Men's preview: Ivy League

Columbia coach Rich Mueller

Columbia coach Rich Mueller

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Last year, Yale put an end to Columbia’s dominance at the Ivy League Championship. The Bulldogs defeated the Lions by 20 shots, stopping Columbia’s winning streak at three. Despite the runner-up finish, it still was a good performance by a school that is limited by space and facilities.

Of the eight teams in the Ivy League Conference, four have on-campus golf courses: Cornell, Princeton, Yale and Dartmouth. Columbia has an on-campus squash court, and, during some times of the year, two courts if the basketball operations is not using the area that day.

“The Ivy League is a very different place,” Columbia coach Richard Mueller said. “I know us and some of the schools based on our location just don’t have the space to have everything we would want.”

On Columbia’s New York, N.Y., campus, they have converted a squash court into a team room that has a full-size simulator. Occasionally during the year the team is able to use another squash court by laying down an adjustable Tour Links grass green, but they often have to move and adjust. The second squash court also is used by the school’s basketball operations staff.

“We do have access to golf courses in the area,” Mueller said. “At the same time, though, we have to find ways to practice smarter when we can’t get out to a course.”

Over the past few years, the Columbia Lions have surprised their conference rivals at the Ivy League Championship. After all, with only eight teams in the conference, they are one of the four schools that don’t have access to a driving range every day on campus.

By utilizing the squash courts and being creative, Columbia still has found ways to work on the fundamentals of the game. “When and where we practice is irrelevant,” Mueller said. “Guys need to be able to make 21 3-foot putts in a row whether it’s on a fake adjustable green or a real one.”

From 2008 to 2010, Columbia walked away with not only a conference title each year, but also a trip to regionals. In that time it did not make it to nationals, but earned its way in by working hard and learning how to practice harder despite their limitations.

At this year’s conference championship, which will be held at Galloway National, Yale is expected to be the favorite and will be looking to defend its conference crown. Mueller knows the challenge will be tough, but hopes his team can avoid a slow start on what he says is an extremely difficult Fazio-designed course.

When Columbia was winning three straight conference titles, it was never a favorite to win in any of those years. During those years, however, the Lions worked hard and found a way to get the job done. This year, Columbia will once again be an underdog, but the team knows it has what it takes to win as long as it puts in the work wherever and whenever it takes.

• • •

Top of the class: Yale

Best player this fall: Peter Williamson, Dartmouth

• • •

Past champions

2007: Penn

2008: Columbia

2009: Columbia

2010: Columbia

2011: Yale

• • •

Conference capsules

Yale (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 139)

Solid play, even if the Bulldogs couldn’t sustain momentum from their rousing start to the season, in which they finished third and won the Macdonald Cup.

Columbia (No. 159)

Two strong events, two poor events. Maybe finishing third in its final event of the fall, The Classic at Shelter Bay, will bode well for the spring.

Dartmouth (No. 160)

Big Green got better as the fall wore on, culminating with back-to-back wins at the Big 5 Invite and The Classic.

Princeton (No. 164)

Bernie D’Amato became the first Princeton player in more than four years to win medalist honors when he outdueled Peter Williamson at the Classic. Tigers’ best finish as team a second at Macdonald Cup.

Harvard (No. 167)

Two consecutive finishes outside the top 10 to close the fall season leaves a sour taste for Crimson.

Penn (No. 191)

Quakers set team scoring records in opening event of season, but unable to put everything together with consistency.

Cornell (No. 264)

No finish better than fifth, which came in the opening event. Disappointing eighth at the Big Red’s own event.

Brown (No. 274)

The Bears struggled in five fall starts, their best finish coming at the season-opening Navy Invite.

Conference championship

April 27-29, Galloway National Golf Club, Absecon, N.J.

Lance Ringler's prediction

Dartmouth. Th Ivy League may have six teams capable of winning the title in late April. Most would predict last year's champ Yale or even Columbia, who won three in a row prior to last year. However, I am going with The Big Green behind the play of senior Peter Williamson - the best player in the Ivy - to win the title this spring.

• • •

Complete coverage

Wondering how your favorite conference is shaping up headed into the spring season? Who is our favorite to pick up the automatic qualifier? Check out our conference-by-conference break down with our complete coverage page here.

• • •

Going social with Golfweek

Want to follow our college gurus on Twitter? Here are some quick links:

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• Check out Ryan Lavner's witty commentary here

• For the latest on golf in social media, as well as college and junior news, check out D.J. Piehowski on Twitter here.

• And follow all of college golf on Facebook by clicking here

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