Junior Johnny Watts tied for eighth in the Firestone Invitational on Oct. 3 and 4, which was his sixth top-10 finish in his collegiate career. Watts leads the team in scoring average this season with a score of 73.00. Colin Grylls // DN File
Cardinals win 1st team tournament since 2014
Sophomore Ball State golfer Johnny Watts stood on the back edge 17th green in the Earl Yestingsmeier Memorial Invitational with the ball more than 30 feet away from the hole.
He had just watched the worst-case scenario play out before him – Cleveland State junior Paul Minko had a similar look but hit it too hard. Minko’s potential birdie turned into a bogey as the ball rolled down the steep hill that led up to the green, forcing him to chip the ball back onto the green before sinking the putt.
Ball State "A" team - 1st (+36)
Johnny Watts, T-2nd (215)
Keegan McKinney, T-2nd (215)
Michael VanDeventer, T-12th (219)
James Blackwell, 18th (221)
Timothy Wiseman, T-26th (223)
Michael Makris, T-35th (225)
Ball State "B" team - T-9th (+86)
Tyler Pearson, T-26th (223)
Tyler Ostrom, T-31th (224)
Derek Kundenreich, T-35th (225)
Colin Proctor, T-44th (228)
Albert Jennings, T-68th (238)
Quentyn Carpenter, 71st (243)
Watts lined up his birdie attempt and pushed the ball to the right of the pin, soft enough to let the downward slope of the green do most of the work. As it lost momentum, the ball started curving left toward the hole. It kept drifting until finally it fell into the hole.
Head coach Mike Fleck said Watts’ performance on the back nine – he birdied four of the last five holes – helped clinch the Cardinals’ first team tournament title since 2014.
“You could kind of tell we were getting a little momentum right there, and that’s exactly what we needed to be able to pull away and get the win.”
Watts said sinking the putt was really just an afterthought.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking of much,” he said. “I didn’t even think of putting pressure on myself. … I told myself whatever happens, happens.”
Watts and redshirt sophomore Keegan McKinney finished the tournament in a three-way tie for second place with Valparaiso redshirt senior Jared Magoline with a three-round score of 215. Wright State junior Ryan Wenzler finished with the best individual score, one stroke ahead of the three golfers in second.
Ball State entered the final round with a seven-stroke lead over Cleveland State and won by the same margin after both teams scored 367 in the round. Fleck said he was pleased with the win, but the Cardinals were somewhat inconsistent.
“These guys make it interesting,” he said. “At times, it looked like we had things well under control. At times, it looked like we were really struggling.”
The Earl Yestingsmeier Memorial Invitational is hosted by Ball State and played at the Delaware Country Club. The Cardinals often practice there, Fleck said, but the course played differently from their practices, in part because of the warm, clear weather as opposed to the cold, wet practices in the last few weeks.
“We play here quite a bit, but actually the setup for the tournament is a lot different from what we experience,” he said. “I mean, the hole locations were set up pretty difficult, the speed of the greens was extremely fast.”
Watts, however, said the little things – like sleeping in his own bed and some “nice little celebratory ice cream” at Let’s Spoon after the tournament – were advantageous.
“It almost kind of keeps the feeling of just practice, a day of practice," he said. "I think that takes a lot of pressure off of it too, just knowing that you’re in familiar territory.”
The Cardinals' next tournament will be the Mid-American Conference Championships in Sylvania, Ohio, April 28-30. Fleck said he thinks the Cardinals are “moving in the right direction” heading into the tournament.