ST. BONAVENTURE — Ryan Swanson was admittedly hesitant about scheduling this match.
His St. Bonaventure golf team, after all, had played in a two-day tournament earlier in the week and was already within eight days of its departure for the biggest, and final, event of the year, the Atlantic 10 Championship. By squeezing in one last regular-season match, last weekend in Hamilton, it had agreed to a frantic finish, arriving home Sunday before having to pick up and leave for Florida on Tuesday.
Bona, however, needed the extra round.
And besides, with no fall schedule and limited opportunities in the spring, it merely wanted to play.
And that might well have been the best thing for it.
In its final tuneup before A-10s, Bona shone bright, carding a season-low round of 282, highlighted by a career-best 5-under 67 from Danny Gianniny, with two players breaking par (Christian Chapman had a 3-under 69) in a win over Colgate and Rhode Island at Seven Oaks Golf Club.
That victory continued a welcome trend in which Bona, almost literally, has gotten better with each passing round, following finishes of 13th (of 13 teams) and 11th (of 16 teams) with wins at the Little 3 Championship and last Saturday at Seven Oaks (related story in today’s Golf Edition insert). And it figures to give the Bonnies some needed momentum heading into this weekend’s three-round A-10 final at Reunion Resort in Orlando.
“I KNOW a couple of guys are ready, they probably don’t necessarily need to go, but a couple other guys are so close; I think they need the 18-36 more holes of competition to get them over that hump,” Swanson had assessed before Bona made the trek to Hamilton.
“It’s a great golf course, it’s a course that the New York guys, especially, they all know. We go there in the fall every year, so it’s a place we’re familiar with. So I’m hoping that we can use that to our advantage and knock off Colgate and Rhode Island.”
Check and check.
The question now is, how might that set Bona up heading into A-10s?
Much like this year’s regular season, the Bonnies have improved their finish in three previous A-10 finals under Swanson, vaulting from a pair of 10ths (in 2017 and ‘18) to seventh in 2019. In the latter — the last time it competed in the spring championship — Bona sat fifth after the first two days and rose to a tie for third early on Sunday before a forgettable back nine dropped it to seventh.
And Giannany and Chapman remain from that team.
ONE OF the concerns for Bona is the disparity in the number of matches played. VCU, an A-10 power, for instance, was able to fit nine events into its spring campaign. The Bonnies, meanwhile, managed five, with one cancellation (due to a non-COVID-related issue).
“A lot of the southern schools, they’ve played a good amount of golf,” Swanson noted. “And we’ve just been lucky to get outside.”
Still, Bona, after capturing two firsts and a fourth this month and coming off a 282, which would have tied for the second-lowest round of any team at the 2019 A-10 Championship has high hopes entering tomorrow’s first round. Its goal, as Swanson likes to say, is to “have a chance on the back nine on Sunday.”
“That’s kind of our goal in every tournament, especially the big one (at A-10s),” said Swanson, a 2008 graduate and former standout Bona golfer. “To do that, you’ve got to play 45 really good holes of golf. Two years ago, we were there. We were in third a few strokes back and we had a chance and we just got beat. VCU (the 2019 titleist) and Davidson just kind of ran away from us.”
And though COVID-19 has made this year’s event more of a question mark than ever before, Swanson still expects Bona to compete.
“WE’RE IN a spot right now where … the expectations, we don’t really know,” he acknowledged. I certainly like our chances come Sunday if we’re able to get through the first two rounds and we’re within striking distance. But we gotta get four guys that are going to mesh well together (and Bona is hoping it did just that in Hamilton). If we can do that, then top-three is certainly attainable.
“Winning … I don’t know if we’re there yet, but I think a realistic goal for us would be a top-three finish, and I think we’d be pretty happy with that.”
Of course, given everything they’ve dealt with, from having to sit out the fall season to being limited in the spring by not being allowed to fly south, to having to drive to each of its five matches, including trips to North Carolina and Virginia, the Bonnies are happy to be playing this weekend at all.
And that, even reaching the A-10 Championship, has been a victory in itself.
“Even though we couldn’t fly, they didn’t care,” Swanson said. “We just had the attitude of ‘we’ll drive to wherever we have to tee it up against whoever. We’ll be rusty, but we’ll get better as the season goes on.’
“It’s certainly nice to see that we’ve been able to do it. The discipline the guys showed on their end, just to be able to get here, we had very few incidents. It’s been a lot for these kids, a lot to ask of them and we’re certainly proud of our guys for doing their part, and it is almost like a win for these guys to be able to complete the season.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)