MEN'S GOLF: Familiar rivalry continues with Ball State, Akron
Merkel, Bull to have own makeshift Ryder Cup
With the biennial Ryder Cup concluding last week in a historic collapse from the United States team, it was thought there would be at least some gloating time for European players.
But the Firestone Invitational is not going to let that happen for Ball State's Tyler Merkel and Akron's Charlie Bull.
The two No. 1 golfers have developed a bit of a friendly rivalry from playing against each other in individual events throughout the years.
Merkel said he and Bull, who is from England, have talked to each other this week during their preparation for the event.
"We have fun with it," Merkel said. "We're making this invitational into our own Ryder Cup rematch."
While this anecdote helps alleviate some of the pressure, Merkel is still very focused and is still working hard on his game in practice.
"It's pretty simple: you get out what you put in," Merkel said.
Coach Mike Fleck echoed Merkel's remarks not only with words, but in real terms as well.
"We played five live-qualifying rounds to help make our lineup for the event," Fleck said.
The first four spots remained the same as they have been all year, with Merkel and seniors Joe Gasser, Alex Stinson and Brodie Williams in the spots.
The only change came at the back end of the lineup, with senior Tony Lazzara taking over the fifth spot from freshman James Blackwell, who will compete as an individual.
Fleck said he hopes Lazzara's experience will help with the season-long search for production out of the fifth spot.
Ball State does have some expectations coming into the event as the second-highest ranked team behind No. 22 Saint Mary's College of California. The Gaels tied for first in the event last year and touted two of the top five individual finishers.
Ball State also has some confidence going into the event because four of its five golfers played the course last year. Fleck said he thinks this time around the Cardinals have a good chance to take home some hardware.
"We want to be playing for something in the final round," Fleck said.
The event is not only important for Ball State because it has a chance to win its first event on the season, but also because it will get a look at several Mid-American Conference foes for the first time.
Akron, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Miami, Ohio and Ohio will all compete in the invitational representing the MAC.
The 7,125-yard, par-72 North Course of the Firestone Country Club will see 17 teams tee-off in a shotgun start at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Rounds one and two will both be played on that day, and round three will take place on the next.