By BOB YORK –
Oak Ridge played more like Heartbreak Ridge for the Deerfield Academy golf team this spring.
The course, which is located in nearby Feeding Hills, hosts the Kingswood-Oxford School Invitational Tournament. With 23 teams annually taking part in this season-ending extravaganza, however, it could well be considered exactly what Big Green coach Nick Albertson calls it: The Western New England Prep School Golf Championship.
Either way you (pardon the pun) slice it, Deerfield has won this tourney five times since the turn of the century. It has qualified as “The Best of the West” in 2000, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2013 and was this spring as well. That is until KO coach Scott Dunbar referred to his rulebook during the post-tourney awards ceremony.
For the first time, at least in recent memory, this 41-year-old invitational ended in a tie for the title. Deerfield and Kingswood finished atop the field of competitors with identical scores of 378, which was the second lowest winning score in the history of this event. Rather than splitting the trophy down the middle, however, Dunbar’s rulebook stated there could be but one winner–and that single winner would not be determined by a playoff. The rule, according to Dunbar, stated that in case of a tie, the player who posted the lowest score on the two rosters would determine the winning team.
With the explanations out of the way, Dunbar promptly declared his club the 2014 winner as Kingswood’s Pat Hallisey posted a two-under-par 68 to take the day’s medalist honors. The tough-to-take part for Deerfield was the fact that Sam Lafferty (14) finished with a 69, just one stroke off the pace as the Big Green slid back to second place. Taft, meanwhile, which won the Founders League crown just the week before, finished third only two strokes off the pace (380). Avon Old Farms was fourth at 384.
“We were very disappointed in the outcome,” said Albertson, who admitted that he wasn’t aware of a tournament rule that decided the championship in such a way. “We were all looking forward to deciding the championship with a playoff, but that’s not what happened.”
Adding to Albertson’s frustration of finishing second with a winning score of 378 was the fact that this year’s pace-setting score was just one stroke off Deerfield’s final tally from a year ago (379), “and that score allowed us to beat the field by an amazing 21 strokes,” reflected the Big Green mentor.
“I never remember seeing a rulebook,” said Lafferty, “but that’s the way things go sometimes. It made for a rather frustrating way to see your prep school career come to an end. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if I’d finished with a 68 and we ended up in a tie for medalist honors, too.”
Despite the demotion, the Big Green still managed to keep wearing out a path to the medals podium, however, as this was the fifth straight year it has finished in the top three. In addition to this year’s silver medal and earning gold in 2010 and 2013, it collected bronze in 2011 and 2012.
Despite the frustration over finishing second, Albertson certainly had no complaints about the way his Big Green had tied for first. This tourney issues no mulligans, as each team must field five golfers and must count all five scores. So, with no margin for error, Deerfield went out and placed three of its golfers in the top 10 finishers.
In addition to Lafferty’s second-place finish, Tyler Stahle (14) carded a one-over-par 71 to place fifth in a field of 115 golfers, while Brandon Wu (15), who has been elected captain of next year’s squad, sported a 74 to produce an eighth-place finish. Stuart Smith (14), this year’s recipient of the Jerry Daly ’72 Award, and Josh Kim (14) rounded out the field for the Big Green with scores of 80 and 84 respectively.
While the Kingswood rulebook says Deerfield failed in successfully defending its tournament crown, the Big Green had no trouble chalking up its fourth straight Newport Invitational Tournament crown and its fifth title in the seven years it has been competing in the tourney.
The Big Green paced the eight-team field with a final count of 299, as Taft and Tabor finished a distant second at 314. Andover, Exeter and Loomis tied for third at 321. On the individual charts, Wu, who led the team with an average of 37.2 strokes per nine holes of play, wound up with a 73 to earn a share of the day’s medalist honors. Stahle, who was second on the swing list, averaged 38.1 per nine holes, while Smith, who averaged 40.5 strokes per nine, were right behind with 75’s. Lafferty (38.7) closed out at 76 and Kim (43.2) produced an 84.
This spring marked the fourth consecutive season that Deerfield golfers have reached the 20-win plateau and have rung up 22 victories in each of the past two campaigns. Last year, the Big Green finished at 22-1 while this season, a 22-3 showing gave it a mind-blowing 44-4 mark over a two-year span.
Of Deerfield’s three setbacks this year, two belonged to the Winged Beavers of Avon Old Farms. The first, which came on opening day on April 9, saw Avon post a 198-208 decision. The Big Green then ran off 20 straight wins until it crossed paths with Avon a second time one month later. On May 10, during a five-team match, the Beavers prevailed, 184-206, while Hotchkiss did the same, 195-206. Everything else went Deerfield’s way this season–well, almost everything.
In addition to Wu, Connor Henderson (15), who averaged 44.5 stokes per nine holes this season, will be among the building blocks Albertson has to work with next season, as will Nicky Conzelman (16), who owned a 47.2 average for every nine holes he played. The varsity could also take on a coed look as well, as Madi Lyford could make the grade after finishing 30th out of a field of 61 golfers during this spring’s Pippy O’Connor Tournament which is a prestigious New England prep school tournament for girls.