(by Nick Delahanty, Felician College Public Relations Intern)
The Felician College men's golf team picked up a new tradition by observing other colleges at tournaments.
An NCAA golf squad is allowed to enter an official line-up of five players in an event, with the top four each day counting for the team score. But shortly after the program's inception, ninth-year head coach Ben "J.R." DiNallo of River Edge noticed other schools bringing extra players to participate in a tournament, entering them as individual participants.
Seeing this development as a great opportunity to get more young men involved in the sport, DiNallo wasted no time adding extra players to his roster.
"Depth is appropriate, especially in a sport like golf," said DiNallo, who is also Felician's director of athletics. "When it came to the sixth man, I wanted to give an opportunity to another person to play the sport at the college level, whether they had experience playing or not."
Three such players in recent years have been Pat Raines '11 (Rutherford, N.J./Rutherford), Anthony Bizien '13 (Hazlet, N.J./Raritan), and Tim Gonzalez '14 (Staten Island, N.Y./Tottenville). Each man has a different story about how his college golfing experience came about.
Raines, who served as the "sixth man" for three years, from 2008-2011, had interest in the sport growing up. When he inquired as a sophomore, DiNallo asked him to come try out for the team.
As a young child, Raines and his father would enter father/son tournaments in order for him to participate in a sport while baseball wasn't in season.
"Baseball was my priority, but when I wasn't playing it, my dad entered us in these tournaments to keep active," Raines said. "Once my dad showed me the game, it became a nonstop thing, as it grew into something I really enjoyed doing."
Bizien started as a baseball player at Felician College, but decided to make the switch to golf during his junior year. After a season of missing the competition he experienced during baseball, Bizien asked DiNallo if there was a chance he could play golf.
"I walked into the athletic office to talk to JR and said, 'I'm not playing baseball anymore, and what do baseball players do when they retire? They play golf! So I was wondering if I could join the team,'" said Bizien. "Once he said I could, I thought I might be able to go to a tournament here or there and learn the game a little better."
Due to injuries and transfers, Bizien eventually ascended to the No. 5 position in the line-up, and was able to participate in two Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference tournaments.
Gonzalez is DiNallo's current "sixth man." Like his predecessors, his first love was baseball. A former Felician baseball teammate of Bizien's, Gonzalez actually wanted to walk on to the golf team after learning more about Bizien's time with the squad.
"My friend Anthony told me what a great experience he had playing golf, which made me really interested in joining the team," said Gonzalez. "I also wanted to do something to stay active, so this was perfect for me."
Once again, DiNallo was open to a new golfer, giving Gonzalez the opportunity to learn the sport while playing on the college level.
Raines posted a career scoring average of 101.3 and Bizien 126.8, while Gonzalez completed the recent fall season at a 138.6 clip. But none of the trio has ever really focused on their scores. They simply wanted to improve their game and have fun in the process. They each had different approaches in order to try to be successful.
Raines never thought about his overall score during a given tournament. "I tried to think my way through a given course," he said, "attacking each hole to the best of my ability. "
Bizien realized that in golf, you don't have a chance to play defense against your opponent, so the only thing you can control is how well you play. His aim was to "show up and play my best."
Gonzalez's goals have shifted as he has gained more knowledge about golf, He began by just trying to learn as much as he could about the game, but has now started to set specific scoring goals for the spring season. He doesn't care about standings or rankings, but rather wants to "learn and get a feel of how to play golf in a college setting."
As for the team chemistry, all three players feel that the Golden Falcons are tight-knit, and work well together. They cite DiNallo as the main reason for this cohesion through the years.
"From the first meeting, Coach JR helped us grow as a team, to the point where we all felt like brothers," said Raines. "Whenever the going got tough, we knew we had a rock in JR to keep us together and on track."
The players also couldn't say enough about the impact their more experienced teammates had on them. Knowing and seeing they were trying hard to learn, the top-of-the-linup guys were always willing to lend a hand.
"My teammates have been so great," Gonzalez said. "They are always willing to help me with my swing when we practice, and have given me other helpful tips. We are a group of brothers on and off the course, always having a good time regardless of the outcomes of tournaments."
Trying to get the best out of his players, DiNallo feels it is important to keep the atmosphere jovial and positive, especially when bad situations approach.
"I am a firm believer in the management side of sports," DiNallo said. "Managing the emotion and the game is crucial, and I think the best way to help do that is to always be positive and keep it fun for the guys."
During his nine years as the golf coach, DiNallo has enjoyed working with players of all abilities, and his "sixth men" have been no different.
"These three players have been great team guys; they get along well with the other members," he said. "It's an exciting thing to see as a coach when a player that you worked with progresses, as it shows the hard work they put into the sport."