GOLF: Ball State set to compete at NCAA Regional
The Daily News
Generally, postseason play is thought to be different from regular season play. The mantra “Win or go home” is supposed to resonate with players and elevate their game in superior venues.
The men’s golf team will travel more than 2,000 miles farther than they have all season. Washington State’s campus is home to the No. 1 team in the country.
The first postseason appearance in 22 years for Ball State men’s golf is teeming with nuances that make its NCAA Regional fit that mold.
Coach Mike Fleck, who was a player on Ball State’s last tournament team, wants to focus on the similarities and make the biggest event of the year just another match.
“The guys say that the course is kind of like some of the others they have played, and with the competition we’ve played this year, the guys aren’t intimidated at all,” Fleck said.
The par-72, 7,308-yard Palouse Ridge course plays long, Fleck said, forcing him to shuffle his lineup from the one used in the Mid-American Conference Championship.
The top three spots for Ball State will remain unchanged with First Team All-MAC junior Tyler Merkel, and Second Team All-MAC seniors Joe Gasser and Alex Stinson.
The decorated trio led the Cardinals through the season and to an at-large bid in the NCAA field of 81 teams. The other two spots have been up-for-grabs.
Because of the importance of yardage off the tee for this course, senior Tony Lazzara and sophomore transfer McCormick Clouser will fill those roles, bumping senior Brodie Williams out of the rotation.
“[Brodie] has given us some good rounds this year, but Clouser is just longer off the tee,” Fleck said.
Merkel is the only player on the roster with regional experience, as he competed as an individual last season.
After the five completed their practice round, Fleck said the team seemed confident on the course. That will go a long way, as a majority of the 14 teams in the regional have no experience on the course.
Ball State has played against two of the teams in the field (St. Mary’s (Calif.) and Memphis), but the new faces will be on the team’s mind.
Unanimous No. 1 California heads the talented Regional, and is not only the favorite to take first in the regional, but also win the National Championship.
All season the Cardinals’ motto has been to “stay relevant,” but now that might be changing, and the sights are a little higher. Ball State has to finish in the top five to advance to the next round.
“There are a lot of talented teams in [the Regional], and it is going to take five solid scores, but there’s no reason we can’t compete [and] be near the top at the end,” Fleck said.