The golf team visited the Haig Point Golf Course in South Carolina on March 11, 2023. Courtesy of the Wabash College golf team.

The Little Giants golf team traveled to Savannah, Georgia, over spring break to play in the Port City Invitational on March 6-7. Though the result was not quite what the team was hoping for, the team is shifting strategies to prepare for an upcoming match play tournament in a field that includes DePauw.

The Little Giants finished a total of 109 strokes over par on the tournament, tying for 13th out of 16 teams. Brayden Weiss ’24 finished with the best score of the Little Giants squad, turning in a 23-over-par scorecard after three rounds. Weiss tied for 32nd in the overall individual standings for the tournament.

“The tournament was not really what we hoped,” Weiss said. “Tough golf course. It’s not really what we‘re used to playing, and just kind of got beat up by it.”

Weiss referenced the disconnect between the spring break performance and the first match of the season, where the Little Giants brought home the golf program’s first ever tournament win at the Forest Hills Invitational on September 17-18, 2022. Weiss connected some of the disappointment to the success of the earlier tournament.

“We played well in our first tournament this season, and I think we got a little cocky after that,” said Weiss. “We thought we were going to come out really hot and play really well, and sometimes it just doesn‘t turn out that way.”

The first day was particularly rough, but Head Golf Coach Justin Kopp ’21 explained that the team battled back on the second day, finishing only three strokes behind the first-place team. For Kopp, that was a sign of optimism.

“We can do it and we can compete with the best teams in the country,” Kopp said. “It’s about finding that consistency. It’s about battling back from the first day when we have to.”

The post-tournament analysis has included discussions of the differences that make the Savannah course more difficult for a team coming out of winter-condition Indiana. Those conditions make all the difference in a tight tournament. 

Weiss explained the two categories of differences that can make a course noticeably more difficult. One category is the layout of the course—the position of the bunkers, the slope of the greens and the pin placements.

“That can make a golf course harder, or at least different,” Weiss explained. “And this course played a little bit longer than what we’ve played so far this season.”

Coach Kopp outlined some of the other technical differences.

“Where we played was close to the ocean, so it was pretty breezy,” Kopp said. “Instead of the hard clay and dirt we have in Indiana, it‘s more sandy and silty. So that makes it tougher to hit some shots, especially if you‘re not in the fairway. There were also a lot more bunkers.”

Another category Weiss outlined was the course conditions. This can certainly include the grass quality or the maintenance, a frustration of many golfers in the spring portion of the season. But of course, the conditions can also include changing weather conditions. During the Savannah tournament, the wind became a major factor.

“The wind was blowing 15 miles an hour,” Weiss said. “When you’re throwing a ball 100 feet up in the air, the wind isn’t your friend.”

But the course also featured a different technical twist, one familiar to Southern golfers but a frustration for Northerners: Bermuda greens. Coach Kopp elaborated on the difference this grass can make.

“The Bermuda grass really affects you on the green, because the ball reacts differently,” Kopp explained. “So if you‘re chipping up, you can‘t really land it before the green and run it up there. You can here [in Indiana], the grass just catches the ball.”

Another frustrating aspect of Bermuda grass is the surprising grains of the greens.

“If you ever play on Bermuda greens, you’ll hear a lot about the grain of the green,” said Kopp. “The grain is just the way the grass grows—where it points when it grows. And it‘s normally pretty intuitive. But [Bermuda grass] exaggerates the break of a putt. So if the grain is going right, and your putt looks like it‘s breaking left, it still might actually go right. It‘s tricky, and really the only way to get better at it is by practicing.”

“At the end of the day, grass is grass. We‘re athletes—we can play on whatever we face.”

– Brayden Weiss ’24

The opportunity to play on Bermuda grass was one of the main reasons the team chose to play in this tournament.

“Part of the reason that we took this trip down to Savannah is because we will be playing more golf down there,” Weiss said. “We‘ll have another tournament in Georgia later this season, and that will also be on Bermuda greens.

Though the Bermuda grass certainly played a role in the Savannah performance, neither Weiss nor Kopp were willing to use course differences as an excuse.

“But at the end of the day, grass is grass,” Weiss said. “We‘re athletes—we can play on whatever we face.”

“Overall I don‘t think that was the real issue,” Kopp agreed. “We just went in without a ton of practice, partially due to the weather. And we had a couple guys who didn‘t have their best stuff at the same time, which made it hard.”

In discussions of course disparities, it may be tempting to look to USGA’s course rating scores, a numerical rating of how “difficult” a course is. After all, USGA rates the Savannah course at a higher difficulty than the local Crawfordsville practice course and the course where the team brought home first place in September. That may seem to explain the disparity in scores—but Kopp explained why those ratings don’t tell the whole story.

“I don‘t look into course ratings too much,” Kopp explained. “Sure, I‘ll take a peek at it when I get the scorecard—but outside of that, I don‘t look at it too much. Sometimes it can help explain why scores are higher. But I don‘t want to have anybody think that because a course rating is higher, that they can‘t go out there and shoot their best score, what they would deem a good score.”

The golf team next faces seven other teams—including DePauw—at the Covered Bridge Golf Club in Sellersburg, Indiana, on March 27-28. The tournament format is slightly different: a match play, only adding to the rivalry tension.

Brayden Weiss ’24 (left) earned medalist honors at the Music City Shootout in Joelton, Tennessee, on February 25-26, 2023. Courtesy of Communications and Marketing.

In a match play format, golfers do not compete for the lowest number of strokes in a round. Instead, they compete head-to-head against another player from an opposing team. Whichever player has the lowest number of strokes on a given hole—regardless of that score—wins the hole. Weiss is eager to compete in such a format.

“Match play is incredibly rare in college until you get the national tour,” Weiss said. “And match play is a more rare tournament setting in general. I‘m excited to play in a tournament setting to do that.”

“It is pretty rare,” said Kopp. “But it‘s a lot of fun. And if we were ever to make it to the national championship, there‘s a match play section. So it‘s important to practice, and it’s also just a fun, different way to play golf.”

Kopp explained how the team is shifting its practices in preparation for the match play format.

“Right now we‘re playing a lot of match play in practice,” Kopp said. “We’re doing a lot of things that drive our competitiveness, while also making sure that we‘re still focused and not reacting to our opponent or other conditions.”

Part of that practice regimen, especially when the weather doesn’t support traditional practice, is strategy discussion. Over powerpoints and team meetings, Kopp discusses differences in match play strategies with the team.

“We‘ll just go over different players’ philosophies on matchplay—whether you should be aggressive in trying to make birdie every hole, or whether you should just try to make as many pars as you can and let the other person screw up,” said Kopp, who explained that he has no perfect answer.

“There‘s different strategies with it. I don‘t have one I think everybody should stick to—I think it‘s a player-by-player case. But it‘s a good challenge for the players and for me as a coach.”

Along with the team, Kopp is very much looking forward to the upcoming match play tournament. 

“I‘m hoping that we can do well and beat a couple teams,” Kopp said. “And hopefully we’ll get to match play against DePauw because I‘m sure that‘d be a lot of fun for everybody involved.”