not only about playing golf but about being a good teammate as well. And I must say, the game of golf has allowed us to become great friends.”
While Lafferty enjoys a great passion for the game of golf and is able to compete at a high level, it is not, however, his number-one sport. Hockey owns that spot.
“I love golf … I just love hockey more,” explained Lafferty, who is the 184th- ranked skater in North America by the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Bureau and therefore could likely be selected in this summer’s NHL draft. “I feel very lucky to have been able to attend a school such as Deerfield where I’ve obtained an education that has allowed me to continue my education at an Ivy League school (Brown), while also enabling me to compete at a high level athletically in both hockey and golf.
Lafferty, who was one of just 12 players to earn a berth on this year’s New England Prep School Athletic Council All-Star Hockey Team, led the Big Green in scoring this winter with 55 points on 21 goals and 34 assists. Before taking his talents to Brown, however, he has opted to spend this coming winter in the wilds of western Canada, chasing pucks in the British Columbia Hockey League.
“We’ve really enjoyed a great deal of success over the two seasons that I’ve been playing golf here and we’re hoping to have another this spring,” added Lafferty, who finished fourth on the team last year by averaging 38.77 shots per nine holes, while Kim was next in line, averaging 40.08 shots every nine holes. “We’ve got three of our top five golfers back from last year, plus we’ve picked up a couple of post graduates this year who are fitting right in, so we’re feeling pretty optimistic about our chances of continuing to be successful.”
Leading the list of returning veterans this spring is Wu ’15, whom Albertson considers as one of the premier golfers in his age bracket in the entire country and a sure-fire Division I prospect on the collegiate level. He tied Lafferty with a 75 during last year’s Kingswood tourney and likewise posted a 75 at Newport last spring and finished the season owning a team-best nine-hole stroke average of 37.36.
Helping to fill the void this spring for Park, who is playing golf at Yale, Buoymaster, who has moved on to the University of Southern California, Blohm, who is now at Northeastern, and Cam O’Connell, who is teeing it up at Trinity College, are a pair of postgraduates: Tyler Stahle and Stuart Smith.
“Great kids and a great coach,” answered Stahle, on how the Villanova-bound golfer ended up at Deerfield, “plus I knew I’d be playing a very competitive level of golf here.”
Stahle, who earned a spot on last spring’s Boston Globe All-Scholastic Golf Team for his heroics at Andover High School, placed third at Saturday’s Newport tourney with a 75, as did Smith.
Both Stahle and Smith got to know each other last fall when they played football for the Big Green. Stahle was a tight end and linebacker, while Smith, who will pursue his gridiron career on the collegiate level at Division I Furman University, was situated in the Deerfield secondary. Rounding out this spring’s Big Green lineup are Connor Henderson ’15, Anthony Jonikas ’16, and Nick Conzelman ’16.