When the boys from St. John’s Prep tackle the links at the Wachusett Country Club in West Boylston, the atmosphere is all seriousness — groups of four taking on each hole, quietly pursuing both personal and team success..
And even given the storied golf history at the Danvers school, this year’s crew has found a way to set the bar higher still.
With a 10-1 record just 11 matches into the season, the Eagles have already found a way to break four team course records. And it doesn’t appear they’ll be stopping any time soon.
“I think what’s worked so well is we’ve just kept it simple,’’ said senior Griffin Chenard, “and guys are just trying to play their best and not worry about if one hole is bad. We just rebound and realize it’s a team effort. And I think our top five guys have really produced this year as well, so that’s helped.”
Last season, the team broke one course record, at the Mount Hood Golf Club in Melrose.
Even with the transitions that fall golf brings — golfers play just nine holes in school matches as opposed to 18 during the summer — a summer spent golfing seems to have boosted the team’s overall play.
Team members say they spent a lot of time together this summer, much of it playing and practicing together.
“You’ve got to focus more on the team aspect of things,’’ said senior Mark Turner. “So even if you’re not playing the best, you’ve still got to put in a score just so you’ll count and hopefully the other players will pick you up.”
“You’ve got a lot of people supporting you,’’ said Chenard, “and the person you’re playing with, you’re playing together, it’s kind of like a Ryder Cup atmosphere. You read each other’s putts, so that helps, and they’re there to pick you up if you have a bad round. You have a team to pick you up no matter how you play, so that’s good.”
One thing is drastically different at St. John’s this year: Legendary head coach Larry O’Neill has ended his 38-season tenure, one that saw his teams take home eight MIAA titles, including one last fall. Replacing him is school alumnus and current PGA professional Joe Rocha, who won a pair of state titles as a player between 1985 and 1988.
As a former Prep player, Rocha knows about the team’s rich history, and as a result, he truly appreciates the current crop’s record-smashing performance.
“I think it’s really remarkable, the talent of the kids. And over the years, our advantage has been top-to-bottom, we’ve had quality players,” said Rocha. “Where it comes from, I think maybe it’s the reputation of the program that attracts kids in a way and also the quality of the school. So those two things combined, players want to be part of that tradition.”
Though the season has been a big learning curve for both Rocha and his team, nearly every one of his players said working with the PGA pro had improved their swings.
Rocha has had to acclimate himself a bit, adjusting to being a coach at the high school level and not just working one-on-one with players.
“The challenge the first year is the balance, because I just want to teach, like ‘all right guys, just get there every day after class and get the video camera out,’ ” said Rocha. “But I think I’m getting better as the season has gone along, both teaching and coaching. You have to manage more the mental side of the game, having the team come together as a team, I’m kind of learning as I go.”
And while recognizing there’s much to do and a championship isn’t won during the regular season, the players have been fully appreciating the ride so far.
“It means a lot,’’ said senior Chris Francoeur. “It’s tough to live up to all the expectations of playing golf at the Prep, but we’ve all just been playing well, got to keep it going.”
“It’s phenomenal,’’ said junior Cole English. “It’s a great feeling. Last year, the time we broke [the record] at Mount Hood, it was awesome. This year, we’ve been breaking multiple records on top of that, so it’s been a good feeling.”
Logan Mullen can be reached at email@example.com.