Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

National Golf Invitational: Long Island brings stout record, solid foursome to the postseason

By admin May26,2024


Long Island University has no room for error at the National Golf Invitational. Head coach Ben Belfield is traveling only four players to the desert for the postseason, but he reasons that they will approach the week as they always do – which is to say, you never want your men to be counting on a drop score.

“To play well, you have to have four guys play well anyway,” Belfield said. “We’ve got a good field here this week. You play poorly, it is what it is anyway.”

The Sharks will be without their leading scorer Lewis Wright this week at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes in Maricopa, Arizona. Wright advanced to U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying and was assigned to the qualifier at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England, to be played May 20. The NGI will be played May 17-19, and Wright, a native Englishman, knew he could never be in both places. And so, with one other player unable to make the trip and another redshirting this season, Long Island is down to four.

Belfield is happy for the postseason opportunity, even if the tournament doesn’t start with the letters NCAA. Missing out on a regional berth was a bit of a blow for Long Island, who only missed winning the Northeast Conference title, and the automatic qualifying spot into regionals, by two shots. Howard University advanced instead.

“We had to get over the disappointment of conference pretty quickly,” Belfield said. “I gave them just a few days of time off and a little bit of time to reset.”

Despite having a very real path into the NCAA finals, Long Island embodies the purpose of this championship. Here’s a mid-major school tucked into the Northeast that put together a head-turning head-to-head record but carries a ranking that leaves them far out of at-large territory.

Long Island won three times this season and finished runner-up another four times, including at the Golfweek/Any Given Tuesday Collegiate, where an exemption into the prestigious Augusta/Haskins Award Invitational was on the line. Long Island was in the middle of a final-round charge to the top of the leaderboard at that event before the third round was wiped for weather.

“To finish in the top 2 seven out of 11 times, I don’t care what schedule you’re playing, that’s pretty good,” Belfield said.

Belfield’s presence at Long Island has ushered in a new era of competitiveness. The Sharks were ranked No. 289 in the country when he arrived, and Long Island was something of a lackluster Northeast program that wasn’t known for much. This season, Belfield’s fifth, the team climbed as high as No. 147 and enters the NGI ranked No. 187 with an impressive won-loss-tie record of 105-32-2 on the season (half of those losses coming in their first spring start after a long, cold winter).

The winter weather isn’t ideal, but Long Island is in golf country. Belfield knows that anyone who knows golf, knows Long Island, from Bethpage to Maidstone. He hopes that a postseason appearance will spread the name even further, but the Sharks’ body of work this season is arguably already doing that, and a postseason berth certainly doesn’t hurt.

“We’ve hopefully changed that around a little bit to now we’re one of the strongest Northeast programs,” Belfield said. “The next stage for us is going listen, can we branch out a little bit regionally? Just kind of show recruits and the world hey, where does this Long Island University golf program come from?”

Long Island is among a 10-team field teeing it up at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, with only Valparaiso, Washington State and Wyoming returning. The field will play 54 holes of stroke play over three days to determine the second NGI champion after Texas State won the inaugural tournament last year.

For Long Island, it’s a bit of a celebration.

“It’s an opportunity to experience Arizona, which we haven’t done very much of, and kind of go west,” Belfield said. “Any time you can play in May, how can you ever turn that down?”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek

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