Men's Golf Focused on Next Step|
Sept. 2, 2014
Returning every player from a program-changing campaign a year ago, the University of Cincinnati men's golf team aims to take the next step during the 2014-15 season and qualify for the NCAA Championship.
Optimism is high as the fall season tees off Sept. 8-9 at the Marshall Invitational in Huntington, West Virginia. The Bearcats mix in a core of veteran performers with talented and developing returners and a trio of freshmen newcomers looking to build upon an attention-grabbing 2013-14 season.
A year ago UC registered nine top-5 finishes and shattered several individual and team records while finishing inside the nation's Top 100 for the first time in school history.
"Any time you return your entire lineup, it calls for excitement," sixth-year head coach Doug Martin said. "This team has a chance by the end of the season to be considered the best in the school history."
But it's the ending to last season - being left out of the NCAA Championship field despite finishing ahead of or tied with 132 of 172 opponents - that fuels the focus for the coming year.
"There was a lot of disappointment on our team at the end of last season despite all of the progress," Martin added. "I think that disappointment motivated everyone to become better over the summer and that speaks volumes. We've had guys back here working out and practicing since August 1st. And I wasn't really having anyone report until late August. So, the energy that the guys have put in already in the weight room and just practicing on their own is obviously an indication of their excitement as well."
// Experienced Returners
A trio of seniors - Jared Howard (Dublin, Ohio/Jerome High School), Baxter Reeves (Montgomery, Ala./Brewbaker Tech/Central Alabama CC) and John Michael O'Toole (Pinson, Ala./Pinson Valley High School/Central Alabama CC) - return as leaders of the talented squad. Howard has been a steady contributor throughout his UC career but took his game to a new level last season, lowering his stroke average by five strokes to a school-record 72.86. Howard set school marks for most par or better rounds (17) and most birdies (113). He posted a team-best four top-10 finishes, including a career-high second-place result at the Cleveland State Invitational during the fall. Howard carried his success over to the summer, winning the Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan Amateur Championship.
"Jared is someone that's improved every single year," Martin said. "He's a hard worker and a great leader. He leads by example and is one of those players a coach is thrilled to have on his team."
Reeves and O'Toole made an immediate impact after transferring from Central Alabama Community College prior to last season. Reeves registered three Top-5 finishes a year ago and ranked first or second among UC scorers in six tournaments. O'Toole posted seven top-30 finishes during the year and ranked first or second on the team in five of seven spring tournaments. O'Toole also enjoyed a strong showing during the summer, winning medalist honors at the Greystone Invitational and match-play competition at the Spirit of America Golf Classic.
"John Michael is a winner," Martin said. "There's no other way to describe him other than he figures out a way to get it done and goes out and does it. Baxter has a chance to be great. The biggest thing for him to do is not to get in his own way. If he does that, he'll have a chance to have a great year."
Other strong contenders to fill out Martin's lineups include junior Emerson Newsome (Dacula, Ga./Mill Creek High School) and sophomore Jared O'Kelley (Canton, Ga./Creekview High School). Newsome, who has represented UC at every tournament during his first two seasons, registered six top-25 finishes last year, highlighted by a tie for sixth at the Temple Intercollegiate. O'Kelley ended the year with the team's third-lowest stroke average at 73.97, earning seven top-25 finishes with a season-best effort at the Bluegrass Invitational (tied for 10th place).
Junior Blake Hamilton (Union, Ky./Ryle High School), senior Michael Wolf (Cincinnati, Ohio/Moeller High School) and sophomore Brennen Walsh (Cincinnati, Ohio/Elder High School) also saw action in at least two tournaments last season. UC also welcomes a trio of freshmen newcomers in Davis Baxter (Nolensville, Tenn./Ravenwood High School), Scot Sapp (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington High School) and Christian Vining (Louisville, Ky./St. Xavier High School).
"We return the core of our team - all 5 of our guys that played last year," Martin said. "Plus there are a number of players who didn't get an opportunity to play much that really proved a lot over this summer. That's a credit to their effort. Add to that, some freshmen who have a chance to contribute right away as well and there should be a lot of competition for positions."
Martin says his team lineup for the Marshall Invitational will be determined by a 144-hole team qualifier that started in late August. Martin also will include one individual player, not attached to the team score, at each of the first five fall tournaments.
// Difficult Schedule to Challenge Bearcats
Martin also challenged this season's squad with a more difficult schedule. Eight of UC's 11 regular-season tournaments are hosted by schools that competed in the 2014 NCAA Championship. Changes include appearances in tournaments hosted by Kennesaw State and Middle Tennessee in the fall and College of Charleston and Purdue in the spring season. The Bearcats also will reenter the field at Florida's State event after a one-year hiatus as well as compete in Indiana's tournament.
UC also plays host to the annual Bearcat Invitational, Oct. 6-7, at Traditions Golf Club in Hebron, Kentucky.
// Fresh Mindset
Martin says he will take a step-by-step approach with the team during the 2014-15 season, setting aside all of the positive accomplishments as well as the letdown from being left out of the NCAA Championship last year.
"What we did last year has no meaning on what we are going to do this year," Martin said. "You have to set your sights high but live in the moment and focus in on getting better every day. I've got a group that gets that and understands that. They don't take any day for granted and don't go through the motions ever, which is really great."