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Golf wraps up fall schedule

By Ben Baker-Katz     10/29/19 9:53pm

Golf finished its fall slate of competition last weekend with an 8th-place finish out of 13 teams at the two-day Steelwood Collegiate Invitational in Loxley, Alabama. 

According to head coach Justin Emil, the invitational’s playing conditions posed problems for Rice. 

“It’s already a difficult golf course, with difficult, fast greens,” Emil said. “Throw in some poor weather and it makes it really hard. We struggled a bit, but we played the last nine holes seven under par, to move past a couple of teams right at the end.”

During the first day of the tournament, the Owls shot 28 over par as a team. 

Senior Nick Duggan said the first day of play was difficult not only because of the weather but also because of the time spent on the course. 

“It’s really important on 36 hole days, when we’re out there for 11 or 12 hours, to stay patient,” Duggan said. “Especially in bad weather, it’s easy to start getting frustrated.” 

Duggan said the team gained experience playing in bad weather conditions at a tournament earlier this month in West Virginia.

“Still, we made quite a lot of bogeys in places that we shouldn’t have,” Duggan said. “But we also made a lot of birdies, and it’s not always easy to do that. But just too many bogeys, and too many high numbers that hurt us as a team.”

The Owls played better on the last day of the tournament, bringing their score for the weekend to 20 over par. 

According to Emil, Steelwood was challenging even for junior Jake Benson, who has been the top performer on the team this fall.

“Jake played really solid over the first three tournaments,” Emil said. “He didn’t play as well this week at Steelwood, but he still managed to shoot a couple of good rounds for us. Overall, I think he’s going to have a nice ranking going into the offseason.” 

Benson started the fall with a fourth-place finish at the Lone Star Invitational, followed by a seventh-place finish at the Trinity Forest Invitational and a second-place finish at the Health Plan Mountaineer Invitational in West Virginia. Benson said his play develops with experience.

“I’m gradually learning how to play courses at the college level,” Benson said. “Each round I try to put the same level of effort in, and making sure there aren’t really bad mistakes.”

According to Emil, as the Owls look back at their fall competition, the tournament that stands out the most is the Trinity Forest Invitational. 

“We posted two rounds under par [at Trinity] and finished the weekend seven under,” Emil said. “We beat some really good teams that weekend and really showed what we are capable of. I think there is a lot more of that golf in our team, as long as we have a productive offseason and these guys believe that they can do it.”

Duggan said he agrees with Emil, citing their team’s fourth-place finish as the benchmark for their level of play. 

“[Trinity] shows our potential going forward, I still think that our team hasn’t quite played to our potential,” Duggan said. “We’re really good this year, and I think everyone on the team feels that. We know how good we are, we just have to keep going through the motions and let it unfold.”

Duggan said the part of what made playing at Trinity stand out was the team aspect of the performance.

“We had really good camaraderie in that final round,” Duggan said. “I remember looking around and everyone was playing well, everyone on the team was under par. It felt great to know that the team can go that low and we can play that well. It’s good to get that little taste of how well we can play — as a team, it makes us want it even more.”

In order to make sure that they can carry over that success, Emil said the Owls will spend the offseason getting stronger and perfecting their short game. 

“We gotta get a little bit better at putting the ball in play off of the tee,” Emil said. “We had a little bit of ball control trouble over the whole fall season, and we need to do a better job with wedges and short game. This is a good group of guys, and they work really hard. We’re going to have a really productive offseason.”

Duggan said he agrees that the short game is going to be a priority for the team this offseason. He said that one thing he tried to get the team to do over the course of the fall season was to set a personal goal, something that only they could control, every week.

“We’ve tried to implement some new tactics this year,” Duggan said. “For me personally, it’s pre-shot routine. That’s something I know I can control and do before I hit every shot on the course. I think that was good for everyone on the team, to have a goal that helps your mind focus and to stay in the present moment.”

The team spends an extra day in the weight room each week and also works on some of the mental aspects of the game, according to Benson.

“We want to think our way around the courses and make sure we don’t have big mistakes,” Benson said. “If we do that, we can have a really good spring.”

The Owls will start competitive play again Feb. 16 with the All-American Intercollegiate, a tournament they co-host with the University of Houston.

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