SUNRIVER, Ore. – When the men’s golf team at Colorado School of Mines closed the books on its 2011-12 season, it was with a pair of almosts. Mines very nearly earned a spot on the match-play bracket at the NCAA Championship (the Orediggers finished T-11, nine shots out of the top 8), and then-senior Jim Knous lost a playoff for the individual title.
Still, it was an historic season for this team.
Before last spring, Mines had never before advanced to the national championship, and head coach Tyler Kimble attributes the sudden surge to increased attention and resources from the University. The men’s golf team has a long history in Golden, Colo., but athletics at the engineering school were more participatory than competitive.
When Mines won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship last spring, it was for the first time since 1968. The Orediggers won that tournament by 15 shots, and with Knous in the lead, continued to roll. A third-place finish at the West/Central Super Regional sent the team to nationals.
“We accomplished a lot for our program,” said Kimble, who is in his sixth year at the helm. He is the first full-time men’s golf coach in Mines history.
Success has made the expectations higher for this season, but Kimble calls that a good thing. Even with Knous gone – he recently won his first professional start, the Navajo Trail Open at Hillcrest Golf Club in Durango, Colo., but failed to advance through pre-qualifying for PGA Tour Q-School – Mines continues to win. The Orediggers opened their season with a victory at the CMU Invitational, then finished third at their own tournament before arriving in Oregon. They are No. 7 in Golfstat’s head-to-head rankings, the best ranking among the 13 teams in the field at the Golfweek Division II Invitational.
Mines still has junior Michael Lee in the lineup, who opened the event Monday with a 4-under 68 at Crosswater in Sunriver, Ore. Kimble also gained a gem in freshman John Ahern, from nearby Morris, Colo. Ahern, who shot 76 in Round 1, has been the low Digger in each of the team’s first two starts. Other returners from last year’s squad include junior Kyle Grassel and sophomore Jordan Arndt.
“We’re still struggling to find a five spot,” Kimble said. “We’ve been plugging a different kid in every week so we’ve been trying to get that. We’re pretty deep, we’ve got 11 guys on the squad.”
If nothing else, success has changed the outlook in Golden.
“We’re an engineering school,” Kimble explained. “So I think it made it somewhat cool to play golf at Mines.”