Marquette players begin year with high hopes
MILWAUKEE -- About 40 miles northwest of this lakeside city, the world’s top golfers maneuvered for position Wednesday to make match play at the U.S. Amateur.
With 64 match-play berths at stake in the world’s premier amateur tournament, a game plan proved essential.
Here along Wisconsin Avenue, not far from Lake Michigan, college students plotted their way around another kind of course. Like the golfers at Erin Hills, these young men and women also were carrying dreams: box by box, up stairs into their residences for the better part of the next year.
It was move-in day at Marquette University.
For the golfers at this 19th-century Roman Catholic school of about 8,100 undergraduates, founded in honor of a French missionary priest, the day signaled a fresh start.
Last season, Marquette finished the year at No. 163 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. It was a tough year for a team that compiled a 34-100-8 head-to-head record and nothing better than a sixth-place tournament finish.
Second-year coach Steve Bailey, like the hundreds of Marquette undergrads on the move this morning, sees only the future.
“We have all the resources to be successful here,” Bailey said. “We’re a program that is going to work harder every day. We have a long way to go, but we’ll be competing in the big time in a few years.”
After five seasons as an assistant and associate head coach at Northwestern, Bailey found an opportunity just up the lakefront at Marquette. He describes a school with outstanding academics in a prime big-city location with access to some of the nation’s top courses.
“We can go two weeks without playing the same course,” Bailey said. “It’s nice to take the team for a practice one day to Erin Hills or a Whistling Straits the next.”
On this day, he introduced a visitor to a typical day for a Golden Eagles golfer. After a 7 a.m. wakeup and breakfast, the 8 a.m. workout sets a rigorous pace. On this warm summer morning, assistant strength and conditioning coach Nathan Heyrman designed “a strongman workout.”
Heyrman has set up three workstations for the golfers. The first is an automatic robotic ladder. The goal is to climb the ladder as quickly as possible for a total of 100 feet. At Station 2, it’s man vs. monster-truck tire. Athletes squat to grab the 200-pound, 5-foot-tall tire, then explode with their legs and flip it over repeatedly. Station 3 consists of two thick “battling ropes” on which the athlete continually works the arms while maintaining posture. They rotate among stations only when the ladder climber at Station 1 has churned through 100 feet.
“Some of the workouts can be really brutal,” said Matt Haase, a senior from Medford. “Sometimes all the pressure is on the guy on the ladder to get done quick so we can rotate quicker since we have to do multiple circuits.
“My core has gotten better, my stability is better, and all those things make for a better golf swing.”
That’s exactly what Heyrman had in mind.
“These exercises teach you to use your body to create leverage and power,” he said, explaining the relevance to golf. “Some days, we’ll focus on strength; others, we’ll do things for our core and stability; and some days, we’ll try to incorporate all three.”
After about an hour of conditioning, it’s classtime.
Most days, Marquette’s golfers are in school from 9 a.m. until noon, to maximize the daylight for practice. After a quick lunch, the real work for the new season begins.
“We have to work hard because we want to be the first team to make it to nationals in the school’s history,” Bailey said. “If we keep working hard and do what we’re supposed to, then everything will come to fruition and the finished product will be pretty good.”
This day’s practice was at The Bog Golf Course in Saukville, north of downtown, just off Interstate 43. It’s one of several courses that the Golden Eagles, who don’t have a university course, use for practice. During the long Midwestern winters, the golfers use an indoor putting facility in an on-campus athletics building. “It was nice to come down after class some days and be able to putt in warmth,” recent graduate Ben Sieg said.
Practice concludes typically at around 6 p.m. Before the golfers can eat or catch up on personal activities, they have one more school responsibility: studying at the Eagles Nest. The “nest” is a study hall in the Al McGuire Center, named after the school’s legendary former basketball coach. After hitting the books, the student-athletes then can enjoy some free time before starting all over again the next day.
“Our goal is to be competing for Big East championships each year,” Bailey said.” To do that, guys need to believe in what we are doing, and work hard to achieve the goals we have set forth.”
On the eve of the 2011-12 college season, Marquette might not be regarded as being among the nation’s powers. But it’s a team with strong principles, ready to do what’s asked of it in a town built on hard work.
As the first day of a new school year dawns, there are hope, ambition and goals. Today, the Marquette Golden Eagles are starting at the same place as every other college team.