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Golf: Making the Turn – Cajuns golf team getting back to ‘normal’

Dan McDonald    The Advertiser, Sept. 1, 2020

The word “normal” has an entirely new meaning in the sports world since March, but for UL’s golf team there is at least some semblance of normalcy starting this week.

The Ragin’ Cajun team began qualifying Tuesday for its opening event of the fall season, that being the annual Jim Rivers Intercollegiate held at Squire Creek in Choudrant and hosted by Louisiana Tech. That tournament is less than two weeks away on Sept. 13-15 and is the first of three tournaments the Cajuns will play in their fall season.

“We’re trying everything we can to keep our regular routine,” said UL coach Theo Sliman, “and the guys have done a wonderful job of taking care of their business as far as staying healthy, taking care of school and doing what they need to do at the course.”

It helps that Sliman has six seniors on his 10-player roster and eight players who are returning from last year’s team. That number doesn’t even include Lafayette’s Matt Weber, who redshirted his true freshman year last season but was still active in all team activities last year.

The only new face is Shreveport’s Jake Marler, who signed with the Cajuns last fall amid a stellar high school career at C.E. Byrd. And even Marler was well-acquainted with some members of the UL team even before his arrival this fall.

Having a group that’s familiar with each other will be a benefit, especially during a fall season that will include a much-different format from those typically used in college golf — and a format that high schools and others who play “team” golf may want to consider during a pandemic that figures to be with us for an extended time.

The Squire Creek tournament, as well as the Sept. 28-30 Graeme McDowell Invitational at Greystone in Birmingham, Alabama, hosted by UAB, and Middle Tennessee’s Intercollegiate at the Grove on Oct. 4-6 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, will have each five-man team playing with their teammates instead of the normal pairings with players from other schools. All five players from each team will play together as a group in order to make social distancing possible.

The 15 teams at Squire Creek will also be limiting their time in the clubhouse and common areas, and meals will be boxed instead of a buffet setup.

The ability to do all of that, and keep team groups together, is without question a safe and sane way to conduct a collegiate tournament, and depending on the extent of continued coronavirus infections, there’s a chance that same format could continue into the spring season. UL holds its own tournament March 14-16 when Oakbourne hosts the Louisiana Classics, after the 35th edition of that event was cancelled last spring when the virus was blowing up.

It’s an example of how golf, in contrast to most other sports, can be played during the pandemic. It’s not by chance that golf is experiencing a boom in participation and rounds played nationally since the start of the summer.

“I do feel better about our guys playing in this format,” Sliman said. “Golf by nature works with social distancing, but teams playing as a group adds another level of protection. Our primary goal is to keep guys healthy and safe.”

The Cajun senior class picked up a pandemic addition with New Iberia’s Micah Goulas getting an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA after last spring’s season was halted almost before it began. He’ll join fellow seniors Bjorn Gudjonsson, Hunter Hammett, Peter Hinnant, Justin Caldwell and Cole Kendrick, and returning juniors Charlie Flynn and Hudson Dubinski to provide what should be a very competitive set of qualifying events for each tournament.

“Making the Turn” appears each Wednesday in the Daily Advertiser through November. 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.