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Golfers find team chemistry in a solitary sport

Matt Epstein from Hopkinton drives the ball on the back nine as Jared Winiarz of Norton and Dan Frodigh of Westwood watch, during the Division 2 South Shore sectional golf tournament at the Easton Country Club in 2017.Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe

The seemingly lonely sport of golf feels quite the opposite to Matt Epstein, a junior captain of Hopkinton High’s golf team. Though golf is one of the most individualized sports offered at the region’s high schools, Epstein’s team is as tight as any.

“We’re very, very close,” he said of the Hillers, which are an unusually large group for golf with 27 players. “I think the team chemistry is great . . . We really try to get together off the course. We have team spaghetti dinners — ‘spaggers’ is what we call them. The seniors host those.”

It doesn’t stop there. The team takes the course as a unit, rooting for one another and giving each other tips.


“On the course, we try to just remind everyone that we’re not playing against each other,” said Epstein, a 2017 Globe All-Scholastic. “Though it’s an individual sport, we’re still rooting for one another and hoping everyone plays well. But we’re also there to push each other and try to bring out the best in everyone.”

Hopkinton isn’t the only school creating a supportive team atmosphere in the singular world of golf. For BC High, last year’s Division 1 champion, eating at Chipotle after matches is a staple. Winchester’s golf team has made a habit of heading to the driving range after school to take some swings and hang out as a group. At St. John’s Prep in Danvers, there’s an emphasis on welcoming new players as part of the family.

It’s an individual game but a team sport. Each golfer gets a certain number of points depending on how well he or she plays on each hole of the round. The top seven point-getters on one team are counted against the top seven on the opposing team to determine which school wins the match.


On match day, golfers play rounds in pairs, often strategically aligned by coaches.

“I try to put two players together who would play well together, and give each other advice and strategy out on the course,” said Jay Fiste, the head coach at St. Mary’s of Lynn. “The team system takes pressure off the players further down the lineup.”

Jack O’Donnell, a junior captain at BC High from Cohasset, said it’s important to “pump up your teammates and get them to play well. Coach Chris [Hayes] always says if you’re playing bad, you can pump up the guy you’re with so he can help you out. I think that’s a good part about high school golf.”

Trevor Lopez, a Winchester sophomore, knows the feeling. “After I’m done, when [a teammate] is coming down the ninth fairway, we can try and hype them up like from the dugout in baseball,” he said.

The team accepted him right away, Lopez said, helping him record a strong season — he was a Globe All-Scholastic as a freshman. — and have a blast in the process.

“They didn’t really treat me like a freshman, like a lot of sports do,” he said. “We just went out there and had fun.”

Drew Semons, a senior captain at St. John’s Prep from Danvers, plays numerous solo tournaments throughout the year.

“I love high school golf,” said Semons, an All-Scholastic last fall. “There’s nothing better than being with the guys and going out and competing against rival schools. I just love that competition.”


O’Donnell, of the laser-focused Division 1 champions at BC High, agreed. “Definitely, the team aspect makes it more fun and entertaining, especially on bus rides and stuff like that,” he said.

Joe Rocha, the coach of St. John’s Prep, thinks the team environment is crucial for young athletes stressed by high-stakes tournaments and academics.

“I think it’s refreshing to be a part of a team,” Rocha said. “To have the support of your teammates is such a welcome switch from what players are used to doing their summer tournament season. When they get with their teammates it’s a lot of fun having a lot of people pulling in the same direction.

“Golf is so challenging, mentally, it’s important to have people to help you through that.”

While golf captains don’t hold the play-calling duties of their football or basketball counterparts, the role of leader holds these teams together.

“I just try to take in some of the younger guys and let them know that I’m going to be there for them,” Semons said. “I’ll help them out with anything they need. You know, you got to let them know that they’re welcome on the team, like previous captains have done for me in my years here at the Prep.”

Epstein, along with his cocaptains at Hopkinton High, Mitch Marcou and All-Scholastic Abby Jaye, make a point of letting new players know the focus and goals of the team at the outset.

“Before everything really begins, we express our philosophy and our expectations,” Epstein said. “If you’re going to be part of this team, you’re part of a winning program. We try to set the precedent early. People buy into it. People like to win.”


Charlie Wolfson can be reached at charlie.wolfson@globe.com.