Last weekend sophomore golfer Ben Kohles tied North Carolina's Henry Zaytoun for first place at the Maryland Intercollegiate, helping the Cavaliers to a fourth-place finish. It was Kohles' first tournament win and saw him shoot a career-best 7-under 206. He talks to VirginiaSports.com about the experience and the expectations for this year's team after UVa has made back-to-back appearances at the NCAA Championships.
Question: You must really enjoy River Marsh Golf Club (Cambridge, Md.). You shot 67 there last year and had a 66 in the second round of this year's Maryland Intercollegiate.
Kohles: It is pretty easy to hit the fairways there and I've been hitting it pretty straight lately, so that helps. I was hitting my irons good and making the putts. Last year we just played two rounds (due to heavy rains) and I remember I played bad the first round. Ever since then I've played well there. It suits my eye. I love the course, especially the bent grass fairways.
Question: How did it feel to finish first in a college tournament?
Kohles: I was pretty excited. To get my first win in college was pretty cool. Hopefully I can get a couple of more. We were already in the clubhouse and there were three teams playing behind us that had yet to come in. There were three people tied with me or one shot better than me as they finished up and I heard a couple shot over 75, so I knew I had them beat. The North Carolina coach came over and told me that Henry (Zaytoun), who I have known for a while, had tied me, so it was exciting. I felt I could have won outright, but I missed a three-footer on 17 and didn't get up-and-down on 18. Still, I was pretty pleased.
Question: When was the last time you won a golf tournament?
Kohles: Probably the Carolinas Amateur in 2008.
Question: You had your best 18-hole score as a college player, shooting 66 in the second round. Talk about that.
Kohles: We played 36 holes the first day (Saturday) and I shot 71 in the first round. I think I had four birdies and four bogeys, so I knew the birdies were out there. I started off good with a birdie on my first hole of the second round. I just knew if I could get on a roll, I could have a good round. I made a couple more birdies and finished the front side at 3-under. I played good on the back. I chipped in for an eagle on the third hole and that got me to 5-under. I didn't have any bogeys in that round. I had at least five other good chances to make birdie and could not make any of them. I wasn't disappointed in the least. I was pretty happy to shoot 66. The greens were nice, but it had rained so much, the spike marks were ridiculous around the holes during the second 18. They did re-cut the greens for us, but it was pretty tough to make long putts on those greens.
Question: The team placed fourth to get the season off to a good start.
Kohles: We could have done better as a team and I'm sure everyone feels that way, but finishing fourth is not too bad of a start. I really like this team. We have a good group of guys and they are very talented. If we can just put a bunch of rounds together in these tournaments, we can be a top-25 team.
Question: Have the expectations of this team changed after advancing to the NCAA Championships the last two seasons?
Kohles: We had probably four really good tournaments last year. We only won one of those and if everybody was playing their best, we might have been able to win them all. We just need to get four good scores each round and not just three good ones and one not so great. We have to get away from having to count a high score. We know we can get to the NCAAs because we've done it before. The guys on this team know we are capable of going to the NCAAs for the third straight year.
Question: You had a great fall last season and then your game tapered off a bit in the spring. Can you pinpoint why?
Kohles: I putted really good in the fall. Last spring I felt like I could not make anything. That was the main reason my scoring average went up. I also think my swing was getting a little off. My personal coach is down in Sea Island, Ga., so it makes it difficult for me to be able to meet with him. I just have to keep positive and keep the putting going.
Question: You finished the season with an 82 at the NCAAs, your worst round of the year. Did that serve to motivate you during the summer?
Kohles: Somewhat. I got real frustrated at the NCAAs. We had to sit in the clubhouse one day waiting four hours before we could go out. We would tee off at 5:30 at night, play until nine o'clock and then have to come back at 6 a.m. to finish the final seven holes. We had to come out two days in a row at six o'clock to finish rounds. They didn't even cut the greens for us before our last round. It was kind of disappointing and frustrating how unlucky we got with the pairings. But, that's just golf.
Questions: Did you learn any lessons from that "frustrating" experience?
Kohles: A couple of weeks ago we went over to Dr. (Bob) Rotella's and after that I kind of changed my attitude. He told us not to worry about where the shot goes, just go hit the next shot and get it in the hole from there. I think that really helped me this week compared to how I played in the past.
Question: What part of your game have you been working on the most this summer and since you've been back at school?
Kohles: I switched putters at the beginning of the summer and I've really worked on getting my putting game back. I've really putted well with the new putter all summer.
Question: Have you been able to keep up with Steve Marino's play in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup race?
Kohles: We've been cheering for him every week we have been able to watch it. It is really cool we have a guy from Virginia out there, not only playing, but being in contention. I have never met him or played with him, but maybe we could do that some day. That would be pretty sweet.