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Former Golf: Ex-Cajun Magnus making history at Open

Dan McDonald, the Advertiser, July 20, 2018

It’s been a stellar summer for UL’s Ragin’ Cajun golf program, with several squad members posting some solid performances in varying events on several different levels.

It’s a former Cajun, though, that’s making the biggest splash this weekend, one that is historic in his native Iceland.

Haraldur Magnus, a former three-year All-Sun Belt Conference player during his UL career from 2013-16, will tee it up starting Thursday (tomorrow) in the Open Championship at Carnoustie, becoming the first Icelandic man to ever compete in a major championship.

“I am really proud and really happy for Haddie,” said Cajun coach Theo Sliman. “He represented our program in fine fashion for years, and he’s very eager to carry the Cajun logo into the Open. That means the world to me and our program, to know that he’s going to walk the fairways of the Open with his Ragin’ Cajun headcovers on his bag.”

Magnus earned one of the coveted spots in sectional qualifying competition held at four sites across the United Kingdom with three spots available at each of the four sites. Magnus qualified at Prince’s in Kent with a 72-70—142 score, finishing second. Notably, two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen finished third at that sectional (71-72—143) despite bogeying the final hole.

Tom Lewis, the low amateur at the 2011 Open, shot 72-68 to finish atop the sectional, which joined the Renaissance Club in East Lothian, Notts (Hollinwell) in Nottinghamshire and St. Anne’s Old Links in Lancashire. Windy conditions in both rounds sent scores soaring, but Magnus said that will be good preparation for this week.

“I grew up playing in exactly these conditions, and I love links golf,” Magnus told the R&A. “I played at Carnoustie in the 2015 Amateur Championship and there was no wind that day, so it wasn’t too tough. But you could see that when the wind is blowing it can be absolutely horrifying.”

“That was during one of the summers when he was playing for us,” Sliman said of Magnus’ 2015 British Amateur outing. “So he’s familiar with that track. I remember how proud he was to play in that event, so I can only imagine how he feels this week.”

Magnus is one of a long line of Icelandic players that have been part of the Cajun program, dating back to Ulfar Jonsson who began his UL career in 1989. Jonsson is now one of the key figures in all of Icelandic golf, serving as national team coach for several years, and has helped guide the country’s youth program along with helping a Cajun pipeline that now numbers 10 Icelandics.

“There are some really outstanding young men in that group, not just because they were good golfers,” Sliman said. “They are proud of their home country, and they’ve been great ambassadors for us.”

Jonsson was one of the first success stories in a two-decade effort to grow the game in Iceland, which now boasts 65 golf courses for a nation of 300,000 people – not many more people that live in Lafayette’s metropolitan statistical area (490,488 in 2015). The Golf Union of Iceland, an affiliate with the R&A, has more than doubled its registered members to 17,000 and estimates that 40,000 Icelandics play the game.

Magnus will be the first to tee it up on this great a stage, though.

“All Icelandic eyes will be on the leaderboard at the Open when he makes his debut,” said Orn Birgisson, the president of the GSI in a country that is barely below the Arctic Circle. “This is a nation that truly loves golf.”.

Magnus tees off at 4:53 a.m. (local time) Thursday for the opening round. Golf Channel will provide live coverage beginning at 12:30 a.m. and running through 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday (and since NBC has the rights, they can show live action, unlike some of the other majors). NBC has weekend coverage from 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Online, TheOpen.com has several viewing options including featured groups, highlights and non-stop coverage of the 8th, 9th and 10th holes at Carnoustie.

Chip Shots

More Cajun success

Magnus isn’t the only player with Cajun ties in a significant golf event this weekend. Current team members Jack Tolson and Triston Elston, along with incoming signee Charlie Flynn, are participating in the prestigious Southern Amateur this week at Old Stone Golf Club in Alvaton, Ky., near Bowling Green.

The tournament runs Thursday-Sunday. Tolson and Elston earned spots in the field at one of the 18 sectional qualifiers held June 11 at Oak Wing in Alexandria. Only two spots were on the line there, and Tolson won the qualifier with a stellar seven-under 65 and Elston was second with a 68. Fellow Cajun squad member Cole Kendrick was third at 69 as the only other player to break par.

Flynn, one of the newcomers on this fall’s Cajun squad, qualified for the Southern Amateur by winning the Southern Junior championship in Birmingham earlier this summer.

The Southern Amateur isn’t the only prestigious event for Tolson this summer. The Opelousas native, who finished third in the LGA’s State Amateur at Oakbourne in June, qualified one week ago for the field in the U.S. Amateur Championship set Aug. 13-19 at Pebble Beach and Spyglass in California.

Tolson posted a 67-71—138 score at East Ridge Country Club in Shreveport, one of more than 40 qualifying locations, to tie for top honors in a 36-hole one-day event that had 72 participants vying for only two spots. Shreveport’s Carter Toms, son of now-reigning U.S. Senior Open champion David Toms, also shot 138 to claim the other qualifying spot, one stroke ahead of two other players.

Because of newly-relaxed NCAA regulations, the U.S. Amateur is one of three summertime tournaments that college coaches can travel with their players and provide coaching and/or caddie services (the others are the British Amateur and the Japanese Amateur.

Courtesy of funds raised by the Vermilion Links, UL’s official golf support group, Tolson and Sliman will be making that trip for Aug. 11-12 practice rounds and the start of 36 holes of stroke play Aug. 13-14. The top 64 of the 200-plus field qualify for match play beginning Aug. 16.

“I’ll be there to caddie, coach, help him,” Sliman said. “Jack’s really had a good summer and is really peaking nicely right now.”

Elston also wins

Elston, a senior-to-be, added to the Cajuns’ summer of success over the past weekend, coming from behind to win the Baton Rouge Open with a final-round 67 at the Beaver Creek course.

Elston, a native of Baton Rouge, had opened with a two-under 70 but was two shots behind recently-crowned Louisiana Golf Association junior champion B. J. Rogillio entering the final 18 holes. Elston made bogey on the first hole in Sunday’s final round but rallied with four birdies over the next eight holes to

turn at 3-under. He then added birdies at the 13th and 16th holes in a bogey-free back nine that was good enough for a three-stroke win over the field.

“I knew I could get it done if I played my game,” said Elston. “Yesterday (Saturday) I was rushing and playing terrible. Then I caught fire on the back. That gave me a lot of confidence coming into today.”

That first round was interesting for the only senior on this upcoming season’s Cajun team. He was late driving in from Lafayette (even money it was the I-10 bridge that caused the slowdown) and didn’t arrive at the first tee until his group had already reached the first green. He was hit with a two-stroke penalty along with making bogey on the first hole, but made that up and more in finishing at two-under 70.

UL recruiting

Along with being more than casual observers with the current roster this summer, Sliman and assistant coach Derek Plucienski have been hitting the recruiting trail hard to watch and make contact with potential future Cajun players.

“We’ve been on the road a lot, all over,” Sliman said. “We’ve covered west Texas to east Alabama and a lot of spots in between this summer, and we’re still not done. A trip to Memphis is coming up. It’s a lot of exposure, a lot of hard work and a lot of grinding on the recruiting trail.”

This is the first summer that UL has been able to “double-team” in its recruiting efforts. Plucienski joined the program during the past year as the first assistant coach ever in the program.

“That’s a testament to Dr. Maggard (UL athletic director Bryan Maggard) and Dr. Savoie (president Joseph Savoie) for allowing that kind of growth in the program from a staffing area. Having the ability to have one of us in one section of the region and the other in another section, that helps us cover a lot of ground. We owe a lot to them, and our hard work is going to show with it.”

(“Making the Turn” appears Wednesday in the Daily Advertiser. Clubs, courses and individuals with information about local golf events may email Dan McDonald, editorial director at Golfballs.com, at danmcdonald@cox.net, FAX to (337) 857-8763 or call (337) 857-8754 and leave a message with phone number.)