Without paying close attention, it is easy to miss the Macalester men’s golf apparel among those of other teams on campus. Among the black polo shirts of the men’s soccer team and the Mac Pack t-shirts worn by cross country, a select few players sport Macalester golf gear. They don’t leave an impression on the psyche the way other teams do, not because their clothes look generic but rather because of numbers. The Macalester baseball team has 25 players, the men’s cross country team 21, the football team an astronomical 73. Meanwhile, the men’s golf team boasts only four players, the smallest men’s team on campus.
This year’s team complexion is far from unique; when Jack Buan ’18 began his academic career at Macalester College, “Story of My Life” by One Direction and “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith topped the charts, Madison Bumgarner carried the San Francisco Giants to a World Series title and Barack Obama was president. Much has changed over Buan’s four years; One Direction broke up, the Cubs won a World Series and America had a presidential election. However, Buan has never played on a Macalester golf team with more than six players.
The nature of the small team poses a different set of questions than that of a larger one. The size of a team and its constituent parts have an impact on how they go about practicing, and improving as time goes on.
“It’s not the best situation [being on a small team], in terms of the competitiveness aspect, because a lot of times other teams have seven, eight, nine, ten guys on the roster,” Buan said. He added, “that facilitates intra-team competition, so everyone pushes each other in practice, pushes everybody to get better and better because they have to compete against themselves week in and week out.”
Explaining what makes this sport unique once players step into active competition, he elaborated: “I’d say that it’s very different than any other sport that is offered at Macalester, besides maybe tennis,” Buan said. “You are out there and you have no other teammates by you for the next five hours, and you’re playing with other schools, with guys you do not really know that well, but at the same time you’re going to be adding your scores together to get a team score, so it is interesting in that your performance is dictated by yourself but then your team performance is an aggregate of the overall team performance. I grew up playing hockey, and you just don’t have that same kind of atmosphere, of individual responsibility as much in that kind of a setting.”
Buan went on to add that once the team enters the field of competitive play, their size has an impact on them as well.
“Being four guys, when we go to a tournament, everyone’s score will count, and no one can have a bad day, and that’s just a little bit unreasonable in golf, because everyone is going to have a little bit of an ebb and flow in their game,” Buan said.
According to Alex Young-Williams ’20, while golf teams tend to be small, the fault for Macalester’s size problem lies with the previous coaching staff.
“When I first got to Mac, the previous coach had just resigned and he left the program in pretty bad shape,” he said. “He had done very little recruiting, and therefore both the men’s and women’s programs had trouble even having a team to play in matches or tournaments.”
Buan agreed about the adversity faced over the course of the 2016 season, but both he and Young-Williams have enjoyed this year much more. According to Young-Williams, this is due to the success of new coach Tucker Weisman, and to the camaraderie that has since developed between the men’s and women’s teams.
“The best thing about being on a small team is the tight-knit community it creates,” he said. “With only six people total in the program, everyone gets to know each other very well. We often get meals together at Cafe Mac or go off-campus when recruits come to visit. Although we can have our differences it’s good to have a group of friends I can talk to or meet up with. This year, there is much more of a team dynamic and I feel a lot closer to the people in the program than I did last year. In other words, this year’s team feels more like a team and less about individuals.”
One element critical to the formation of that common spirit comes from competing together. While the smallness of the team can be a hindrance at a tournament, it also forces the team to bond.
“I do think that it also is unique because you get to know your teammates really well,” Buan said. “You get to rely on each other then during tournaments, that everyone has to perform to their capabilities, so we’ve seen that for a couple of tournaments and hopefully that can also be the case for conference.”
The Scots have enjoyed far more success this season than last, even if the season has still been mixed. Buan earned medalist honors at the Cobber Invitational earlier in September, and won MIAC Men’s Golf Athlete of the Week, but the team also has youth, and their growth does not always show up on the leaderboard, according to Young-Williams. “I think this year is more of a formative year for the program, as half the team are freshmen,” he said. “That being said, I would say the season is going pretty well.”
The Scots will get a chance to show just how far they have progressed this weekend, when they compete in the MIAC Championship. The MIAC Championship will take place from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan, MN.