Under director of golf and coach Herb Page’s tutelage, Kent State is headed to the NCAA Championship for the fourth time in five seasons.
This year’s five-man squad consists of sophomore Corey Connors (71.8 scoring average), sophomore Taylor Pendrith (72.5), senior Mackenzie Hughes (72.8), junior Kevin Miller (73.1) and sophomore Kyle Kmiecik (74.3)
It may be the most balanced team Page has ever brought to the NCAA Championships, this year held at Riviera Country Club in California.
“Balance is really key,” Page said. “We’ve had low scores from every single player. Top-5s, top-10s ... any day, any of our players can go low. I really haven’t had a team as deep as this.
“We really don’t have a No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 man. They’re just all very good, and I mean that honestly.”
Kent State enters the 30-team tournament as the No. 16 seed and holds the No. 16 national ranking according to Golfweek.
The Golden Flashes finished 19th and 20th at the NCAA Championships the past two years, respectively, after placing a school-best sixth in 2008. KSU’s five-man team has three sophomores and a junior, but they’ll have about as much championship experience as anyone.
“These guys definitely know how to win, and that’s very important,” Page said. “We’ve played a top-20 schedule, we’ve played all over the country. I’d say these guys are ready to go and I think we can beat anyone. It’s not like they’re coming to the national championship with their eyes wide open.”
KSU is playing about as well as any team in the 30-team field. The Golden Flashes recently won the Mid-American Conference Championship by a conference-record 40 strokes.
“Let’s hope so,” Page said when asked if his team was peaking at the right time. “We played very well at the MAC Tournament and very well at regionals. These guys don’t have to do anything they haven’t done before, just have to play to their ability. Bottom line, you gotta go out and manage your nerves.”
The five guys representing KSU not only post similar scores, but also attain those scores in a similar fashion — with a flurry of birdies that befits golf’s transformation to a power game.
“These guys are explosive,” Page said. “They all hit pretty long, which shortens the Par 5s. We make a lot of birdies. And this course will favor our length. I think we could go on a few birdie binges. Golf has changed. It’s a powerful game. You gotta make birdies, that’s what we want to do and these guys aren’t afraid.”
Page’s group can make birdies, that’s not in question. The real test will be to not take one step forward, two steps back on the scorecard. Page says he received a text from former KSU standout and current PGA Tour Pro Ben Curtis, saying “Don’t forget coach, pars are very valuable.”
“If we can eliminate some of the bigger mistakes, I think we can pretty competitive,” Page said. “It’s a hard golf course, but there’s a lot of resiliency in this team. I’m proud of that.”
As Page says, it’s all down to execution now. And if you do that and still get beat?
“Well, then that’s just golf.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.