Wildcats Look to Add to Impressive Body of Work
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State head coach Tim Norris won’t be using this weekend’s Big 12 Championship as the final measurement for his team’s success this season, opting rather to focus on the body of work done thus far. However, that doesn’t keep 11th-year skipper from getting excited about tacking on more achievements to one of the greatest seasons in K-State history.
“I talked to the team about the chance that we have to add to one of the best seasons for Kansas State golf, as far as the consistency of play and the consistent high finishes, the individual performances go,” Norris said. “We have a chance to add to all that at the conference tournament. (There’s no) better place to put the finishing touches on the best season that I’ve been here for.”
The Wildcats roll into Friday’s opening rounds at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas, on the heels of three consecutive top-five finishes, having tied the K-State single season mark at eight. K-State is confident that its current school-record scoring average 293.36 strokes per round numerous new individual marks, and its first tournament win since 2003 will translate into success during the three-day, 72-hole event.
“It’s one thing for the coach to be optimistic because that’s his job, but when the player’s are optimistic then you’ve got a chance,” Norris said. “I think our players are optimistic, they’re positive and upbeat. From a confidence standpoint, it’s not me telling them they can do it, it’s them knowing they can do it. There’s a Grand Canyon between both sides of that fence.”
The Wildcats seemingly have a tall task, teeing off against three top-30 ranked opponents, being seeded as the eighth-best team according to the league coaches, and having never placed higher than fourth place at the 2004 Big 12 Championship on an in-state golf course. Norris thinks his team can handle it.
“It’s going to be an endurance test with 36 holes on Friday and 18 on Saturday and Sunday and I would say pacing yourself mentally and emotionally is going to be the biggest thing we can do that,” Norris said. “I really feel like this year we have a chance to eclipse our best finish if we play well. There have been years before that if we played well, the top half would have been good. From a potential standpoint, from a confidence standpoint, I think this group has a chance to do as well as any other team.”
The Wildcats will send a young, but talented group of players to Texas, led by sophomores Mitch Gregson and Joe Ida. The duo have teetered back-and-forth atop K-State’s scoring lineup all season and are separated by just seven strokes through 33 rounds of competition. Gregson’s 72.64 scoring average leads the Wildcats and is the second-best single-season average in school history. Ida posted two rounds of 65 this season and his 72.85 scoring average is also among the all-time bests at K-State.
Throw in the old man of the group, junior Robert Streb, and the trio combines for 67 percent of K-State’s total rounds counted for scoring, having played in every round during the regular season.
“A big part of it is that their games are very sound, so it doesn’t matter where we go,” Norris said of his three anchors. “If we play on a really, really tough golf course in bad conditions, or if we play on an easy golf course in perfect conditions, they’re going to be able to perform. So far, we really haven’t been to a place where they haven’t been able to play well and be consistent. I don’t think that Whispering Pines is going to present any huge challenges to them.”
Kansas State will also look for contributions from two freshmen, Kyle Smell and Daniel Wood, who played their way into the starting rotation with a pair of strong pushes in the final tournaments of the spring.
Wood made every trip for the Wildcats during the spring campaign after making just two appearances in the fall. Wood’s highlight came at the Ron Moore Invitational where he carded a season-low 67 and 2-under 214 while competing as an individual.
Smell, who played extensively in the fall but was used sparingly in the spring, earned his spot with a top-10 finish at the Missouri Tiger Intercollegiate to end the regular season.
Kansas State tees off the first tee at 8:50 a.m. on Friday and is paired with seventh-seed Oklahoma and ninth-seed Iowa State. The Wildcats will play 36 holes Friday, and 18 holes each on Saturday and Sunday with tee times and tee locations to be determined by the previous day’s results. The winner of the Big 12 Championship receives an automatic bid into postseason play.