In some circles, Kent State might be considered one of those so-called “mid-major” schools.
Of course, I’m still not sure what constitutes a major and a mid-major. Is it based on conference affiliation? Is it about budgets and money? Is it related to football or basketball or baseball?
In this case, it doesn’t really matter. You can classify Kent State however you want, but as far as I’m concerned, in the sport of golf, the Golden Flashes are about as major as they come (and have been for quite some time). This fall, they certainly are proving they can stand toe-to-toe with the best of the best on the golf course.
After opening the 2011-12 season with an eighth-place finish at Minnesota’s Gopher Invitational, Kent State has been on quite a tear and is having one of the finest fall campaigns in school history.
The Golden Flashes followed with a victory at Inverness, placed fourth at the Nicklaus Invitational and most recently won the Bank of Tennessee event.
“We have a good group of players who are very coachable,” said veteran Kent State coach Herb Page. “We seem to always fly under the radar, but we have a premier golf program here and have had for many years.
“All our guys had a good summer (in amateur golf), and they’re getting better. I think it’s showing,” Page said. “Our fall schedule is pretty challenging, but that’s what we want.”
Challenging indeed. It’s not so much about where the Golden Flashes have finished in the standings as it is some of the teams they have beaten along the way.
On their way to victory at Inverness, the Flashes turned back the likes of Florida, Michigan and Ohio State, albeit in an event that was shortened to 18 holes by weather conditions. Even in the fourth-place showing at the Nicklaus, they finished ahead of UCLA, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, TCU and LSU.
At the Bank of Tennessee, they topped a field that included Virginia, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Clemson and Tennessee.
It was the latest victory that really showed Page what his team is made of and has the potential to accomplish. After two rounds, Kent State was in fifth place and nine shots behind leader N.C. State.
“We were playing in the second-to-last wave in the final round, and I told our guys I felt the winner would come out of this wave, so why not us?” Page said.
His squad responded in impressive fashion. With a 10-under-par 278 in the final round, Kent State finished at 5-over 869, seven strokes ahead of Virginia.
“What an unbelievable and phenomenal performance by our team today,” Page said after the round. “This is the type of finish you dream of as a coach.”
Sophomore Kyle Kmiecik led the charge with a 5-under 67, while junior Kevin Miller and sophomore Corey Conners shot 70. Sophomore Taylor Pendrith added a 71 and senior Mackenzie Hughes, the reigning Canadian Amateur champion, shot 73.
Conners, who didn’t even qualify for the traveling squad for the Nicklaus event, tied for third. Miller, Kmiecik and Pendrith tied for 10th, and Hughes tied for 25th.
Page feels one of the keys to his team’s success thus far is its depth.
“We have nine players who are really strong,” Page said. “We have a good group with a nice variety of depth. We have three fabulous freshmen who are having a tough time getting into the lineup, and the upperclassmen are working even harder to keep their spots. It’s a pleasant problem to have. Heck, I think for them there is less pressure on the road than there is at home (qualifying).”
Page said the fall season has given his players “a lot of confidence and (made) them believe in themselves.”
The Golden Flashes, who are No. 12 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, will face yet another stiff challenge when they close out their fall campaign Oct. 23-25 at the U.S. Collegiate Championship at the Golf Club of Georgia.
Hosted by Georgia Tech, the field also includes Clemson, UCLA, USC, Texas A&M, Washington, Auburn, Wake Forest, Duke and Florida State.
“It should be a good test for us,” Page said. “We know we can still get a lot better. Hopefully we’ll continue to do so.”