PHILADELPHIA - Penn men’s golf coach Rob Powelson fully admits to having a three-year plan when he took over the Quaker program. Of course, he had a little help in developing that philosophy.
“Former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil once provided me words of wisdom on coaching -- simply, that you have to give yourself three years to build your team and its culture,” said Powelson. “In college golf, that is sound advice, and that is what we did.”
Sound advice, indeed. Year 3 proved to be a bonanza for the Quakers, who rolled to the Ivy League Championship team title in April and then made some noise at the NCAA West Regional in May.
The path to Penn’s 2007 Ivy League Championship team title -- the Quakers’ first since 1998 -- actually started during the 2005-06 season, Powelson’s second at the helm, when the team won a tournament title in the fall and another during the spring.
“When we won The MacDonald Invitation at Yale during my second season, that is when the team started to gel and believe in winning more events,” said Powelson. “In the spring of that year, we took another title at George Washington, but fell short at Ivies.”
With all but one starter returning for 2006-07, the Quakers were looking for the final piece of the puzzle to get to the top. They found it in freshman Chance Pipitone, who not only finished runner-up in the individual aspect of the Ivy Championships, but later qualified for the NCAA Championships.
“Chance is the real deal,” said Powelson. “He is one of the top college players in America. His 14-under-par score at NCAA Regionals was the talk of the tournament. One coach said to me, how did you get this kid?’ I told him it was simple: the Wharton School of Business.”
The 2006-07 season proved to be another for the history books. The men finished second at Navy to kick off the fall portion of their schedule, then second out of 18 teams at the Yale Macdonald Cup and second out of 15 teams at The Big 5 Invitational that they hosted at Philadelphia Cricket Club.
In the spring, Penn finally got another taste of victory by defeating 23 other teams and repeating its team title at George Washington. A third-place finish at Navy and a tie for fifth at Princeton set the stage for the Ivy Championships, where Penn shot a three-round 904 to defeat second-place Brown by 10 strokes.
“The closing round at Ivies was nothing short of spectacular golf, both in terms of course management and ball striking,” said Powelson. “It was a glorious day for the players and their parents to witness.
“We were just dominant. Coaches were coming up to me at the 14th hole congratulating us on winning. I checked my blackberry for a quick scoring update and thought to myself, short of any train wrecks coming into the clubhouse, we had it.
“To watch the players reach this milestone goal was one of the best emotions a coach can feel, not to mention the pride we felt as a team in winning. I shed a tear and big hugs during the trophy ceremony.”
With the win, Penn received the added bonus of earning a bid into the NCAA West Regional, played May 17-19 in Tempe, Ariz. It was in that setting that Pipitone truly made his mark -- the freshman shot a first-round 67, then bettered that in the third round with a 65. His three-round 202 allowed him to tie for fifth overall and earn one of two individual berths into the NCAA National Championships in Williamsburg, Va. There, Pipitone fired 75-75-70 and did not make the final-round cut.
The key to Penn’s success? Consistency. Pipitone led the Quakers with a 74.7 stroke average in 27 rounds, but three other players -- Sean Barrett (75.5), Dean Merrill (75.7) and Michael Blodgett (75.9) -- had stroke averages below 76 for 24 rounds of play. Penn’s other regular, Nick Ryder, had a 77.4 stroke average but finished the season with a collegiate-best round of 70 at the Ivy Championships. The best news of all? The only golfer who will not return from that group is Barrett.
The Quakers’ success is not lost on Powelson, who understands the burden he bears as men’s golf coach at Penn.
“As a former college player and someone who went to grad school at Penn, I realized that this is a very special place both in terms of athletic tradition and academic excellence,” he said. “So when they called to offer me the job, I was honored, and realized the enormous responsibility I have to the institution, the players and our proud alumni.”
After a season like this, consider the responsibility met.