After hitting rock bottom, men’s golf looks to rise to the challenge
The good thing about hitting rock bottom is there is nowhere else to go but up, and after a disappointing season last year, that is exactly the direction the men’s golf team plans on heading.
“Last season overall was disappointing, and we certainly hold ourselves to a higher standard,” said redshirt senior Matt Williams. “The way we played last year is definitely not how we want to be remembered when we leave the program.”
Williams is in his fifth year with the golf team and wants to see the team return to the NCAA Championships like it did during his first two seasons. He believes this group of athletes might have what it takes to get there.
“We have some new transfers, and they’re playing with something to prove. The guys have a chip on their shoulder, we just want to bring the right attitude and do some damage this season,” Williams said.
The transfers set to hit the course for the Cougars this season are a trio of juniors: Logan Young, Luke Long and Alex Isakson. Each player has enjoyed varying degrees of success in their careers before joining the University.
Young has post-season experience and finished second in last season’s NCAA Division III Championships. Long received All-Southern Conference honors last year, and Isakson finished No. 10 at the Texas Amateur Championship.
One of the issues that plagued last year’s team was a lack of chemistry and culture among its players, but head coach Jonathan Dismuke had a creative solution to address that problem.
“I brought in a friend of mine, ex-Navy SEAL Mark McGinnis, to speak to the team. He just reminded them of some simple, fundamental principles that have to occur to work as a team,” said Dismuke. “We were guilty of overcomplicating things and under-communicating last year.”
The veteran led over 400 missions as a part of the Navy, which is known for forging a team-first attitude among its enlisted personnel from very early on. For redshirt junior Zach Tracy, the visit from McGinnis helped him solidify bonds with his teammates.
Tracy said much of the team lived together last year, but did not hang out or socialize much outside of practices and tournaments.
“Last year, we were just kind of going through the motions, but (McGinnis) told us how to create our team culture. We figured out a lot of things together as a team,” Tracy said.
McGinnis even took to the course with Williams for a round of golf to shed light on some of the mental and technical mistakes that can sometimes go unnoticed.
“Playing with him, I picked up on cues that could make you successful in all walks of life, not just golf,” said Williams.
As the start of the season is only a handful of days away, everyone from Dismuke to the players are eager for a fresh start and a chance to prove last season was an outlier.
“I’m excited for the Maui Jim tournament, especially because I haven’t played on the course before and most people say it’s pretty tough. I think my ball striking is at a pretty high level right now, so I should be able to navigate the course just fine,” said Tracy.
The Maui Jim Invitational is hosted at the Mirabel Golf Club in northern Arizona, and almost every hole is surrounded by rugged terrain with lots of rocks, rough brush, sand traps and even a few water traps. The Cougars will start the three-day tournament at the course Friday Sept. 21.
Williams matched Tracy’s excitement for the Cougars’ first tournament of the season and said he has full faith in the coaching staff and the talented players on this year’s roster.
“You don’t become elite by accident,” said Williams. “You have to strive every day to remain elite. I’m the most tenured member of the team now, and I’m eager for the opportunity to be a leader.”
While it’s important to have the loftier goals in mind, Dismuke knows it is his job to keep his players’ minds on the here-and-now, not the future.
“We have the traditional expectations of a conference championship or even an NCAA championship, but those goals are pretty far down the road,” said Dismuke. “Right now, our focus is to take each day and each practice and ensure we’re moving forward.”