Jan 20, 2017

Burlington members lead Rutgers-Camden golf program by example

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Zach Arsenault and Kevin Sarlo feel a responsibility to elevate the Rutgers University-Camden’s men’s golf program. They’re taking that ambition to heart, and then some.

The senior co-captains and Burlington Country Club members led Rutgers University-Camden to victories in four invitationals this past fall, tying the program record for a low round (283) twice within three days. Sarlo carded a 4-under-par 67 during the Franklin & Marshall Fall Invitational to set the best individual mark in Scarlet Knight history. Three days later, Arsenault matched that number to win the individual title in the Eastern Invitational at St. Davids Golf Club.

“They were friends before I knew either one of them. They’re both excellent players who bring something different to the table,” head coach Bob Cardea said. “Kevin is a worker bee. I’ve never seen somebody drain more 12- to 15-footers with the regularity Kevin Sarlo does. He’s a leader by example, not an overly outspoken kid but a student of the game. Zach is your locker room guy. He’s a fiery personality, one of those highly self-motivated kids. I relish the fact that we’re he’s one of the few players I’ve had who comes to me in my office and says, ‘Hey, do you mind if I address the team and tell them what my vision is?’ That’s pretty awesome. I would take them both every day of the week.”

Rutgers University-Camden is ranked 40th among NCAA Division III programs, according to Golfstat.com. Individually, Arsenault sits at No. 32, Sarlo at No. 41.

Difficult to fathom that degree of success, considering the preseason. Both Arsenault and Sarlo suffered injuries that limited their golf during the summer. Arsenault, 22, of Medford, N.J., tore a ligament in his right pinky finger.

“I was driving a golf cart and had my hand at the bottom of the steering wheel,” he said. “I hit a root in the rough that I didn’t really see. The steering wheel turned, my hand got stuck in it. It completely tore my finger apart. The most frustrating part is it was something so stupid that kept me out for months. I didn’t pick up a golf club until September.”

Sarlo, a Burlington Township High School alum, hurt his back while playing spikeball, a new wave sport that fuses volleyball and foursquare.

“I didn’t play for a month right before the season started. I wasn’t sure how I’d come back,” Sarlo, 23, of Burlington, N.J., said.

Any uncertainty quickly vanished. Arsenault earned Eastern College Athletic Conference Golfer of the Month (October 2016), won Golfer of the Week honors twice, led the team with a 72.6 scoring average and shared the school’s Co-Raptor of the Week honor with Sarlo on Oct. 24, 2016. He earned First Team All-Tournament honors during the ECAC Mid-Atlantic Regionals. In 21 rounds over his career, Arsenault holds a 74.4 scoring average.

“I got a pretty good taste of the real world [while interning for Merrill Lynch this summer]. I started to realize that golf is just a game. It’s something to be enjoyed and not taken too seriously,” he said. “Once I started taking the game not as seriously as I did before, I realized there isn’t pressure out there. You just go out and play because you love it. My mental focus became a lot stronger. It took over this fall. I got to give it all I’ve got. That’s what made this season successful.”

In seven events, Sarlo never finished outside the Top 10. He finished a spot behind Arsenault in the aforementioned Eastern Invitational. Sarlo cites the Franklin & Marshall Fall Invitational as his best performance; he made six straight birdies at Bent Creek Country Club (Nos. 7-12) but fell in a scorecard playoff. Nevertheless, Sarlo earned North Eastern Athletic Conference Golfer of the Week honors for his effort.

“I would say this was definitely my best season because I had a lot of rounds where I was making eight birdies. It was really nice to see,” he said. “It was definitely my highest level of playing so far.”

Arsenault and Sarlo met in high school thanks to their rising level of play. A Shawnee High School graduate, Arsenault earned All-State honors twice and maintained All-Conference status all four years. Sarlo, a four-year golf letter recipient, served as a key to Burlington Township High School’s state title run in 2012. Furthermore, both Arsenault (2011) and Sarlo (2012) were named Burlington County Times Golfer of the Year.

The two went their separate ways come college. Arsenault headed to Alvernia University and played on its golf team. Sarlo entered a golf management program at Coastal Carolina University. Neither experienced extended stays.

Academic struggles sidetracked Arsenault’s collegiate career. He transferred from Alvernia to Rowan College at Burlington County, searching for answers.

“I didn’t do very well at Alvernia. My father made me come home and go to county college because school is expensive. It was unfortunate that I wasn’t taking it as seriously as I should have. I went to Burlington County to get my bearings, to get back on my feet. Going to school at county after you’ve met great friends at your previous school is difficult. I had to get my stuff together, and fortunately I did.”

Arsenault, a three-year caddie at Tavistock Country Club, credits Cardea for his work, both on and off the course.

“I can honestly say that man changed my life,” Arsenault said. “He gave me the opportunity, if I got my grades up, to get a Rutgers education and play golf for him and the Scarlet Raptors. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t realize this man’s a role model to me. I mean that with all of my heart.”

Home is where Sarlo left his heart. Seeking a return to friends, family and competitive golf, transferred to Rutgers University-Camden, where he majors in marketing, after a year. Sarlo put a bug in Arsenault’s ear about joining him there.

“Every week or so, I’d get in touch with him and say, ‘Have you talked to the coach? Have you thought about playing for Rutgers? We could really use you,’” Sarlo said. “I wasn’t trying to let it get away. In the end, [having him] makes our team better in more tournaments. We always kind of talked about how cool it would be to be on the same golf team together. It’s crazy that it happened a couple of years later.”

“He and I were always back and forth about [playing on the same team],” Arsenault said. “This kid has been so instrumental in how my game has improved over the years because he pushes me to the limit. We both want to be No. 1 so bad. It’s the force that drives our team. Kevin and I are the ones who punch. We always say we have two number ones.”

Led by Arsenault and Sarlo, the Rutgers University-Camden men’s golf program is peaking — its spring sights set on a conference title and more.

“I would like to win a national championship, and Zach’s definitely a main key to that. We just push each other,” Sarlo said. “We keep the team friends with each other. If you’re unfamiliar with the people around you, then you won’t care as much to let people down. That’s how I feel. I don’t want anyone down, so I play pretty hard to pick everyone up.”

“We’ve had this vision in our minds of being national champions. Frankly we don’t see any reason as to why it can’t happen,” Arsenault added. “Kevin and I establish the personality for this team. Our responsibility is to set a good example and to instill a winning culture. We play with a chip on our shoulder every time we tee it up. We want to put this place on the map.”

Golf Association of Philadelphia
Founded in 1897, the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) is the oldest regional golf association in the United States and serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. Its 153 Full Member Clubs and 57,000 individual members are spread across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. As Philadelphia’s Most Trusted Source of Golf Information, the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.

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