Andrew Mishler

Tyler Merkel's angst, frustration and hunger for better results after the NCAA Regional this weekend made it seem like he had recently been through a terrible round of miniature golf rather than a high-profile collegiate event.

Nevertheless, Merkel, Ball State's No. 1 men's golfer through the 2011-12 season, made his mark on one of the biggest stages of his career.

The sophomore golfer posted a 10-over par score of 223 to tie for 49th as an individual in the NCAA Regional, a tournament that spanned from May 17-19 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

His placing exactly matched former Ball State golfer Eric Steger, who also tied for 49th in the 2011 NCAA Regional when Merkel was only a freshman.

That fact didn't sit well with the competitive side of Merkel, even if it was on friendly terms.

"It kind of bugs me that we tied, [that] I couldn't edge him by a spot or two," Merkel said. "But at the same time, it's one of those competitions that good friends have, and it's all in good fun."

Any signs of a rivalry didn't stop Steger from texting Merkel words of encouragement during the three-day tournament.

While Steger was in Kentucky focusing on a professional tournament, he was closely keeping an eye on Merkel's progress. After Merkel bounced back from hitting a string of bogeys in his first round of play, a message from Steger quickly made it's way to Merkel's phone.

"He just told me, 'Good comeback,' and, 'Way to grind it out,' and [was] just kind of wishing me good luck the next day," Merkel said.

The end of the NCAA Regional marks the end of Merkel's sophomore season and the collegiate year for the men's golf team.

True to his zealous nature, Merkel wasn't close to being satisfied with Ball State's fourth-place finish in the Mid-American Conference Championships earlier this month.

He said he aspires for much better results next year. And he believes the team is shaping up to reach those lofty goals.

That starts with making sure a team of five Ball State golfers is competing in the NCAA Regional next year, instead of just one.

"The next two years, our goal as a team is to be there as a team," Merkel said. "I think it would be a lot more fun to be there with four other guys that are ready to compete. That's kind of the way we're going to look at it; not at all through an individual standpoint."

Merkel finished the 2011-12 season with an average score of 73.47 strokes, the best mark on the team. His lowest round of the season was 68, a feat he reached twice.

Advancing to the NCAA Regional as a team depends on whether or not the Cardinals are ready to contend for the MAC title. While that may start with Merkel as the No. 1 player, he said he knows it will take improvement from every golfer on the team.

"This year was a little disappointing that we didn't play up to our potential," Merkel said. "Next year we definitely want to compete for a MAC Championship and make a showing at regionals and then see where we go from there."