The tees are placed behind trees, in waist-high grass and places that don’t allow players to make a full backswing. No, this isn’t what happens when the Mad Hatter tries his hand at golf-course design. This is the setup for the short-game challenges at Indiana University.
The holes may be only about 50 yards long, but they’re some of the toughest the Hoosiers will face this year. “Even-par is a pretty darn good score,” said senior Brant Peaper. No, these aren’t par-2 holes, requiring players to get up-and-down to stay level with the card. They’re par 3s, since sometimes obstacles make it impossible to hit the green from the tee.
Indiana head coach Mike Mayer didn’t devise this game just to transform his team into the Ballesteroses of Bloomington. The drill also shows his team that even when par isn’t a possibility, it’s still important to hole out as quickly as possible.
“It comes back to the basics of golf,” Mayer said. “A 5 is better than a 6, and an 80 is better than an 81. They both might stink, but there’s no question which one is better. That’s what we preach.
“We may not be the most talented team in the country, but I think we could become one of the toughest and one of the strongest if we can fight for every stroke. That’s going to help us down the road.”
Big Ten teams quickly learn the value of par. Poor weather and tough tracks often make that benchmark irrelevant. The Hoosiers shot 36 over par in their season opener, the Northern Intercollegiate at Rich Harvest Farms, site of the 2009 Solheim Cup. That was a good for a 15-stroke victory. The scorecards weren’t pretty, but the trophy sure was nice. Indiana shot 6 over and finished second at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate, just three strokes behind conference foe Illinois, winner of the past four Big Ten titles. Peaper’s 11-under 202 total at Wolf Run was good for a seven-shot individual victory; only six players in the field broke par.
“I thought those two events would tell us a lot about where we stand, because I believe they’re two of the most difficult courses we’ll play,” Mayer said. “I wanted to challenge them and see what they were made of.”
He has to be proud, especially after the Hoosiers lost their top player from last year, Chase Wright, as well as David Erdy, who played in the 2009 U.S. Open. Indiana was No. 38 in last season’s final Golfweek rankings, and hasn’t seemed to miss a beat.
Peaper finished fourth at the Northern Intercollegiate before his Wolf Run victory. Mayer points to senior Corey Ziedonis as the perfect example of the fighting spirit he’s trying to instill; Ziedonis shot 86 in the first round of the Northern Intercollegiate, but followed with 71-72, giving him the team’s low total over the final 36 holes. Michael McGee, a senior who’d played just 31 rounds in his first three seasons, was runner-up at the Northern.
This year’s theme is “accountability,” Mayer said. He wants his team to be held responsible not only for poor performances but also its successes.
“He’s just trying to make a point that how much you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it,” Peaper said. “The work we’re putting in is the right work, and we need to work harder to get even better.”
The Hoosiers are off to a good start.
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Hietala taking a break
Two-time Web.com Tour winner Ryan Hietala announced last week that he is preparing “to take a break” from competitive golf. The 38-year-old who now calls Boise, Idaho, home is assuming assistant coach duties for the Boise State golf team, among other things. “I haven’t been playing great, and I’ve been spending a lot of money and incurring debt, which golfers do,” Hietala said candidly. “It’s time for me to be a good husband and a good father.” His wife, Jennifer, who played on the BSU women’s golf team, is due to give birth to the couple’s first child any day.
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Skokie Country Club, Glencoe, Ill.
The field: Coastal Carolina, DePaul, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Harvard, Indiana, Lamar, Marquette, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Tennessee, Toledo, UC Davis.
The skinny: Host Northwestern is coming off an 11-shot victory at the season-opening Inverness Intercollegiate. The Windon kicks off a big week around town for the Wildcats. They’ll host the Windon at historic Skokie, watch alumnus Luke Donald compete in the Ryder Cup at Medinah and then play in the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Intercollegiate.
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Capital City Club (Crabapple), Alpharetta, Ga.
The field: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Chattanooga, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kent State, New Mexico, San Diego State, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA, UNLV, Washington.
The skinny: The Preview gives teams a chance to get a sneak peek at the NCAA Championship site, Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course, which hosted the 2003 WGC-American Express Championship. Defending NCAA champion Texas, which started its season with a victory at the Carpet Capital, highlights the field.
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Graeme McDowell/Shoal Creek Invitational
Shoal Creek Golf Club, Birmingham, Ala.
The field: Alabama-Birmingham, Dartmouth, Houston, Kennesaw State, LSU, Memphis, North Florida, North Texas, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Mississippi, Tulsa
The skinny: It’s always nice when you can attach a major champion’s name to a tournament. LSU and North Florida highlight the field.
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St. Mary’s Intercollegiate
Bayonet & Black Horse, Seaside, Calif.
The field: Cal Poly, Cal State-Northridge, Florida Gulf Coast, Fresno State, Kansas State, Kentucky, Loyola Marymount, Oregon, Sacramento State, Samford, San Francisco, Santa Clara, St. Mary’s, UC Irvine, Western Carolina
The skinny: Bayonet & Black Horse may not be as famous as their neighbors to the south on the Monterey Peninsula, but these two tracks are quite the test.