The Virginia men’s golf team returns to the NCAA Championships next week at the fabled Inverness Club in Toledo. Head coach Bowen Sargent gives a preview of the action.
Question: For the first time in UVa history, the team is making back-to-back trips to the NCAA Championships. How does that make you feel in respect to the direction this program is heading?
It's an honor to be a piece of Virginia golf history. However, this is a reflection of the hard work our players have put in over the past five years. For each of them to buy into our staff's message and to make the commitment and sacrifices needed to be a championship caliber team. I think the program is in good shape considering our youth. It's an excellent time for any recruit to step in and be a part of something that will only get better. Question: Ben Kohles, a freshman, led the team at the NCAA East Regional and your lineup includes another freshman and just one senior. Does that make you feel good about the team's future?
It certainly does. I think it speaks well to our staff's ability to find and recruit players such as Ben. We try to identify student-athlete's with the right values and discipline to be collegiate golfers at a school like the University of Virginia.
If the team will remained focused, disciplined and avoid complacency, this group of guys has a very bright future. Question: What is the one thing you learned from playing in last year's NCAA Championships that you'll incorporate into this year's preparation?
Just as it assisted us last week in Regional play, there's an art to playing difficult golf courses and we learned from our mistakes at Purdue. Certainly, last year's NCAA was a learning experience for Kyle Will, and Steven. That experience aided us at Galloway National and should help us again at Inverness.
The guys learned the importance of mental toughness and how to grind on a very challenging set up. At NCAA's, where the rough is five inches and the greens are rolling 12 in addition to being firm, pars are exceptional scores and birdies are difficult to come by. Hitting fairways, greens, and playing conservative golf is necessary to excel in championship caliber golf. Question: You've been fortunate to play Inverness Club several times in the past. What are your recollections of one of America's finest championship golf courses?
The history of Inverness is so storied. I remember the locker room especially. There are some great pictures from a variety of U.S. Opens, U.S. Amateur, PGA's etc.. but what I remember most is a letter from Bobby Jones as well as a clock presented by Ted Ray to the membership of Inverness.
As for the golf course, you must drive the ball straight to have a chance to score. The course is long at 7,300 yards and in perfect condition. To play well you must have a soft-touch around the greens because they are so quick.
Of course I remember the two PGA Championships, where Bob Tway holed out of the bunker on 18 to beat Greg Norman and once again in 1993 when Paul Azinger defeated Norman in a playoff only to find he had cancer several weeks later. Question: How exciting will it be for the players to compete at a site that has hosted multiple national championships?
I can only hope they will absorb the history that surrounds such a club/event. It's not every day that you get the opportunity to compete on a top 100 golf course with so much history. Inverness is one of the all time classic designs, a true Donald Ross that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so. As is usually the case, they'll appreciate this experience more as time passes. I'm sure their focus will be on the national championship and how to navigate the course in as few strokes as possible but I hope they will take time to reflect on the history of Inverness. Question: What will be the key for the eight teams who advance after the first three teams to the final eight match play portion of the championship?
The key will be to eliminate mistakes and respect par as quality golf. To attain that teams that advance will drive the ball in the fairway, play conservative, and have great short games. As Dr. Rotella says, "it almost always comes down to chipping and putting," and this event will be no different.