As the final match scores came in Tuesday at Hopedale Country Club, Foxborough first-year coach Paul LaCerda felt a swirl of emotions, but one stood out.
It was a 169-171 win over Hockomock rival Milford, the first of the season for the Warriors, a first for LaCerda, and it provided a sense of closure on a path to Foxborough that was anything but conventional.
LaCerda was a high-level sales executive in the paper and packaging industry for 40-plus years before retiring in 2021. But he always found time for golf. For the past nine years, the 70-year-old Needham resident has worked as a volunteer rules official for the Massachusetts Golf Association, which is where he found out about the open coaching position at Foxborough.
His experiences in both worlds enabled him to create a unique coaching style centered around respect for the game and his players.
“Being able to connect with clients is very similar to connecting with the players.,” said LaCerda. “I’m always asking them questions to learn more so we can try to make them feel like they’re heading in the right direction.
“After our very first meeting the players all lined up and shook my hand . . . I talk to them as adults and they respect it.”
Foxborough athletic director Joe Cusack said LaCerda was an “outstanding interview.”
“He has a really great knowledge of golf, both as a player and particularly his background as an official,” said Cusack. “He’s not just here because there was an opening . . . He’s here because he thinks he can impact the kids, and I think he’s right.”
LaCerda runs practices like the way he ran his businesses; methodical, efficient, and outlined. He always divides the Warriors into three groups — each working a specific skill. Each practice starts the same way, with a team discussion of what they want to accomplish that day.
LaCerda has also empowered his two captains, junior Ryan Wood and sophomore Zach Georgantas, to lead select practices.
“Coach definitely wants to win as much as we do and it really shows with the practices that he’s running,” said Wood. “It’s something I’ve never seen before. It’s pretty impressive how much he cares and how much he puts into it.”
Added Georgantas, “I really enjoy what he does in practice . . . he’s very hands-on with creating drills for us to do. And during matches he’s always encouraging us and pushing us through.”
Even though he was entering uncharted territory as a first-time coach, LaCerda did so with a confident approach.
“I never had any hesitation . . . when you play the game for over 50 years, you’ve seen just about everything.” he said. “I was also confident enough that if I’m doing something wrong, this is where I get the players to let me know and I can change.”
LaCerda is uncertain about his future. But he does plan to return and see this team through. He inherited a very young roster with untapped potential and more room to grow.
“When I interviewed with the AD and the principal, I said a successful season to me will be No. 1, the kids are having fun,” said LaCerda. “And if I can get more of the student body to look at golf and think of it as a fun sport and something they want to be a part of, then I’d call it a successful year.”
Cusack is on board with that vision.
“It’s about creating an experience, teaching them the strategy, the rules and the importance of playing by them . . . he’s going to have the kids that he has now for a couple of years. I think we’re in a really great place,” he said.
After the Milford match, LaCerda climbed onto the team bus and allowed himself to finally relax and revel in the fact that he had proof that the road he took to get to Foxborough was worth it.
“The kids were dancing on the back of the bus and they were so excited,” he said. “Just to be around that, I can’t express how much fun it is to be a part of it.
“It all came together and I said, ‘This was the right thing to do at this time of my life.’ It just reaffirmed my belief that I could still do it at age 70 and convinced me that much more it was the right decision.”
▪ The seventh Cape Cod National GC High School Invitational tees off Sunday, Sept. 24, featuring 11 schools (with their top four players), and seven individual competitors also taking part to compete for the Sioux Campbell Trophy.
The teams include defending tournament champion Wellesley, and reigning state champions BC High, Old Rochester, and Weston, among others.
“[The tournament] was built out of the idea that teams don’t really see each other much outside of their divisions,” Cape Cod National head of digital marketing Allen Gunn said. “We created this high school tournament to get the best players out at the same time”
In the field: Longmeadow’s Ryan Downes, the reigning Massachusetts Amateur champion and the two-time individual champ at Cape Cod National. He’s likely to be paired with Hingham’s Carson Erick — the duo battled at the Massachusetts Junior Amateur in August.
Past individual winners include Michael Thorbjornsen, a 2019 Globe All-Scholastic for Wellesley who currently plays for Stanford, and Davis Chatfield, the Globe’s 2015 Division 2 Player of the Year at Bishop Feehan who is a current pro on the Korn Ferry Tour.
“We like to say every year that we have the deepest field yet. Each year it gets better and better . . . we’re really excited [for Sunday],” Gunn said.
▪ Hingham (4-0) punctuated its hot start with a 228-230 win over Patriot League rival Duxbury Tuesday.
The Harbormen have been led by Erick, who was 1 under (Duxbury Yacht Club) and even par (Country Club of Halifax) this past week and won the Mass. Junior at GreatHorse in August, beating Belmont Hill’s CJ Winchenbaugh, 6 and 5.
▪ Defending Division 3 champion Weston started 1-2, the second loss to perennial Division 1 power St. John’s Prep, but bounced back with two wins. In his debut for the varsity Monday, freshman Brode Kohler won, 8-1, as Weston took down Bedford, 47-23.
Globe correspondent Joe Eachus contributed to this report.