Above Par: What You Missed on the Golf Course at AYF Olympics

Typically in Olympics past, I would venture to golf, snap a few photos of the players during warm-up and tee-off, and then race over to tennis. This year, I stayed at the golf course, and I’m glad I did.

I was carted around by Governing Body member Rich Keshgegian who was in charge of the golf event. Keshgegian was named an Olympic King later that evening; little did I know I was being chauffeured around the course by Olympic royalty.

As soon as Mark Santerian Jr. was old enough to swing a golf club, he has been a force in AYF golf. When I saw him in the hotel lobby, he told me, “I am excited to play golf on my course.” I assumed he meant his home course, the course where he played the most golf. The second part was certainly true; the Wedgewood Country Club in Turnersville, New Jersey is indeed the course he visits the most. The course is certainly his…or his family’s. His father Mark owns and operates this and other golf courses in the area with his brother Mike. This certainly explains why Mark and his cousin Peter Tashjian have dominated AYF Men’s Golf for the past several years.  

There were twelve Men’s Golfers. North Andover and Philadelphia had three golfers each.  Reigning champion Santerian continued his streak. Here’s how everyone else ranked.

  1. Mark Santerian 76 Philadelphia
  2. Alex Kassabian 82 New York
  3. Mike Haase 85 Detroit
  4. Shahen Hagan 92 North Andover
Shahan and Alexan Topalian

Brothers Alexan and Shahan Topalian of Providence also played. It was Shahan’s first Olympics.  While neither scored points, Shahan was very excited to tell me that he beat his brother Alexan by two strokes. The men play 18 holes, but the women play half.

  1. Shayna McCarthy 56 New Jersey
  2. Theresa Jelalian 58 New Jersey
  3. Ani Comella 60 Providence
  4. Karnee Berejiklian 70 Greater Boston
Peter Tashjian teeing off

Santerian had an easier time winning the Men’s AYF Golf this time for one reason. That’s because his cousin, Philadelphia teammate, and prime competitor for the past several years, Peter has aged up to the Alumni ranks.  For many years now, the Alumni golfers have outnumbered all the AYF participants. It has become an annual ritual for the avid AYF alumni golfers, many of whom, took up the game after their AYF days. This year, 36 alumni participated—six of whom were women. During practice, they were all sizing up their competition. Tashjian was not a name they mentioned, but I suspected he was the one to beat. Sure enough, Tashjian did win and amazingly tied with his cousin Santerian, who also shot a 76.

I am not sure if anyone has more fun competing at the AYF Olympics than the golfers. While, golf is a game of skill, stamina, and focus, it is also a very social game. It is the only event where the alumni participate as well.  Alumnus, Christine Shirinian characterized the sport well with a a glorious double negative, “I am never not playing golf at the AYF Olympics again!”

But fifth place women’s golfer Araxi Krafian summarized the entire experience in the fairway more than 100 yards from the pin. She was getting ready to swing when Keshgegian (in an attempt to be helpful and instructive) asked, “Araxi, what club are you using?” Krafian turned the club head up, read the bottom of the iron and replied, “W…for winner.” Indeed, everyone was a winner that weekend—making new friends, strengthening old bonds, and encouraging each other in friendly competition.

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Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.

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