Success Breeds More Success For Kent State Men's Golf
by Lance Lysowski
Three consecutive Mid-American Conference Championships and two straight NCAA Championship Appearances.
The Kent State men's golf team is the definition of success.
The team has made 20 NCAA Regional appearances in 23 years and this year's team continues to live up to the program's prestige.
The No.18 Golden Flashes have already picked up four team titles in the 2011-12 season, with the latest coming on April 15 as the team took first place at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate. The one-shot victory came only two weeks after the team blitz the field to win the Irish Creek Collegiate by 27 strokes.
The team's early schedule had them playing tournaments in six different states, and facing the nation's top competition. Kent State has teed off against top tier programs such as the UCLA, USC, Washington, Georgia Tech and Auburn.
Kent State Director of Golf and Head Coach Herb Page, who recently picked up his 76th tournament title as the Golden Flashes' head coach, said that the team's early season performance was a memorable one.
"We're off to a very, very good start," Page said. "We call it the 'Southern Swing', but whether it was west, south or wherever we had to go. I think it's one of the best early season results I've seen any of my teams play ever. They've been playing very, very good golf."
The Golden Flashes' roster includes only one senior but the team's depth has led the team to the four titles so far this season.
As the team prepares to defend their Mid-American Conference title next weekend in Illinois, three golfers are making Kent State the early favorites in the conference.
Three of Kent State's golfers are rank among the top six amateur golfers in Canada. In the latest Golf Canada Weekly Top 10 Amateur rankings, the Golden Flashes are represented by senior Mackenzie Hughes at No. 4, sophomore Corey Conners at No.5 and sophomore Taylor Pendrith at No. 6.
The team's steady leader is Hughes. The Dundas, Ontario native holds a career 73.8 stroke average in 52 events, he's been named First Team All-MAC two years in a row and was recognized by Golf Canada as the top male amateur golfer for 2011.
On Aug. 10 of this year, Hughes defeated defending Canadian amateur champion Albin Choi to claim the Earl Grey Cup and earned a berth in the PGA Tour's 2012 RBC Canadian Open.
As the team has played through rigorous tournaments on the road against top competition, the weather in Ohio was unlike it has been in recent years. As the players are usually held within an indoor practice facility until mid-to-late March, this year's warm weather allowed the players to spend more time on the course in Northeast Ohio.
"It's actually been extremely helpful when we've gone down to these southern tournaments where we can actually play on grass and hit some golf shots on the golf course," Hughes said.
The team's out-of conference schedule was unique this season. Unlike in the past, the team traveled to California to play early tournaments. While the 2012 NCAA Golf Championships will take place in Pacific Palisades, Calif., Page said the team's diverse schedule was not motivated simply by getting accustomed to the courses in California.
"We just wanted to give them a little different look," Page said. "The west coast has different kinds of grasses and hopefully we'll get to play those kinds of grasses in June at the NCAA Finals and also competing against those types of schools, we're going to face them at the end as well."
The team looks to claim the program's fourth-straight conference championship in Sugar Grove, Ill. May 4-6.
As the team's lone senior and a member of the past three championship teams, Hughes is reassuring the younger players on the team as the tournament approaches that a championship is within reach.
"We've won by pretty comfortable margins so I'm kind of telling the guys—that's not how it will go—but that's how we'd like it to go," Hughes said. "If we play well and do what we do best, we have a shot at winning every time."