The Lawrence High golf team has not had a winning season since 2011 when it went 14-7. Over the next six years the Cardinals had a combined record of 32-70-1.
But on April 23, there they were, sitting pretty at 6-4.
The question posed to first-year coach Bob Lineman was, would that mark maintain itself throughout the season?
Lineman wisely had no interest in putting pressure on his team to chase a numerical goal.
“My goal is for them is to feel like they gave their best every match, regardless of their score,” said Lineman, a former assistant who took over when Gregg Zenerovitz became athletic director. “They know there are better teams out there, but these kids go into every match thinking they have a chance if they play their best. But more importantly, I want them to be the team everyone else says were fun to play against. Sportsmanship, honor, integrity and class—these are the adjectives I want others to use to describe my players.”
Lineman’s philosophy has filtered down to junior Sam Koevenig, the Cardinals’ No. 1 player with a 5 handicap and a 40 average.
“The goal for our team is always to win as many matches as we can,” Koevenig said. “Although we may not qualify for sectionals this year, it is definitely in our sights next year. Over the course of this season a solid objective for our team is to eliminate silly mental mistakes. Once we do that I don’t see any reason for us to not continue beating teams.”
Lawrence shot 195 in its opening-day loss to West Windsor-Plainsboro North, but has steadily brought its team scores down while winning tight matches. The cards defeated Ewing, 193-194 and edged Hightstown, 198-199. During the week of April 10-17, Lawrence shot under 190 in three of its four matches, losing only to a talented Hopewell squad.
“They are playing decent golf,” Lineman said. “We’ve had some good matches where each time a player stepped up and made a difference. It’s more than just a score, it’s an overall state of play.”
With five starters returning, the coach had a good feel for what his team would be like this season, saying, “I knew we had a few players who could make some noise.”
So too, did Koevenig, who has been with the team since his freshman season and endured records of 5-13 and 5-9. He feels it is a case of numerous teammates coming together.
“We’ve been successful this year mostly because of the lack of difference (in personnel) from last year,” he said. “Many teams saw some of their best players graduate, but five of our six starters from last year are juniors, so our team is only improving. Almost every player has brought their average down slightly, and two freshmen have also greatly contributed. If I hadn’t played in any matches this year we would still have four of our five wins, so it has been a total team effort.”
It has been Koevenig leading the way, however, as he is the Cards most experienced golfer after starting with lessons at the Mercer County Golf Academy at age 11. On weekends, the hard-working youngster would begin play at 3 p.m. and continue drilling until he couldn’t see the ball due to darkness. He refused to play an actual round until he developed his short game to where he wanted it.
A year later, Koevenig finally tackled a true course, and has not looked back.
“You’ll seldom find me on the range now,” he said. “Whenever I can, I’m on the course practicing different shots and game planning.”
‘They are a nice group of kids. They support each other, cheering on their teammates as they walk in off of the ninth green of every match.’
Lineman recalled that Koevenig arrived at Lawrence as a guy who could play “but was raw mentally.”
“He has matured greatly since then, and his game is on a whole different level than two years ago,” the coach said. “Sam is a big hitter, can turn the ball both ways, and has a nice wedge game. He has matured as a player and a man, and he does a good job of leaving a bad hole behind on the next tee box.”
Koevenig felt his biggest issue was over-thinking, which cluttered his mind to the point he was not figuring out the best way to get the ball in the hole as quickly as possible. Slowly but surely, he has gotten a handle on that after getting the sport out of his system for a brief period.
“I would definitely agree my mindset has changed since freshman year,” he said. “Both freshman and sophomore year, I would already have a picture of how my round would play out before I got to the course. If I missed a shot or had a quick bogey, my round would fall apart from there since I wasn’t attaining this image of perfection. After taking a break from golf for a few months, I have been focusing on being more patient. I have begun to appreciate the ups and downs in each round, and enjoy the game much more than I used to.”
In the Cardinals first seven matches, Koevenig broke 40 twice, shooting a low of 37 at Hopewell Country Club. He also had a season-low 40 at Cobblestone Creek Country Club, Lawrence’s home course, on April 17.
“It’s been difficult for everyone in the county to get comfortable and start shooting low scores this year since the conditions have been rough,” said Koevenig, whose individual goals this year are to win the Mercer County Tournament and qualify for the Tournament of Champions. “Teams haven’t been able to hit the ball much, so staying focused and putting well means everything right now.”
Following Koevenig in the lineup at No. 2 is junior Jeff Tamasi, who Lineman feels is unquestionably the Cards most improved player.
“He’s a big hitter, pounds the ball a country mile, has nice irons, and is really starting to get a good feel around the green,” the coach noted. “Also, he is the ‘personality’ of the team and has a great sense of humor.”
Checking in at No. 3 is junior Stuart “Gill” Woody, another vastly improved player.
“He never has a bad day, even if he doesn’t score his best,” Lineman said. “He has grown about a foot since freshman year, which has transformed his game in many positive ways and caused him to buy new clubs… twice. He is an all-around good player, and a great teammate.”
The coach puts his No. 4-7 players on a tier below his top three. They include junior Alex Ratzman and sophomore Sid Srivastava, both returnees from last year, and freshmen Ian Tseng and Esha Rao.
“Alex and Sid are hard workers who have their struggles, but give 110 percent every match,” Lineman said. “Ian has a solid swing and game, and in time will be a very good player. Esha is our only female starter. She also has a good foundation of the game, and could be one of the top female golfers in the county by her senior year.”
Putting the pieces together is Lineman, who began playing golf in the Navy and started taking it seriously in college. He credits Zenerovitz for teaching him the nuances of coaching but is trying to develop his own style. When he’s not coaching Lawrence, Lineman is trying to hold off his sisters attempts to topple him during the summer.
Until that time, he will enjoy guiding the Cardinals.
“They are a nice group of kids,” he said. “They support each other, cheering on their teammates as they walk in off of the ninth green of every match. We have several other players that come out to the range for practice days, and work very hard to build their skills so they can make it out to the course one day.”