Ivy Leaguers Not Out of Their Element July 14, 2014 By Hunki Yun, USGA

Rohan Ramnath, who will be a junior at Harvard, gained valuable experience playing against an elite field at the APL. (USGA/Chris Keane)
NEWTON, Kan. – The White House. The Supreme Court. The Pulitzer Prizes. The Rhodes Scholarships. Secret societies. Eating clubs. These esteemed institutions are symbols of the country’s elite, closely associated with the Ivy League’s students, graduates and universities.

The U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, the ultimate celebration of everyday golfers, hardly seems like a province of Ivy Leaguers. But there were two Ancient Eight golfers teeing it up at Sand Creek Station Golf Course: Rohan Ramnath of Harvard and Alex Dombrowski of Princeton.

Prestige aside, it is rare for a single Ivy League golfer, much less two, to compete in a national championship. The conference’s golfers are not the most sought-after recruits, are often frustrated by the Northeast’s harsh winters, and have to juggle golf with rigorous academic requirements.

During the first half of the 20th century, schools that would go on to form the Ivy League, which was founded in 1954, won numerous national championships and could boast some of the best amateur golfers in the country, including Bob Jones (Harvard), Jess Sweetser (Yale) and Bill Campbell (Princeton).

But in the current landscape of collegiate golf, the Ivy League is a welterweight. At Sand Creek Station, Ramnath and Dombrowski moved up in class, weighing in for a bout against amateur golf’s heavyweights.

There were some jitters on the first tee, said Dombrowski, 19, who will be a sophomore in the fall. But I like being nervous. It’s always a nice feeling, and I feel like I handled myself well.

In the first USGA championship for both players, Ramnath, of Weston, Fla., shot 8-over 150 in stroke-play qualifying, while Dombrowski, of Gaylord, Mich., shot 1-over 143 to advance to the first round of match play.

In the Ivy League, you don’t quite see the scores you see in an event like this, said Ramnath, who will be a junior. I know that in order to improve, I need to play with the best. I’m not quite there yet.

Moving up to the higher level of competition at the Amateur Public Links is not unlike the transition from high school to college, especially at some of the top universities in the world.

I came from a small public course, so there was definitely an adjustment, said Dombrowski. It’s definitely not easy. I really had to learn to manage my time. Princeton puts everything into perspective. I’m just glad I have golf; otherwise I would just blend in or fall through the cracks.

Dombrowski was also thankful for the counsel of his older brother, Jake, who was a punter at Harvard before signing with the Buffalo Bills in April as an undrafted free agent.

He sold me on the Ivy League, said Dombrowski, who was also considering several schools in the Midwest. He also told me going in that there are going to be weeks or even months at a time when you know you can’t finish everything you need to do at school. I’ve been learning to manage the stress, knowing I can’t get everything done.

An applied mathematics major who earned numerous academic honors in high school, Ramnath has adjusted to life at Harvard, but was surprised by the level of play on the course.

I would play a lot of junior tournaments where I would dink it around and still somehow scratch out a decent finish, said Ramnath, who won one individual title last spring. You always need to be at your best if you want to finish well.

In addition to benefiting from the competition, Dombrowski and Ramnath have enjoyed the quality of the layouts that they have played in college. Harvard practices at The Country Club, site of three U.S. Opens, while Princeton has a course on campus: Springdale Golf Club, designed by William Flynn, whose other design credits include U.S. Open hosts Shinnecock Hills, Cherry Hills and Merion. Both schools’ schedules have included events at Golden Age classics such as the Course at Yale and yet another U.S. Open course, Baltusrol Golf Club.

We play some awesome courses, said Ramnath. There’s no room for error. You need to hit all the shots. It’s a very different style of golf from what I grew up playing, and I’m slowly learning how to play on these courses.

Ramnath clearly has shown that he is an adept learner. As a Harvard student, he will undoubtedly have many routes from which to choose after graduation. But for now, he is focusing on his primary passion.

I have no clue what I want to do after college, he said. I’ve been so busy playing golf that I really can’t imagine not playing golf.

Hunki Yun is the director of strategic projects for the USGA. Email him at hyun@usga.org.