NCAA trip rewards Ball State's Yestingsmeier

Former Ball State coach Earl Yestingsmeier, 80, has passed away, according to the Ball State athletic department.

Former Ball State coach Earl Yestingsmeier, 80, has passed away, according to the Ball State athletic department.

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1Joey GarberGeorgia  68.61 
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MILTON, Ga. – For 36 years – 1962-1998, to be exact – Earl Yestingsmeier was the face and the voice of the Ball State men’s golf program, coaching the team to 11 NCAA appearances, six conference titles and 107 tournament wins.

At the end of the 1997-98 season, Yestingsmeier, then 65, retired, turning the reins over to current coach Mike Fleck, a 1993 Ball State alumnus.

When the majority of coaches retire or leave the profession, they pretty much distance themselves from the college game and the program they coached.

That has not even come close to being the case for Yestingsmeier. Consider this: As head coach of the Cardinals, he missed just one tournament in 36 years at the Muncie, Ind., school. And during the past 15 years since his retirement, Yestingsmeier, now 80, has missed only two Cardinals starts. That’s just three events in – do the math – the past 51 years.

Even Yestingsmeier, a member of the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame, Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame and Indiana Golf Hall of Fame, can’t tell you the exact number of Ball State tournaments he has attended. But a quick 51-year guess would be that he has been on hand for more than 600 Cardinal events.

Truly amazing, but also why it comes as no surprise that Yestingsmeier is here this week at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course for the NCAA Championship.

No way he was going to miss this one. After all, this is the first time since the introduction of NCAA regionals in 1989 that the Cardinals have advanced to the big show. It’s their first championship appearance since Yestingsmeier led the program to the finals in 1986 at Bermuda Run G&CC in Winston-Salem, N.C., where they finished 27th in the 31-team field.

And, they got here by winning a playoff with San Diego State for the fifth and final qualifying spot on the first hole at the Pullman, Wash., regional, the first time a Cardinals team had been invited to the NCAA post-season since 1991.

“It’s been a long time, that’s for sure,” Yestingsmeier said after watching the Cardinals’ practice round Monday. “This is so great for the program and for Coach Fleck. There was no way I was going to not be here this week. It’s very special.

“The thing is, I just like to go to all the tournaments,” he said. “Coach Fleck has done a very good job with the kids and they are respectful and it’s fun to watch them play this great game of golf. I always have and always will love Ball State. My favorite times each year are those few occasions when they invite me to ride in the van with the team.”

What Yestingsmeier, and Fleck, saw from the Cardinals on the first day of the championship was a stronger start but a struggling finish.

Through six holes in the morning round, Ball State was 4 under and tied for the lead. But it was tough going coming in as the Cards finished the first round at 10-over 290.

“Our start couldn’t have been better,” Fleck said. “Then the wind starting picking up and the golf course started getting tougher. Those finishing holes really got us. Still, overall, it was a pretty decent start for us.”

Senior Tony Lazzara led the team with an even-par 70. He was 4 under through 11 holes but played the last seven in 4 over.

Senior Alex Stinson and junior Tyler Merkel contributed 2-over 72s, while senior Joe Gasser shot 76.

The total of the five Cardinals showed 10 birdies, 17 bogeys, four doubles and one triple.

Two more days of stroke play are still to come, but no matter what happens, this will be a memorable and perhaps beneficial week for the Ball State program.

“To qualify and be one of the 30 teams here is a tremendous opportunity for us,” Fleck said. “It’s why we do what we do. For our program to experience this stage is fantastic. I just have to believe it will enhance our opportunities in recruiting, in scheduling, and just everything all the way around.”

And, Fleck said, adding to making it such a special week is having Yestingsmeier front and center to watch it all.

“Earl has always been and continues to be our biggest fan, our biggest supporter,” Fleck said. “He has been like a father figure to every player that has come through Ball State in the last 50 years.

“The guys on the team love him and understand what he’s meant to this program,” Fleck said. “All the guys embrace him and keep him a major part of the program. He is Ball State golf.”

Don’t even think about asking Yestingsmeier to name a handful of his favorite Ball State golf moments. There are too many during the past half century.

One thing is certain, though: Being here with his beloved Cardinals at the NCAA Championship for the first time in 27 years will definitely be among them.

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