From 2011 to 2019, the men's golf team at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, qualified for the NCAA Division II Regional tournament. The first eight years, the Falcons fell short of advancing to the Division II Championships, but in 2019, they finally broke through, finishing in second place in the East/Atlantic regional to become one of the 20 national qualifiers.
Among those who helped Bentley finally burst on to the national stage was then-sophomore Ellis Yoder, a Homestead graduate. Yoder went on to shoot 79, 74 and 77 in his three rounds at nationals, where Bentley – the only team at the tournament that did not have players on scholarship – finished 17th.
Bentley was unable to make a repeat trip to nationals in 2020 because the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the Falcons' entire spring schedule. That didn't stop Yoder, a rising star in the program, from continuing to improve and earn recognition. The junior set a career-best stroke average of 75.75 – third-best on the team – during the fall season and earned All-Northeast-10 Conference third-team honors for his performance.
Yoder is also a talented student and, with a 3.96 cumulative GPA at the end of his third year on campus, was named a College Sports Information Directors of America Third-Team Academic All-American, becoming just the third player in Bentley history and first since 2013 to do so.
“The all-conference and academic All-(American) really speaks to the emphasis that we have on our team on building complete people and building scholars and not just building good golfers,” Yoder said. “In my time on the team, I've definitely grown as a golfer, but I've also learned to manage my time better. I've made a lot of connections at Bentley that aren't just about golf that are about moving forward with my life.”
Yoder, who accumulated 31 credits from Homestead before he came to Bentley as a freshman, was able to earn his bachelor's degree in three years and in his final year in the golf program next season will pursue a master's in digital innovation, with an eye toward working in cybersecurity in the future. Bentley coach Mickey Herron calls Yoder the best student he's had in his decade leading the Falcons.
As a freshman, such a list of honors for Yoder seemed far off. He did not play much in his first year on campus after shooting 83 and 81 as a Homestead senior in the boys golf state championships.
“Personally, it's really rewarding to see my growth,” Yoder said. “I came in as a freshman and moved from Fort Wayne to Waltham and that was a pretty difficult transition for me. For a while, I practiced with the team, but I was trying to figure out my life, trying to figure out making friends and everything. ... It's really exciting for me and I hope to continue that growth now that I know what college tournaments are like and I can prepare for them.”
That experience has helped Yoder blossom into an ultraconsistent performer. All eight of his competitive rounds during the fall season in 2019 were between 73 and 78, making him a valuable player in every tournament. He was also enough of a leader that he became the first junior during Herron's tenure to be named a team co-captain.
“I've probably seen more improvement (from him) over three years than anyone that's come through my program,” Herron said. “He did it the old-fashioned way: hard work and he's a good listener. ... He's a good kid.”
Since Yoder came back to Fort Wayne in March because of the pandemic, he has worked to get better for next season with a goal of leading Bentley back to nationals in 2021. He played in the Southern Open, an Indiana PGA event in Laconia, on June 15 and shot 79 to finish 59th in an 86-player field.
Yoder also tried to qualify for the Indiana Amateur Championship, played last week in Indianapolis. He shot 73, but in a loaded Fort Wayne-area qualifying field, he had to settle for being one of the tournament's first alternates. He plans to keep playing as many competitive tournaments as he can this summer to prepare for the fall season, hoping to make more birdies and bring his scores lower on a consistent basis.
“Playing competitive golf is the most fun I have doing anything really,” Yoder said. “I missed all our spring tournaments, so (playing this summer) is really fun and losing out on those spring tournaments really put it in perspective that, 'Hey, I only have one more season of golf left and then I'm done playing for a team.'
“I need to take advantage of the tournaments I do have left and make the most of it, so I'm really working hard to prepare for that.”
Herron believes Yoder has a chance to have a terrific senior season, though he declined to provide a goal for his scoring average so as not to put a ceiling on the soon-to-be-senior. The Falcons' coach also believes Yoder can continue improving even after leaving Bentley.
“He can be as good as he wants to be,” Herron said. “Why not Ellis Yoder as Indiana Amateur champ in five years? Or wherever he lives. ... Kid's going to be able to work wherever we wants to work, he's so bright. And I'm sure golf will be a part of his life.”