ORANGE — The season-long march to the Southern Connecticut Conference golf championship had the look of a wide-open race. Which team would have the most depth to prevail?
The Hand Tigers believed they had the depth to be able to pull it off Tuesday at a windy Race Brook Country Club. After a decade-long stretch of ideal weather for the championship meet, the golfers had to deal with the elements as well as the fast greens.
The Tigers still proved to be up to the task. Four players shot 80 or better, led by Jake Bennett’s 5-over-par 76, to win the team title going away.
“Coach (Jim Holleran) said ‘A lot of people felt Xavier and (Fairfield) Prep are the people to beat’ and Coach said he thinks ‘We are the people to beat. So play with a chip on your shoulder.’ And that’s what all of us did and it worked.”
Said Hand coach Jim Holleran: “Wherever we went, we put up good scores. I was confident we could play well today. … I knew it wouldn’t be easy being out on the course watching them, but I’m not surprised they did what they did today.”
Hand finished with a cumulative total of 311, 19 strokes better than defending champion Xavier. It’s the largest margin of victory ever in league history. Fairfield Prep won by 18 in the first two years the tournament was held — 1995 and 1996 — at the Course at Yale.
“That was by far the best 76 I’ve ever shot in my life today,” Bennett said. “With how the conditions were, I was really happy with it. Off the tee, I was all over the place but my short game saved me.”
Matt Doyle shot 77 for Hand, followed by Connor Quinn (78) and Aiden Stuart (80). Only six players broke 80.
“Those kind of scores in today’s conditions, that’s a heckuva number,” Xavier coach Mike Kohs said. “I bet it dropped 15 degrees in the time we were out there. It started raining a little bit and the gusty winds. It’s a tough course anyhow. Add in the tough conditions, shooting the numbers Hand did is an incredible score.”
It’s the third SCC crown for the Tigers, who won in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014.
Bennett, who will play golf at Franklin Pierce next season, was in the hunt for medalist laurels, which also included the co-medalists each of the last two seasons: Will Mallek from Fairfield Prep and Chris Fosdick from Xavier.
This time, Mallek prevailed by one stroke, shooting a 75. He remembered what happened last year, leading Fosdick by two on the 18th tee, then double-bogeying the hole to fall back into a tie.
“After the first three holes, seeing where they had the pins and seeing the set-up, the tees were way back on a lot of holes, I thought I would be happy with 75,” said Mallek, who will play at Santa Clara next season.
As for Fosdick, the two-time Register Area MVP and solo SCC medalist as a freshman, he had a chance to tie Mallek with a 5-foot putt for par on 17, but missed it.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s a choke on my part. I should have made the putt,” said Fosdick, who will play at Florida Southern next season. “For every (similar) shot in our group, the wind would switch.”
The only other player to break 80 was Kevin Morris of Hamden with a 79. Teammate Alex Aurora was among four shooting 80. The others were Tommy Rosati Jr. (Notre Dame-West Haven), John Kosh (Guilford) and Stuart.
Fairfield Prep placed third (331) followed by Guilford (338) and Notre Dame (340).