It’s been a slow climb for Marquette golf with a few missed steps along the way. But the fall season was a leap unlike any the program has seen.
Head coach Steve Bailey, in his eighth year, has one of the top mid-major programs in college golf, finishing the fall season ranked No. 26 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. Only Colorado State (No. 18) was better.
The fall season saw Marquette finish in the top five five times (in five starts) with one win at the Northern Intercollegiate played at Rich Harvest Farms in late September. Bailey’s team finished 13 shots clear of Virginia while posting a school record 32-under-par for the 54-hole event.
It was the first day of that record-setting performance, a 36-hole affair, where Bailey saw his team post rounds of 272 and 274 to sit at 30-under-par, that he remembers well.
“Proudest moment for us was walking off that 36-hole day and watching our guys embrace,” said Bailey, who has twice been named Big East Conference Coach of the Year.
That victory, coming in the second start of the fall, helped propel the program to where it is. It also kept the ball rolling from where Bailey says it all may have begun.
“Most of it started last year when we won the Big East Conference,” Bailey said. “I think that just proved to our guys, regardless of where we are at any point, that if everything comes together and our good is really good, we were able to put something together and we did there.”
What Marquette did was put together a 2-under final round to come from 10 shots back to win the league title by a shot over Seton Hall and two shots over Georgetown. The win gave the Golden Eagles their second conference title in three years and the automatic qualifying spot into NCAA regional play.
Freshman Matthew Bachmann claimed the individual title. That started an impressive run for MU.
Going back to the Big East Conference Championship played last spring, the school has seen four different players win an event in the last seven tournaments:
- Matthew Bachman, So. (Big East Conference Championship)
- Oliver Farrell, Jr. (Northern Intercollegiate)
- Austin Kendziorski, Jr. (Marquette Intercollegiate)
- Hunter Eichhorn, So. (Price’s Give Em Five Invite)
The starting five this year include two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman. According to Bailey, it’s the players creating the environment.
“The culture we have created and not so much we, but the best teams I have ever been on the players have really driven it,” Bailey said. “The amount of work they have been putting in. It’s been contagious. It’s not a have to, it’s a get to attitude.”
That seems to be working well. Marquette’s best year-end ranking came following the 2007-08 season when the finished No. 76, they are nearly certain of bettering that mark this year.
MU is the clear favorite to win a third Big East title this year and advance to the postseason for just the fourth time in program history (and the third time in the past four years). With each trip, it’s becoming more comfortable.
Last spring Marquette was in fifth place after the opening round at the 2017 NCAA Washington Regional, where five teams advance to the national championship, but finished 13th out of 14 teams.
“Putting our guys in that arena and having them go through what they did, I think it had a lot to do with where we are this year,” Bailey said.
The coach points to the play of one player in particular: Austin Kendziorski.
“The biggest story of our fall was Austin,” Bailey said. “He had 79 scoring average his first year, a 75 average is sophomore year and he averaged 70 this past fall.
The junior from Sussex, Wis., posted four top 10s in the fall sharing medalist honors with Florida State’s Harry Ellis at the Marquette Intercollegiate played at Erin Hills.
“Austin hits 6-iron from 249 yards on the last hole to birdie it,” Bailey said.
Kendziorski, a local kid who was not recruited, has given the program a big boost.
“The fall went really well for us, it was cool,” Kendziorski said. “I have been on a lot of sports team in my athletic career and this team by far the hardest working team I have been on.”
Bailey also is quick to mention his freshman who has stepped right into the lineup.
“Hunter is such a cool story,” Bailey said.
As a junior golfer from Carney, Mich., Eichorn had never had a formal lesson and never played outside of the state of Michigan until after he qualified for the 2016 United States Junior Amateur Championship at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn.
He arrived on campus and won the team’s first qualifier by 14 shots.
“That alone elevated the guys play,” Bailey said.
With Marquette opening its spring season Feb. 18 at the Puerto Rico classic, there is no reason to think the Golden Eagles won’t remain one of the top mid-major teams this year and in years to come.
Bailey has the benefit of a new indoor facility being built to go along with the many course in the area they can play.
“One of the biggest perks we have is the variety of courses we have. We get to play Erin Hills, Whistling Straits, Kohler, Sand Valley and then another 15 places we can bounce around to,” Bailey said.
The long-term goal for Marquette golf is like many others: win a national championship. With match play now part of the equation it does bring more hope for the mid-majors.
“Why do you play if you don’t want to win a national title,” Bailey said. “People may laugh and say you have never even been to a national championship, but we just keep doing what we do every day.”
And what they have been doing is working.