Kent State seniors lead Golden Flashes back to NCAAs

Kent State Athletics

Kent State seniors lead Golden Flashes back to NCAAs

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Kent State seniors lead Golden Flashes back to NCAAs

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Ian Holt and Chase Johnson grew up less than 30 minutes from each other – Holt in Stow, a northern suburb of Akron, Ohio, and Johnson in Barberton, on the south side of Akron. They attended rival high schools – Holt starred at Stow-Munroe Falls and Johnson at Walsh Jesuit. Junior-golf competitors since age 6, the two committed to Kent State after their sophomore years and just weeks apart.

They continued along similar paths in college, where they were roommates all four years. Johnson was the Mid-American Conference player of the year as a sophomore. A season later, Holt received the honor.

“We’ve always had kind of this friendly rivalry and we’ve always pushed each other to get better,” Johnson said.

In four years at Kent State, Holt and Johnson have led the Golden Flashes to three MAC titles and two NCAA Championship appearances, including this year’s championship at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., where the now-graduates will make their final college starts beginning Friday.

“They have so much passion and they love to play the game,” Kent State head coach Herb Page said of his two seniors. “As a coach, you don’t get players like them often.”

Page has coached several golfers who have gone on to play professionally, including PGA Tour players Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Conners and European Tour player John Hahn. So Holt, who will play on the Mackenzie Tour this summer (he played a Q-School site in California so he wouldn’t miss a college tournament), and Johnson knew they had some big shoes to fill when they first stepped on campus in the fall of 2014.

Kent State had won six consecutive MAC titles and been to four NCAA Championships in four seasons, but had just graduated Corey Conners and another All-MAC regular, Taylor Pendrith.

“You come in as freshmen and you think you’re going to go in and win and play well,” Holt said. “But it was a whole different ballgame.”

Added Page: “And they got their lunch handed to them.”

Holt and Johnson may have each played all 12 events for Kent State as freshmen, but the team didn’t finish better than fourth all season. The Golden Flashes were seventh in their fall opener and closed the fall with two consecutive last-place finishes in 15-team fields. They were worse than 11th in three spring starts and ended their season with a fifth-place showing at the MAC Championship, the team’s worst conference finish since 1983, a season in which Page said, “I should’ve been fired after that.”

“It was not a good feeling,” Johnson said of that season, where Kent State missed regionals for just the third time in 29 seasons. “Everyone was asking Herb what was wrong with us, and we just tried to put all that aside and not really worry about it, but it was always in the back of our minds, like we’re nowhere near as good as this team was last year.”

Added Holt: “We were not good at all.”

After being thrown into the fire that first season, Holt and Johnson have undoubtedly come a long way – even for local boys. Holt was MAC player of the year for a second consecutive year this season as he won twice, including at the MAC Championship, posted four other top-4 finishes and compiled a 70.97 scoring average. His T-9 finish at the NCAA Kissimmee Regional was his sixth top-10 finish in a row, and it came after he made a crucial 30-foot birdie putt on his 54th hole to help the Golden Flashes edge Arizona by two shots for the fifth and final NCAA Championship berth.

Johnson struggled for much of his senior year but came up big when his team needed him most. He finished outside the top 30 six times this season with just three top-10s entering regionals. Despite a T-10 finish at the MAC Championship, Johnson knew something was seriously wrong with his swing. He was getting too steep and long.

Time for TrackMan

“I told coach, ‘I need to fix this,’” Johnson said.

Page typically doesn’t like to get out the video camera and TrackMan in the postseason, but he made an exception.

“I told him I felt like his best golf was coming,” Page said. “He worked his tail off for a week and half, and he took it out there and did it.”

At Reunion Resort, he posted his best finish of the season, a T-6, and his closing birdie was a big part in keeping his team’s season alive.

“It’s not fixed, but I actually knew where the ball was going this week,” Johnson said.

Kent State is going to a second NCAA Championship in a row – and the Golden Flashes couldn’t be happier, especially considering where they were just four years ago.

“Going from not even winning our conference to winning the MAC three years in a row, and now going back to another NCAA Championship, it’s such a great feeling,” Johnson said.

Added Page: “This is a resilient, gritty group, and they always have been. They never give up.” Gwk

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