The Ottumwa Courier

March 6, 2013

Warrior golfers begin quest for third-straight title

SCOTT JACKSON
Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — For the past two years, the grass has definitely been greener at the end of the season for the Indian Hills golf team.

But as the Warriors begin their run at a third-straight NJCAA Division I National title, they’ve had to go a long way to find any green grass to play on. The Warriors hit the road this past weekend leaving behind an Indian Hills campus draped in snow.

According to head coach Mike Hagen, the squad traveled across plenty of state lines before seeing the snow only in the rearview mirror.

“We did not see grass at all before we got to Oklahoma,” Hagen said. “It was like snow upon snow before that.”

Fortunately for the Warriors, their season-opening trip starts even further south.

Third-ranked Indian Hills hit the links this week in Texas preparing for its first tournament of the spring season as the two-time defending national champs tee off in the UST Mamiya Texas Intercollegiate on Monday at the Hawks Creek Golf Course in Fort Worth.

“It’s nice to get to work outside again,” Hagen said. “We’ve been able to sneak in a few days outside here and there when the weather was nicer back home. We should be able to get a good seven days of work in before Monday.”

The Warriors are back at the Intercollegiate tourney in Texas after finishing sixth last year. Led by sophomore Monty Lack’s four-under par sixth-place individual finish, the Warriors finished the two rounds at eight-over par as a team.

Unlike last year, IHCC will be opening their season with this tournament. Last year, the Warriors finished a very distant third at the Tyler Junior College Spring Invitational with a two-round 61-over par team score of 629.

“We went into that first meet and got beat up pretty good,” Hagen recalled.

Taking those early season lumps, however, served the Warriors very well in the end. IHCC finished last season by winning its last five tournaments, including a 13-shot win over Western Texas to claim the program’s second consecutive national title.

So while Indian Hills isn’t conceding anything next week in its opening tournament, the team is aware that the experience of simply playing as well as possible in a tournament filled with four-year warm weather schools will certainly have huge benefits down the road.

“You don’t enter golf tournaments not to win them, but we’re facing teams that have played three or four meets already,” Hagen said. “Obviously, they’ll have that advantage on us. Playing golf and playing competitive golf are two different things. Mainly what I look for is to put ourselves in position to win, but if we can get some good scores to build on for the rest of the spring.”

Unlike last year, the Warriors chances to defend the national championship is aided by having a very experienced team. Three members of last year’s championship team return for their sophomore seasons, including Ben Ludlam who earned the Phil Mickelson Award last year as the best freshman in NJCAA Division I.

Former Oskaloosa standout Mitch Tucker and William White also were a part of leading IHCC to a second straight national title last year as freshman while Kevin Workman, the fourth returning sophomore, had a runner-up finish last year at the Beu/Mussatto Invitational playing as an individual for IHCC in his freshman campaign.

“This team is so different from last year’s squad,” Hagen said. “We only had one returning player last year. This year, we have four. We didn’t have nearly the experience of competing in the postseason last year that we’ll have this year.”

Having different teams with different experience levels competing for national titles helps make the job of coaching a team toward a third straight championship.

“It’s neat to find that new thing that will drive the guys each year,” Hagen said. “I don’t think the guys feel that pressure (to defend the national title). I certainly don’t feel it. If you’re a competitor, you want to win every week and get better every day of the season.”

Hagen said working on the short game is what the Warrior golfers will need to work on the most this week after having to sit indoors for much of the winter months. IHCC had one win and three top-four team finishes in four fall tournaments, which featured first-year Warriors step as freshmen Conner Peck and Oscar Sharpe lead Indian Hills in three of those meets.

“We’re going to need some of those younger guys to step up for us,” Hagen said. “We’re in a unique situation where our season gets broken up. I hope the guys that had good things going in the fall can keep it going in the spring.”

Indian Hills returns to the Midwest after opening up in Texas, playing three straight meets in Illinois before heading to Newton, Kansas for the Iowa/Kansas Clash and NJCAA District III Championship. It all leads up to what the Warriors hope will be a third straight national title that IHCC hopes to win in Lubbock, Texas when the national tournament is played May 14-17.

Any talk of a ‘three-peat,’ however, isn’t being heard by any member of this particular Indian Hills golf squad.

“People are always going to bring up ‘three-peat.’ That’s just the way it is,” Hagen said. “I try not to throw that term around. Our goal is to get better every day and every meet, concentrate on the next tournament and hopefully we can get things rolling at the right time to win the national championship.”

If we can win the national title again, that would be great. It will just happen to be three years in a row that we’ve done it.”