As Kent State football and baseball each went on historic runs in the past 12 months, the Golden Flashes men’s golf team did as well, though that’s becoming a regular occurrence.
KSU finished fifth in the nation at last year’s NCAA Championships — the best finish in school history and the second top six finish in five years — and have again qualified for the 30-team format after placing fifth (the final spot that earns a bid) in the regional tournament.
It’s an extension of the amazing run that so many programs at Kent State went on in the past 12 months. Director of Golf and coach Herb Page happens to be best friends with the Golden Flashes’ baseball coach, Scott Stricklin. Considering football and basketball are often the two sports that get the most fanfare, Page and Stricklin have something in common as coaches building exposure the hard way. Page, though, is somewhat of an ambassador of all KSU athletics.
“I’m Kent State blue and gold through and through, and that was the best summer and fall we’ve had in 35 years when our baseball and football teams made that run,” Page said. “I’m Strick’s biggest fan and I got to know [then KSU football coach] Darrell Hazell. We root for everybody, and I’m assuming everybody’s rooting for us.”
Stricklin is on course to establishing KSU as a viable, national baseball program. Page is already there with men’s golf.
With Kent State again qualifying for the NCAA Championships, it’s the fourth consecutive bid for KSU, making it one of only eight schools to do so. The Golden Flashes are also one of only four schools to have finished in the top 20 in the last three seasons.
Thirty teams qualify for the NCAA Championships, which run from today to June 2 at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course. The tournament is broken up into two “sections.” The first includes 54 holes of strictly stroke play, with the top eight teams advancing to single-elimination match play. Last year, KSU advanced to that second tier but fell to No. 1-seeded Alabama. Page says that making it to the top eight is the biggest step toward notching another school-record finish.
“When you get into that group of eight and go to match play, at that point, it’s anybody’s game,” he said. “We were close last year [to winning a national championship], we were close four years ago. It’s one of our goals. Everybody wants to win and we’ve been there, we’ve been close. It’s right in front of us, and it’s up to us.”
Led by juniors
Juniors (and roommates) Taylor Pendrith and Corey Conners lead this year’s edition. Pendrith was named the 2013 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year. Conners held that distinction last season. Both play on the Canadian National Team and both hold a top 50 ranking in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings (Conners is No. 30, Pendrith No. 43). Page called Pendrith one of the longest hitters in the country and someone who only recently realized how good he could become.
The other three members are senior Kevin Miller, sophomore Nick Scott and junior Kyle Kmiecik.
The group actually came close to missing the NCAA Championships before Pendrith chipped in on the final hole for birdie, giving the Golden Flashes a cushion “that 20 minutes before, just wasn’t there.” That resilience, Page says, is KSU’s biggest ally.
“These men have been mentally tough,” he said. “We’ve had our backs against the wall a couple of times. It’s good news, bad news. They’ll make a bad swing and turn around and birdie the next hole. They’re like a relief pitcher in baseball. They give up a shot and come right back.”