After winning the Freedom Conference tournament, Fairleigh Dickinson University’s men’s golf team will compete in the NCAA III tournament on May 14 in Destin, Fla.
The Devils began the 2013 season with one goal in mind: To win the Freedom Conference tournament. They reached that goal on April 26 in Hershey, Pa., by dethroning Manhattanville College and overcoming the competition from DeSales University.
“I think it’s satisfying,” said senior Daniel Bentson.
“We’ve had this date circled on our calendar since our schedules came out in early March. To put all our hard work into it and finally achieve our goal, it’s very satisfying.”
The Devils were not given a chance heading into the tournament. The team was going against Manhattanville, who won the previous three Freedom Conference tournaments, and DeSales, who had a major transfer carry them to the top of the conference this year.
FDU didn’t listen to the critiques because the Devils knew they had the team that could be crowned champions.
“We were playing with them,” senior Billy King said. “No one picked us from the beginning so we had no pressure. I felt like we were the top dogs, but we were considered the underdogs. It was a lot easier; we had no pressure. We just went out there and played our game.”
The Devils shot a team score of 646 to secure their title as the kings of the Freedom Conference.
FDU shot well on the first day, but missed being on the top of the standings by two strokes, finishing with a combined score of 327.
Even with finishing day one in second place, the Devils had confidence and a positive dream that came true for a certain golfer on FDU’s roster.
Junior Matt Molinari said, “I actually had a dream the night before that I was going to birdie the first hole and I did.”
Molinari added, “I actually birdied three out of my first seven holes so it was a good start. I hope to take that to Florida. If I can have a good start during the first nine, I know I can carry that the rest of the way.”
The Devils had a fast start and did not look back, finishing the day with a combined score of 319.
According to fdudevils.com, the next closest team in the field was 10 strokes behind FDU. King won the Freedom Conference Player of the Year honors for his performance during the Freedom Conference tournament. King finished day two with a 77 after posting a score of 79 on day one, for a tournament score of 156.
The Devils also had three golfers represent the team with Second Team All Freedom Conference honors. Juniors Kevin McCloskey and Molinari each tied for seventh, with scores of 163. Bentson finished tenth for the weekend, with a score of 164.
“Golf is a really weird sport. If you do well individually, you will do well as a team,” King said. “We had four players in the top ten and that alone gave us the opportunity to win it. A kid came up to me on the last hole and asked if I was five over or six over and I was like, ‘oh wow.’ I wasn’t even thinking about that. I think doing so well individually gave us a chance to get a trip to Florida.”
Head Coach Roger Kindel was named Freedom Conference Coach of the Year. According to the Fairleigh Dickinson University athletics website, this was the fifth time in eight seasons that Kindel has been given that honor.
The Manhattanville team was stripped of its title, after winning the Freedom Conference tournament for the past three seasons. The Devils had luck before that; King said FDU won four straight Freedom Conference tournaments before Manhattanville gained control of the conference.
King said, “(Andrew) Burke and I are the most experienced on the golf team being here four straight years.” He went on to explain, “Before our freshman year our team went to the NCAA tournament four straight years, so I came here to go straight there. Unfortunately, the first three years did not work out as planned. It’s just amazing how all this hard work paid off and it’s pretty surreal.”
The three senior captains – Bentson, Burke and King – led the way this season and provided an example of leadership for the team to follow. They would not settle for anything less than a Freedom Conference Championship. Molinari would like to continue their teachings past the Florida tournament.
Molinari said, “I am going to look at how they’ve done this season as captains and I’d like to replicate that as much as I can next year because they did a great job.”
The Devils were an older team heading into the tournament, only having juniors and seniors in their starting lineup.
The team showed its experience by regrouping after day one and coming out confident for the rest of the tournament.
The men’s golf program has now made a name for itself on campus and in Division III golf. They are starting to get the recognition the seniors have been fighting for since their first day at FDU.
“It’s definitely cool having the FDU golf program recognized,” Bentson said. “Going into class and having a teacher or student congratulate you or give you a pat on the back. It’s kind of like a big man on campus feel right now.”
Bentson said a successful NCAA III tournament would be a nice parting gift for the seniors who worked so hard to help rebuild the Devils program.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s set in yet because we still have a lot of practicing to do,” King said. “We have a lot to look forward to. The next goal is to make the cut so that we can stay in Florida an extra four days.”