By Thomas Walter, Bucknell Athletic Communications Student Assistant
I remember being puzzled the first time I met Schuyler Stitzer. It was freshman year; I was trying to walk on to the golf team while he was already recruited and guaranteed a spot. He’s different than almost everyone else I have ever met.
His swing fits his personality perfectly: easy, loose, and lazy. He hardly ever hit balls and yet I had never seen anyone hit a driver straighter – from the tee box or off the deck in the fairway. I remember trying to understand how this lanky, unathletic-looking freshman recruit could continuously beat everyone else on the team.
Later that fall, when he took the three seniors and me to play Eagles Mere Golf Club he outplayed everyone. Eagles Mere is where Stitzer played his golf in the summers while growing up. He’s won the club championship there. He’s shot 63 there. To say he knows the course like the back of his hand would be an understatement.
“I remember always wanting to go to Eagles Mere because I could play well there and shoot good scores,” says Stitzer. “I’ve always played better there than anywhere else because I know it well and it’s easier and shorter.”
When Stitzer and I returned to Eagles Mere last week, now seniors in the midst of our final collegiate golf season, things had changed. He had played below his high standards in tryouts, brought out some old form for the Colgate tournament, but struggled at the Bucknell Invitational (where he had never before finished outside the top 16). The low scores were not coming as frequently, the golf swing wasn’t as rhythmic, and there was growing frustration.
However, there was something different about Stitzer on our trip up to Eagles Mere. He was eager and giddy. He was constantly saying how excited he was. I wondered what was making him so upbeat about going to play golf. The answer wasn’t difficult to figure out; he was returning to the course that he is most familiar with as he searched for answers in a game that often asks the most difficult questions of its competitors.
The town of Eagles Mere is small and very peacefully quiet. The population is noted as 120 in the 2010 census, there is a post office and a sweet shop. There’s also a golf course.
The course itself is a mirror image of the town ― never have I been on a golf course that is so quiet or beautiful. The leaves on the trees were vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows; colors marking the turn of the season. Founded in 1911, the golf course’s short yardage is protected by its treacherous greens, which require deft touch. It was easy to see Stitzer’s sharp short game is a direct correlation to playing this golf course all those summers.
By the time we arrived at the course, only an hour or so north of Bucknell, Stitzer started reminiscing. He showed me his home, where he worked his first job, and he explained to me about both his 63 and club championship triumph. The positivity was in his voice and demeanor. He instructed me to keep a thoughtful eye on his golf swing throughout the day and then we were off.
Sometimes things go exactly as planned and sometimes they don’t. Through the first 12 holes, Stitzer didn’t find any of those answers he was looking for. He occasionally would be pleased by a swing, but it would be followed by a poor swing. There were misses to both sides of the course. While there was a difference between the good swings and the bad ones, Stitzer wasn’t able to establish anything consistent. Working a 13-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week internship with Credit Suisse had clearly taken its toll on his game
“When you don’t play at all over the summer, it is hard to get back into that competitive mind set,” Stitzer says. “This year I am more nervous playing competitive rounds than I ever have been in the past, which is tough. When you’re more nervous you have to be that much more confident. When you’re not completely confident and there are nerves it can be dangerous.”
Head coach Jim Cotner agrees that all Stitzer needs to become the consistent competitor he was in prior years is more competitive rounds under his belt.
“Any senior we have ever had come back who did an internship that did not involve golf really struggled in the fall and he’s no different,” explains Cotner. “Competitive golf is a different animal than playing on the weekends with friends and the preparation for that is playing good competitive golf in stroke play situations.”
The same competitive golf experience, which Stitzer lacked this summer, was what made him so successful upon arriving at Bucknell in the fall of 2010. He had two sub-par rounds that fall, two top-20 finishes, and compiled a 74.4 scoring average.
“I think he preformed so well as a freshmen because he came from the Metropolitan Golf Association (MGA),” says Cotner. “He faced some really good competition on some very strong venues. All our past recruits who have come from the MGA – [Brian] Bartow, [Jeff] Pike and [Andrew] Cohen – were all really strong players because of that competitive golf association.”
Stitzer finished his freshman year with a strong effort in the spring season. His full season scoring average, 75.9, was the second-best on the team, he collected two more top-15 finishes, and was the team’s low player at the Patriot League Championship.
But with larger expectations for his sophomore season Stitzer faltered a bit. His second campaign was the worst of his career.
“There were no expectations for me as a freshman. I was unproven and untested,” says Stitzer. “I felt that because I played so well as a freshman I was expected to come back and perform at a higher level.”
The struggles didn’t stay with Stitzer for long as he had his most successful season the third time around. In the fall of his junior year, Stitzer finished within the top 20 in four of his five starts. His best showing was at the Bucknell Invitational, where he tied for ninth after a poor third round dropped him out of contention for winning his elusive first tournament. In the spring, he recorded two more top-five finishes. The first was at the Manor Intercollegiate, where he finished 3-under over his final 36 holes to finish tied for fourth. The next was at the Patriot League Championship, where he also finished tied for fourth, earning him All-Patriot League honors for the first time. In addition, he was named to the Patriot League Men’s Golf All-Academic Team.
“Junior year was great to play well in some events,” mentions Stitzer. “However, the past is the past so I am trying to make this year better than the last.”
Sometimes in golf all it takes to swing momentum in your favor is a little spark. In a similar way to his strong play at the Manor Intercollegiate propelled him to his best finish at Patriot Leagues last spring, Stitzer made a 50-foot putt for par on our 11th hole of the day and he played the next five holes in 1-under par. A possible solution had been found at Eagles Mere that day; Stitzer’s swing was beginning to tighten.
“At Eagles Mere I was tinkering with my swing and decided I need to shorten my swing – make it more compact – in order to minimize my misses,” Stitzer says. “I am looking for something to have confidence in week in and week out.”
I noticed again how solid his swing looked in the practice round for last week’s Stars and Stripes Army Invitational. His rhythm was smooth, and most important his swing was shorter; right at parallel – the perfect position to be at the top of a golf swing.
Stitzer followed up the practice round with a solid first day of play by shooting 74-69 (+5), but finished up with a 78 in very difficult, rainy conditions on the final day of the tournament.
“My goal going forward is to become more consistent in terms of scoring, and to feel more confident in what I am doing with my golf swing and short game,” he says.
After the trip to Eagles Mere it is obvious Stitzer’s confidence has been restored. But in golf there is always something to fix or work at. So that’s what Stitzer will do; he’ll work at his game throughout the winter until he finds that confidence once more. As soon as it returns it is clear that Stitzer will once again return to the upper echelon of the Patriot League.
Note: This story appeared in a recent edition of the Bucknell Football Gameday Program.