The UW-Eau Claire men’s golf took to the fairways this weekend for the conclusion of their regular season and their final audition for a NCAA Championship bid.
The weekend could have hardly gone better for the Blugolds as they captured a first place finish with a score of 313 strokes at the Edgewood College Spring Quadrangular. On Monday, the selection committee decided the top place finish was not enough for Eau Claire to receive a bid and the Blugolds’ season was officially over.
Head coach Mike Greer said he is very proud of his entire group and going out with a win is a nice way to end things, but the unsatisfactory feeling of not reaching the team’s ultimate goal is a tough pill to swallow.
“The initial reaction for everyone to a degree was disappointment,” Greer said. “As a group, we worked extremely hard this year and felt deserving of a national bid.”
Its hard to argue with Greer’s point that the Blugolds didn’t put together a solid case for a national bid. They finished outside the top three only once in eight tournaments, had six top two finishes and three first place victories.
To be selected to the NCAA Championship a team must either receive an automatic bid by winning their conference championship or receive a bid from the selection committee. This year there were 31 teams that received automatic bids.
Eau Claire competes as an independent institution, meaning they are not eligible for an automatic bid because they do not compete in a conference. Therefore, the Blugolds needed to receive a bid from the selection committee based on their strength of schedule and results.
Greer said the committee told him Eau Claire was one of the last teams to be left out of the tournament, but as he has been preaching all year he didn’t want his players to let a decision out of their control affect them.
“Right away I stressed, ‘lets remember this feeling as we work and let this be the motivation to continue the hard work and dedication we put towards this program,’” he said.
For a young Blugold team, it shouldn’t be a problem putting their coaches words into action this offseason, but senior captain Ben Brooks will not have the opportunity to implement his coach’s advice as his collegiate golf career has come to an end.
“First and foremost, I would like to congratulate (Ben) on a fantastic career as a Blugold,” Greer said. “Ben is a guy with a ton of character and a ton of passion for this program.”
Brooks has been a contributor on the golf course since the day he arrived at Eau Claire as he was a letterwinner during his freshman season. Greer said Brooks’ ability to lead by example taught the team’s younger golfers how to compete at the level it takes to make the national tournament.
The three year letterwinner, who is route to a fourth, said it was difficult learning his career was over but hopes he set a solid precedent for the younger guys on the team on how to handle themselves on and off the course.
“I wasn’t always the best player or the most talented guy, but I feel like I was a hard worker and a good person,” Brooks said. “Those things to me are a lot more important than golf.”
Freshman Brady Hanson said Brooks was one of the best captains he has ever had and his captain motivated him everyday to get better. He said Brooks was always there for his teammates and gave them confidence whenever he saw they needed it.
Hanson said Brooks did a great job always staying in contact with his teammates and one of the ways he would do so was by sending out emails to address his fellow golfers.
“In his last email he sent out a couple days he said we are not entitled to anything so always work hard in order to be the best,” Hanson said.
Brooks said he sees the potential the young group of Blugolds has and he thinks this program is going to continue its climb to the top because their coach has done a great job getting eager and talent golfers to Eau Claire.
Eau Claire will only be lose Brooks to graduation and is poised to return all other 10 golfers next season.
Greer said, with the year of experience the returners have under their belt, next year they will come in with a better understanding of how to prepare and the hard work they need to put in.
“I look for big things in the near future for this program,” Greer said. “The core group is returning and they proved this year that they are already ready to play at this level.”